Pigeon River & Beyond - Back Country Horsemen, Michigan

Tips for Writing Your State Legislators

A letter is the best way to communicate with a state legislative office. When writing, this list of suggestions will improve its effectiveness:

Individually written letters, rather than mass generated form letters, make a greater impression on your legislator. Type your name, address, and phone number at the top.

Most state legislatures are only in session part of the year. When the legislature is out of session, it may be more effective to send your letter to your legislator's district office.

Addressing correspondence:

To a State Senator:

The Honorable (Full Name)
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536

To a State Representative:

The Honorable (Full Name)
124 North Capitol Avenue
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909-7514

Be specific. Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, be sure to identify its full name and number, e.g. House Bill: HB_____, Senate Bill: SB_____.Try to send your letter while the issue is still alive.

State your position. Explain why you support or oppose this particular issue. Keep in mind that local examples concerning the impact of this legislation are very powerful. Be courteous and to the point, keeping your letter focused on one issue.

Ask for a response. Indicate to your legislator that you would appreciate a reply containing his/her position on the issue. "Sincerely yours" is a proper way to conclude your letter.

Follow up. If you agree with your legislator's vote, take the time to let him/her know that. Similarly, if you disagree with his or her vote, inform your legislator.

Meeting Your Legislator
Take advantage of every opportunity to meet and become better acquainted with your lawmakers. Opportunities may develop through local civic or charitable organizations, local and state political functions, and political fund raisers. Relationships initiated through such meetings can evolve quickly into relationships which permit discussion of your concerns.

Contacting Your Legislator
Several types of communications can be effective in building a relationship with your lawmaker. Personal meetings, either to discuss a specific issue or just to introduce yourself as a constituent, are the most effective. As a constituent, you can develop and maintain an ongoing, working relationship with the local, state, and federal government officials representing your area. These relationships are best established at a time of no need.

These relationships are best developed by contacts made when the legislator is home in his or her district. In these personal contacts, it is important that you be positive and constructive in your remarks.

PREPARE WELL — ALWAYS BE FACTUAL.

There are some general rules you may wish to consider before contacting your legislator(s).

  1. Unless you already know your legislator well, you should write to request an appointment or schedule a meeting;

  2. Use your personal stationery or business letterhead;

  3. State your reason for writing. If extending an invitation or requesting a meeting suggest a time and date, or several dates, for the visit;

  4. Indicate how much time you would like with the legislator — usually 15 minutes if you are alone. State the purpose of the meeting;

  5. Be persistent without harassing a legislator once the initial message has been delivered;

  6. Do not “PREACH” to the legislator as he or she will generally know a great deal more about an issue than you may realize;

  7. Be prepared to have sound reasons to reinforce your position;

  8. When you are unable to achieve the desired result or response DO NOT GET ANGRY — try and maintain a positive posture with your legislator;

  9. Learn to “read” the legislator’s response (legislators normally do not give a totally negative response and will usually allow leeway to change their position);

  10. Do not neglect a word of thanks to your legislator on a regular basis for their support of your position;

  11. When the Legislative Session is over, thank your legislator for doing a good job. (There is always something to be thankful for!) Let them know you will be getting with them in the summer to maintain communications.

Do’s And Don’ts When Writing Legislators

Because much of a legislator’s time during session is spent in the Capitol, many of your communications will be written. Personal letters are the basic tool for you to express your views. Faxes, mailgrams and e-mail are particularly useful when timing becomes crucial on the action of a bill.

Do’s:

  1. Make sure of the legislator’s proper district and how to spell his or her name;

  2. Use the following forms of address:

Letters to members of the House of Rep:
The Honorable________
124 North Capitol Avenue
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909-7514


Dear Representative _____

Letters to Senators:
Senator____
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536


Dear Senator _____

  1. A handwritten letter on your personal or business letterhead is better than a telegram;

  2. Be brief, business-like, courteous, and to the point, and only address one topic per communication. Whenever possible use exact bill numbers and proper titles, and use one page or less;

  3. Explain why you are getting in touch - tell the legislator how the bill would effect you, your family, and your doctor, and suggest alternative solutions;

  4. Educate your legislator to the pertinent facts;

  5. Emphasize any unfairness in the present system or in a proposal for change;

  6. Always write and thank your legislator when he or she does something for you;

  7. Sign your name legibly and type or print your name and address under the signature;

  8. First, last, and always, know what you are talking about and why you are either for or against a particular issue.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t beat around the bush, ramble, or go to unnecessary lengths;

  2. Avoid using jargon where possible;

  3. Don’t dwell on individuals or personalities;

  4. Don’t be argumentative or threatening -- threats destroy your credibility;

  5. Don’t take for granted that your legislator understands the subject matter;

  6. Don’t use postcards;

  7. Don’t remind legislators of broken promises — don’t be vindictive;

  8. Avoid stereotyped phrases and sentences that give the appearance of “form” letters;

  9. Don’t pretend to wield vast political influence;

  10. Don’t become a constant “Pen Pal”;

  11. Never stretch the truth to make your argument;

  12. Don’t expect everything to go your way.

Using The Telephone

There may be occasions when you may want to call your legislator and express your views. Here are some pointers:

  1. Look in your telephone book for the local and Capitol phone numbers;

  2. Keep calm. It is important to sound composed, well-informed and self-assured;

  3. Be organized, jot down the ideas you wish to convey ahead of time;

  4. If the legislator is not available, speak with his or her aide;

  5. Identify yourself, explain why you are calling, and why you feel the way you do;

  6. Ask your legislator’s position on the issue;

  7. If your legislator agrees with you, thank him/her. If they disagree or are undecided, discuss the concerns factually;

  8. Be polite but firm -- you are a constituent, but do not threaten with the power of your vote;

  9. Follow up the call with a note or letter restating your position and thank the legislator for his or her time and interest.

Working With Aides

Aides are appointed by legislators to assist them in carrying out their duties, and most key aides report directly to their legislator. Due to the pressures of daily business, it is very difficult to reach a legislator. Thus, it is important to develop a good working relationship with an aide. In contacting a legislative aide, try to work with the individual who is responsible to the legislator for the area you want to discuss. This way you can be assured that your problem will be brought to the legislator’s attention and handled expeditiously.

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