March 1, 2023

Writing Someone Else’s Congressperson

I read something that Congressman Jamie Raskin said and wanted to express my approval of his having said it. He complained about Republicans using “Democrat” as an adjective, as in “Democrat Party.” I had written about Republicans’ avoidance of the word “Democratic” myself. I thought I would write to the congressman and include a link to my blog post, which he might perhaps find amusing.

Rep. Jamie Raskin
Rep. Jamie Raskin
I found Mr. Raskin’s congressional Web site, filled in my name, address, and e-mail address, and typed my message. When I tried to send my comments, however, I received an error indicating that my Zipcode was wrong, in other words,
my own Zipcode is not in his Maryland district. This is not the first time I have encountered this problem trying to communicate with a member of congress who does not technically represent me.

I appreciate that a congressperson can be easily overwhelmed with messages even from constituents. (Framers of the Constitution intended for representatives to have many fewer constituents than they do today. They did not anticipate Congress’s limiting the number of members of the House of Representatives, thereby eliminating the cap on the constituent-to-representative ratio.) Messages from non-constituents can make the deluge of messages seem even more overwhelming.

Modern American media give members of Congress national exposure, and it is not unreasonable to think that someone who is not a constituent might have good reason to communicate with a representative or senator. In my case, I wanted to praise Mr. Raskin for saying what has been needed to be said for years and to encourage him to continue saying it. I also wanted to communicate my thoughts on the same subject as set forth in my 2017 blog post.

Having been denied the opportunity to send the representative e-mail—I don’t know his e-mail address, and the form on his Web site prevented my sending e-mail through that mechanism—I thought of calling his office. I did have access to a telephone number, but I thought that communicating my blog post over the telephone would be cumbersome. Before picking up the phone, however, I realized that I could write a letter and enclose a copy of my blog essay. So that’s what I did.

I later discovered that Mr. Raskin has a Facebook page, and I could conceivably have communicated with him through Facebook. I think the letter was a better idea, and perhaps demonstrated greater commitment to getting my voice heard. That message was not time-sensitive, and I’m not sure what would have been the best channel to use had it been. Probably I would have used the telephone in that case.

I am offended by public officials limiting who is allowed to contact them conveniently. Mr. Raskin is not the only offender here. Not long ago, I wanted to send a message to Senator Liz Chaney and ran into the same restriction—I was not from her state. I dropped the project.

I suspect that not all members of Congress have a pressing need to limit their e-mail messages. But those with a high profile may consider that a necessity. This is a shame, and I don’t know what to do about it. Legislators could be given much bigger staffs to handle communication, I suppose, though the real problem is that we have too few people in Congress given the number of citizens needing to be represented. I don’t see us fixing that problem anytime soon.

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