Greene: Call Me

Mar 6, 2017

I’ve been calling my representatives in DC - and other people’s too. I’ve urged, begged, scolded and thanked. I actually prefer writing, but I’ve been assured by ex-senate-staffers that calls work because they must be tallied. They say emails and petitions can be ignored, while snail mail is slow because it must be tested for toxins and explosives.

Then again, the Congressional Management Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that monitors and facilitates interactions between constituents and representatives. They say, from a twenty fifteen survey of senior congressional staffers, that personalized letters, emails and editorials are all more influential than calls.

Anyway, I was delighted when my husband came home from a recent State House gathering of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to report that Lt Governor Zuckerman said he never gets calls, and would welcome some. He also meets citizens every Friday morning for coffee.

How very refreshing!

The one hundred and eighty legislators at the State House don’t have their own phones, or voicemail, let alone offices, so the preferred method of contacting them is still email. But one Windham County senator gets an average of one hundred and fifty emails a week - not junk mail either – that require careful thought, and detailed answers.

So back to calls – which are done through the Sergeant At Arms office.

When I called, I talked to Sid McLam, one of the Sergeant’s two assistants. He politely took a message and promised to get it to the lawmaker.

McLam said the office is never totally overwhelmed by calls. An assistant jots down notes on the caller’s concerns, types them up, and passes them on, with help from one of the State House’s ten pages. They’ll track a lawmaker down, delivering messages in committee, or failing that, to mailboxes.

But McLam admitted that when a controversial bill is being considered, they can get very busy. On February twenty eighth, for instance, they got one hundred calls alone.

Of course, representatives and constituents don’t always agree on issues. That was the case when I made the trek to Montpelier to talk to my House Representative, Laura Sibila, in support of Universal Background checks for gun purchases.

But I spoke from the heart, and I felt she heard me - despite our differences - and that’s an increasingly rare and wonderful thing.