Last week I encouraged folks to write their Senator in support of S 3018, the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act. This is a time honored technique that the average citizen can use to help influence the course of legislation in Washington. Unfortunately, it is also a disappointing way to learn how well your Senator’s staff reads and understands constituent communications.
Remember, unless you are a big donor, your Senator or Representative seldom actually sees your letter or email, it is typically read by a staffer who compiles statistics about how constituents feel on topics and selects an appropriate reply to that communication.
I received such a reply this morning from one of my Senators. It started off with the expected platitudes about being glad to hear from me and thanking me for sharing my concerns. Then it went into a canned response about the Senator’s support for a broad based energy security program based upon a “national energy policy to implement innovative solutions to increase electric generation and transmission, reduce gas prices”. Oops, they are talking about supply chain security and I was talking about cybersecurity.
Now one of two things was occurring there in the Washington office this morning. Either the staffer responsible for the reply did not know the difference between ‘supply chain security’ and ‘cybersecurity’, and/or the office does not have a canned response to cybersecurity and the staffer used the closest thing available. Both would be more than a little disturbing, but I would hope for the former, but knowing congresscritters I suspect that it is more likely that both would be true.
Now, does this mean that I think writing letters to your representatives in Washington is a waste of time? No, I would not have sent off my two letters if I felt that that was the case. Did I expect that my letter would have a major impact on the Senator? No, I’m not a major donor, nor do I have local political connections, so I doubt that the Senator actually sees my letter.
What I do expect, is that if the Senator is receiving multiple letters on this bill, when it comes up for consideration, the staff will tell the Senator that there is some level of constituent support for the bill and that will be taken into account when it comes time for a vote. If there is no opposition to the bill in the Senator’s office, that may be enough all by itself to get a positive vote. And if there is enough constituent support, some level of opposition can be overcome. If the Senator is against the bill, you don’t have much hope of changing that vote unless you get overwhelming constituent support or you make a real big campaign donation; and neither of those is absolutely sure of overcoming real opposition.
So, please, write your Senator and Representative, in support of S 3018 or any bill that you feel strongly about. You may not be able to influence their decision, but you certainly cannot if you do not write.