As a congressional staffer, I read hundreds if not thousands of letters and I answered hundreds of phone calls from constiuents. It was quite evident that people "sound off" to their elected officials. It was equally evident that every topic imaginable was fair game, whether it was related to that particular level of government or not. In an age when elected officials are deluged by mail and phone calls (and now in 1998, with e-mail), maximizing the impact of your views is paramount. Knowing the right person to address your concerns is the first key to letting your voice be heard.

Quite simply, federal issues need to be addressed by U.S. senators and congressman; state matters by the governor, assemblymen or state senators; and local issues by mayors, city councils, commissioners or alderman. Yet Congressmen get calls on potholes and garbage collection, and councilmen get calls on the national economy and federal budget deficit. First and foremost, know the right elected official for the issue at hand. If you don't know who represents you at a particular level of government, call your state or county Election Department. Whether you write your public officials, call or e-mail them, here are ten tips to maximize your input:

1. Clearly identify who you are, give your street address (not a P.O. Box, unless you are in a rural area) and provide a phone number, if appropriate. Most elected officials want to know if you are one of their constituents. Letters without names or addresses are usually tossed by staff. If your letter or call is not important enough for you to identify yourself, then it may not be important enough for the elected official to review.

2. Get their title right. A U.S. Senator does not want to be referred to as a congressman. If you are writing, remember to
spell their names correctly. Avoid "To Whom It May Concern."

3. Clearly identify the subject of your interest. Limit your letter or call to one issue. Multiple-issue contacts tend to get lost in the paper shuffle.

4. Don't wear out your welcome. Once you have made contact with your elected official and received a response, don't beat a dead horse. Get your friends, neighbors and co-workers to write or call on the same issue as well.

5. Be concise and to the point. A one-page letter or a three-minute phone call is long enough. Don't tell them your life's story. Elected officials as well as their staff are busy people who are fielding literally hundreds of calls and requests daily from people like you.

6. When writing a letter, use your own words. They carry more weight than a form or photocopy letter. Use letterhead if available.

7. Above all, be polite, or you defeat the purpose of the call. Do not insult or threaten elected officials or their staff members if you want your opinion to be given serious consideration. The comments of foul or vulgar people are usually trashed.

8.Petitions can be very effective if an accompanying letter outlines what it is that the signers are endorsing or opposing. Signers must always include steet addresses, and the names should also be printed and legible.

9. When writing, explain why you are personally concerned about the issue. Write down any experiences or problems that would bring home this issue.

10. Ask the elected official where he or she stands on the issue and request a written reply. If you get a noncommittal response, don't despair. Most elected officials keep track of the number of letters and calls they receive on an issue.

Effective communication is the only way to insure that our elected representatives remain sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people. The success of our representative democracy requires us to do our part by letting our voices be heard. Printed in the Las Vegas Business Press and the Friends of Nevada Wilderness Newsletter.

Author's Bio: 

Ted DeCorte is a writer and businessman, vice president for Nevada Pacific Dental, Inc. and an officer of DeCorte & Associates, living in Henderson, Nevada.  His Eclectic Mouse Experience website has been featured in publications and he is collecting
stories on-line via his website http://members.xoom.com/GVWRITE for his new book: "Things I Didn't Tell My Mother,"  which he describes as "cathartic chicken soup for the conscience." DeCorte can be reached at tdecorte@lv.pdbi.com.