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How to Write Your Legislator


Elected officials care what their mail says. A logical, courteous letter carries weight; it can change a legislator's mind, particularly when the legislator is wavering on an issue. It is important that your message be written as effectively as possible. Here are a few points:

Content:

  • Keep it brief.  Be as brief as possible, but don't sacrifice clarity and completeness.  Two pages is a maximum but one page is best. Use your own words and not form letters.
  • Identify yourself.  Let your legislators know that you live and/or work in their district.
  • Keep it focused.  Limit the correspondence to one subject.  Otherwise, you decrease the force of your argument and complicate your legislator's efforts to act.
  • Get to the point.  State your purpose at the outset and use the remainder of the letter to expand your views.  Be constructive suggesting alternatives or better solutions, if possible.  A few strong, well thought out points will be more influential than a long laundry list of reasons.
  • Use facts.  Issues you write about may be emotion-laden, but beware of the nonfactual argument.  It will make your legislator less willing to consider your point next time, too.
  • Relate it to home.  Emphasize the effect of the legislation in question on your legislator's own constituency and/or school districts.  Give facts and illustrations - use your own knowledge and experience to inform the legislator.  Legislators seldom change their decisions because of a philosophical argument but well-reasoned examples carry tremendous weight. 
  • Provide background as needed.  Don't assume that a legislator is as well informed as you about a problem.  A legislator can't keep abreast of everything.  Explain the situation, what you think and why.
  • Make specific recommendations. 
  • Keep it positive.  Your attitude is important.  A polite, positive-sounding letter is more likely to impress than one that is negative, rude, or threatening.  Avoid being antagonistic.  Point out the benefits of your position.
  • Use KNEA Resources.  It is a great idea to check the "Talking Points" section of the leader site or visit the "Legislative" information section of the KNEA website to get valuable support and rationale for education issues.
  • Close with a friendly appeal, regardless of the action you urge. 
  • Allow for follow-up.  Include contact information and offer to act as a resource should the legislator (or staff) have questions or need additional information. Where appropriate, indicate in the letter that you will follow up with a phone call.

Format & process:

  • Correct address.  Use the correct name and address for your legislator.
  • Follow etiquette.  Addressing correspondence to legislators requires particular etiquette.  Every legislator is called "Honorable" on the envelope and inside address.  In the salutation, address house members as "Dear Representative _________" while senators are called "Senator ________."  Spell the name correctly.  During a legislative session, send correspondence to their office, otherwise send to home or business.
  • Return address information.  For letters, be certain that your name and address are on the envelope and letter.
  • Reference bills by number.  Refer to all bills by name and number when possible.
  • Write legibly or type.  Make sure to use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Do not depend on spell check or grammar check to catch all errors.
  • End cordially.  Thank them for their help and consideration.  "Sincerely," is an appropriate closing.
  • Follow up thanks.  Send a note of appreciation if your legislator supports your issue or a note of disappointment if they do not support the issue.  If they send information you request, also send a note of thanks.
  • Don't give up.  To be truly effective, sending more than one letter during a session is a good idea.

Using E-Mail

E-mail can be an easy and effective tool for communicating with legislators.  The tips above for letters also generally apply to sending e-mails.  In addition, e-mails should:

  • Avoid informal language.  E-mail to a legislator should be treated as seriously as a traditional (snail-mail) letter.  Resist the temptation to use the informal language and symbols often associated with e-mail communications.  Never use impolite language or make "demands."
  • Include your full address and zip code.  Make sure the text of your e-mail includes your full name and street address, including zip code.  Many legislative offices at the federal level screen e-mails for address information identifying the sender as a constituent.  E-mails that may appear to come from outside the district are unlikely to be read and might be blocked by filtering programs.

Addressing written correspondence:

For U.S. Senators

The Honorable (full name)
United States Senate
Washington, DC  20510

Dear Senator (last name):

For members of the U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable (full name)
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative (last name):

For State Legislators:

The Honorable (full name)
State Capitol
Topeka, KS  66612

Dear Senator (last name):  or
Dear Representative (last name):


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