How can I contact my legislator and get results?

Be prepared to effectively convey your ideas and issues before contacting your legislator.

As a result of the election, many individuals have expressed interest in contacting their incoming legislator to share ideas and issues. Many people have no idea how to find out who their legislators are, or how to properly convey their message. Highlighted below are a few tips from the Minnesota Legislature that can apply to contacting other legislatures, including the Michigan Legislature.

The first step in contacting a legislator is to find out who represents you. Individuals will need to select their senator and representative separately.

If a personal visit is preferred, make an appointment. It's best to let your legislator know when you're going to be at the Capitol or visiting them in their district office. Additionally, be informed, if you're addressing a specific piece of legislation, find out the House or Senate Bill number and status before your visit.

Should you elect written communication in any form, the best way to get a legislator's attention is with short, well-reasoned content. When sending written communication, remember to include your name, postal address and phone number. Email, however, is most effective if it is not a blanket mailing to all members, but a specific mail message to your representative or senator.

Here are a few do's and don’ts on how to write an effective letter to your legislator:

Do . . .

  • Be brief; never write more than one page.
  • Make your letter neat and easy to read.
  • Make sure you understand the legislative process.
  • Identify the issue at the top of the letter and cover only one issue per letter. If you have more than one issue that needs to be addressed, write separate letters for each issue.
  • Remember: you're the expert; make your letter informative.
  • Identify yourself and the reason for your expertise.
  • Get right to the point. For example, you may wish to begin your letter like this: "I hope you will support (oppose) HB or SB___." Give your reasons for supporting or opposing the measure. Tell your legislator why you think the bill, if it becomes law, will help or hurt you, your children, your business or your community. Explain what it means to you.
  • Use terms they will understand and avoid using abbreviations.
  • Offer to be of assistance. Offer to testify if there is a hearing regarding the issue with which you're concerned.
  • Ask for a reply if you want one. However, keep in mind how many meetings and hearings your legislators must attend. They will call or write to you as soon as they are able.
  • Be polite and reasonable. Lawmakers can't please everyone. They may disagree with you. Try to respect their views. Don't lose your temper, even on paper. Tell your legislator what you think and why, but be polite.
  • Be sure to say "thanks."

Don't . . .

  • Use form letters or post cards. Use your own words. Legislators say, "I'd rather get one short, simple, handwritten letter than a hundred form letters that organizations urge people to write. The letters come in stacks 300 deep. Even if they're handwritten, they're word-for-word the same." Also, use personal or business stationery, or a plain sheet of paper.
  • Threaten legislators. Legislators say, "Some folks don't know how you stand on an issue, but they'll attack you right off the bat. They'll say, 'Vote for HB____ or else,' and you may already think it's a wonderful idea. Or they'll write, 'Why aren't you supporting this bill, you fool?' and you're the sponsor of the bill. Threats and insults don't work."

Michigan State University Extension provides broad forms of civics education for youth and adults. To learn more about these programs, contact an expert in your area.

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