Before You Write
If you would like to present your views on an issue to your State Legislator, please consider the following points:
- Is the issue you’re writing about a federal, state, county, or municipal issue? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. If your issue is in the newspaper, give the article a quick double-check to see if it mentions which level of government has the matter under consideration.
- Many people are confused by the fact that they have a Representative and Senator at both the federal and state levels. Usually, a federal lawmaker is referred to as a member of Congress. A newspaper is likely to refer to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., as a U.S. Representative or U.S. Senator. Likewise, an official in Lansing is usually referred to with “State” before their title, as in State Representative or State Senator. You have one State Representative and one State Senator in Lansing serving your area. You have one U.S. Representative serving your area and each state has two U.S. Senators serving in Washington, D.C.
- Make certain you have the correct address.
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909-7514
Dear Representative (Last Name):
The Honorable (Full Name)
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536
Dear Representative (Last Name):
- Be sure you include your name and address. Messages without a name and address have little impact. A phone number also is helpful. If you’re expecting a reply, the legislator will need to know how to contact you.
As You Write
After you have determined which official to contact, here are some other considerations to think about:
- Time the arrival of your letter or e-mail. If the issue you wish to write about is a bill, make sure your comments arrive before the bill comes up for a vote. Ideally, you should communicate your concerns while the bill is in committee so that your legislator knows your view early in the legislative process.
- Stay focused on the subject. Many issues are complex and related to a host of other matters. Your views will be clearer if you keep your letter centered on the issue.
- Write as much as possible in few words. Though some issues may be detailed and complex, try to keep your letter to no more than one page.
- Identify the issue. There are literally thousands of bills introduced each session and sometimes there are different bills on the same subject. Identify your issue as specifically as you can. List the bill number if you have it. If you write about a proposed bill on transportation, but don’t know the bill number, perhaps you might refer to it by the bill’s sponsor, “State Representative Smith’s” bill or the bill’s nickname, “the highway logo signs” bill.
- Make your note personal. Signing a petition, sending a form letter, or forwarding materials may have some impact, but nothing beats the “personal touch.” Writing in your own unique words emphasizes that you care enough about the issue to take the extra time to convey your individual thoughts. Personal letters sometimes give new views or aspects to a position on a bill that a legislator may not have heard before.
- Keep your tone positive. Everyone is more open to suggestions when approached in an upbeat and optimistic manner. Lawmakers are no exception. Sometimes, in the heat of passion, we may write angry letters. These types of communications have few useful results, and may even damage a cause.
Keep in mind that your State Representative has to take into account the well-being of tens of thousands of people in his or her district. Each of those people has an individual viewpoint. This means that at times tough choices have to be made. Just because you and your legislator disagree on one subject does not mean that you will not agree on many more further down the road. Try to keep the dialogue open between you and your legislator.
- Present your position and give sound reasons. A note that states “Vote for House Bill 4001; it’s a good bill” does make a statement. However, if you back up your position with reasons, it makes an even better point. “Please vote for House Bill 4001. I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income, and the bill will help me in the following ways.” It helps to mention how the issue affects you, your family, your business or profession – or the effect on your community or the state as a whole. This will make a legislator more aware of the bill’s potential effect.