- From the January 2002 Connecticut Council of Car Clubs Newsletter
It is clear from the constant stream of anti-automobile enthusiast legislation across the country that, in order for the automotive hobbies to survive the present, let alone flourish in the future, hobbyists must work toward becoming more politically involved and effective. To help in this effort, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and the SEMA Action Network (SEMA's car club and individual enthusiast outreach program) offer this guide to becoming a more politically effective auto enthusiast community. Our goals are simple. For our way of life to survive, hobbyists must
Adopt a positive attitude about politics, politicians and government;
Build strong relationships with elected officials;
Educate elected officials and staff on the car hobby: who is involved and why we are important; and
Become a positive, involved and vibrant part of our communities.
Most importantly, hobbyists must learn to work the system. Auto enthusiasts and clubs must learn to lobby.
Specifically included in this guide are guidelines on how to properly prepare for and meet with elected officials, the best and worst ways to contact a legislator on issues of concern and a discussion about how you, as a hobbyist or car club member, can become more politically aware.
We hope you find this guide informative and useful.
LETTERS AND OTHER WRITTEN COMMUNICATION:
When you are pushing an issue or supporting or trying to defeat a bill, writing your legislators is a very effective way of getting your message across. However, some methods of communication are a lot more effective than others.
I. Personal letters --
The absolute best thing to do is to write a personal letter. Personal letters show legislators that the author is knowledgeable, interested and committed to the matter at hand. Sending a personal letter also alerts the legislator to the fact that the author is politically active. Legislators keep close track of how their mail is running on particular issues, so your letter will have an influence whether the elected official personally reads it or not. Many legislators argue that one clear, logical individual letter is worth more than a petition with a thousand signatures!
Suggestions for writing personal letters
Be Timely -- Write when an issue is current. Procrastination and apathy guarantee that your voice will not be heard and that legislators will assume you don’t really care.
Be Brief -- Limit yourself to one page and one topic. The goal is to be read and understood.
Be Specific -- Reference specific bill numbers. Include basic information like what the legislation would do and how it would affect you and other people in the legislator’s district or state. Remind legislators how their actions affect your hobby and your vote.
Be Legible -- Clearly sign your name and include your address in the letter itself (envelopes with return addresses are routinely discarded). How can a legislator know who you are, what your concerns are, or where you are from if he can’t read your handwriting? Better yet, type your letter.
Be Supportive -- Write thank you letters when a legislator supports your cause. Too often they get only anti or complaint letters. A thank-you will make you stand out and it will help establish a more personal relationship with the legislator.
Don’t Be a Pest – Don’t become a constant pen-pal. Legislative offices track who writes and how often. Avoid being seen as a constantly writing crank or malcontent; it will dilute your message.
Turning a SEMA Action Network Action Alert into a Letter
From time to time, the SEMA Action Network will alert hobbyists in a particular state to a legislative or regulatory proposal that should either be supported or opposed. In nearly all cases, these legislative or regulatory alerts include bullet points which can easily be incorporated into a personal letter .
II. Email correspondence --
As more and more state legislatures and legislators develop online capability, email is developing as a very useful tool for quickly and effectively communicating with elected officials. Keep in mind, however, that email is easily deleted and often comes in overwhelming numbers. A personal letter will always be more effective.
Suggestions for email communication
Treat it as an electronic personal letter -- Follow the same rules for form and content as you would for writing a personal letter. Avoid the symbols, shorthand or electronic-speak that often accompanies personal emails. Write in complete sentences.
Title your submission -- Take advantage of the email subject line to give the legislator an idea of what the letter is going to be about. Include the bill number, if possible. This will make it easier for the legislator to categorize the email and respond more effectively.
Include a home address -- Always provide your postal address somewhere in the body of your email. This will increase your chances of getting a response to your note. Most legislators and legislative staff are not prone to establishing an electronic conversation.
III. Form letters
Canned or form letters are okay, but not nearly as effective as a personal letter or email. Certainly, they are easy to produce and send in; however, they lack personal touch and conviction. Legislators are more likely to discount form letters because they may show a lack of effort, and lack of effort can be translated into lack of interest. Legislators want to see effort. Effort shows them that you have a genuine interest in an issue and a willingness to go out of your way to make your case.
Nonetheless, if you are embarking on a form letter campaign, keep these two iron-clad rules in mind:
Include your address -- A great number of form letters have no obvious space for you to LEGIBLY write in your address. Without an address, the legislator has just a piece of paper. He or she won’t know whether you are a constituent or not.
Give extra effort -- Take an extra 30 seconds to write a 1- or 2-line personal note at the bottom of the form letter. Briefly restate your concerns. Ask for a written response. Any effort to make the form letter personal will help it be noticed.
IV. A very few words about petitions
They usually don’t work.
Few people read petition papers and many of the people who sign them have no idea what they are signing. Legislators know this and overwhelmingly discount their importance.
Petitions also tend to be poorly prepared and legislators have difficulty or no time to look through thousands of signatures to determine if any constituents signed on. At best, they neither help nor hurt the legislative battle you are involved in. Either way, petitions are often a waste of valuable time that could be used on more effective methods.
- Bottom Line: Write personal letters or pay your legislators a visit.
PHONING YOUR LEGISLATORS:
Phone calls are a relatively effective way of communicating your concerns to your legislators. Phoning is especially important when a bill is moving quickly through the legislative process and time is short. The opportunity cost is that issues need to be relatively simple to be communicated well. Below are some suggestions.
Be simple -- Call about one issue at a time. If possible, refer to the bill number and what the bill would do.
Be brief -- Introduce yourself, state how you feel about a particular bill or issue and ask for the legislator’s support. If the legislator is undecided, ask to be updated on his or her stance after a period of time or ask for a meeting where you can argue your position.
Be logical -- Call your own representatives before you call any others. Your local legislators are always your first priority. They owe their political fortunes to you and your neighbors.
Be connected -- Always leave your name and address, particularly if you’re a constituent. Legislative offices, to keep track of how the constituency feels on certain issues, often log phone calls. Usually phone inquiries are responded to by letter after a period of time. If you phone to express an opinion but refuse to leave an address, you are wasting your breath.
Be smart -- Always say thank you. Never be abusive or threatening.
SAMPLE PHONE CALL:
Car Club Member/Hobbyist: Hello, I’d like to speak to Assemblyman X about A.B. 3299, the pro car enthusiast Inoperable Vehicle Bill.
Legislative Staff Member: Sorry, Assemblyman X is voting right now. May I take a message?
Hobbyist: Yes, my name is John Q. Public, with XYZ Car Club. I’d like to ask Assemblyman X to support A.B. 3299 because it would stop local areas from enforcing an ordinance or land use regulation that would keep automobile collectors from working on their cars.
Legislative Staff Member: I will give the message to Assemblyman X and ask him to respond to you. Can I have your address?
Hobbyist: (GIVE ADDRESS)
Staff member: Thank you.
Hobbyist: Thanks for your help.