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BLOG: Write your Congressman! Maybe he'll answer

Tom Jackson • May 11, 2012 at 2:18 PM

My wife is not particularly political, but she's very interested in animal rights.

The other day, using a suggested letter that she copied and slightly modified from one posted by an advocacy group, she sent emails to Ohio's two U.S. senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown.

Here's the first graph:

As one of your constituents, I urge you to OPPOSE H.R. 3798, United Egg Producers’ (UEP) amendments to the “Egg Products Inspection Act,” which would nullify existing state laws concerning the treatment of egg-laying hens – and would forever keep hens locked in cages.

Portman, a Republican, sent an answer. First couple of graphs:

Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns about animal welfare. It is good to hear from you.

I believe we must protect the welfare of animals and act responsibly and humanely towards them. As an avid outdoorsman and conservationist I agree with you that our animal welfare laws must be effectively enforced.

You'll note, I think, that the answering message has nothing to do with the issue my wife actually wrote to him about -- asking for a specific stance on a specific bill dealing with a segment of agriculture.

At least Portman answered. Nothing at all came back from Brown, a Democrat running for re-election this year.

I wonder if technology is part of the problem here. Years ago, "Write your congressman" involved having to actually sit down a pen a letter, hunt up an envelope, address it, etc. It may have helped keep the volume of mail to a manageable level.

Nowadays, its easy for an advocacy group to urge its supporters to flood a congressman with emails. Copying and pasting and letter and sending it takes only a few seconds. No doubt keeping up with the flood of messages even from actual constituents must be daunting. That's probably especially true for U.S. senators, who get mail from an entire state.

One possible solution is to essentially automate the replies, so that any letter having to do with animal rights gets the generic "I love animals and I support animal welfare" reply.

Years ago, when then-senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma spoke at a chamber breakfast, he told the members to write "personal" on the outside of an envelope if they want to make sure he actually sees the letter. That's probably still good advice.

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