California Native Plant Society

Legislative Program

Writing to Your Legislator

Individuals can have significant influence on public policy using effective communication techniques. Most legislators, elected officials and their staff want to know what constituents think. They realize that people that take time to communicate are likely voters that have some influence in their community (significant constituents). Whether or not you think your representative agrees with you, it is important to communicate your views.

The written word is a powerful form of communication. Legislators consider a concise, personal letter as generally reflecting the opinion of 30-40 people.

Tips to Maximize Your Letter Writing Effectiveness

  • Be short and concise - keep it to one page if possible. Discuss only one subject or bill per letter.
  • Be clear in your letter if you are representing an organization. If you are not representing a group, it can still be advantageous to state that you are a member of CNPS or another group, and agree with the group's position.
  • Type the letter if possible. A neat, handwritten one is acceptable. 
  • Mention the issue or bill by name and number right up front - either in a "subject" line or in the first paragraph. Mention where the bill is in the legislative process. 
  • Refer to local media articles or government/scientific reports that support or are consistent with your view. 
  • Ask for specific action (e.g. vote for or against the bill, co-sponsor the bill, etc.). 
  • Be helpful, polite, and firm. Don't threaten ("I'll never vote for you again!"). Don't be outraged or righteous ("As a citizen and taxpayer…"), or insulting ("How could you be so stupid!"). 
  • After you draft a letter, let it "season" for a day or so. Read it over and ask if it says what you want. If it does, send it. You will be surprised how different things read after a night's sleep. 
  • On "emergency" issues it is better to FAX a letter than to call on the phone. 
  • Always send a thank you letter when the legislator votes or responds the way you like!

And Finally, Regarding CNPS --

Review the CNPS policies and adopted legislative positions if you are representing CNPS. These are available on the Positions & Policies page of the Conservation Program web site. If you have questions about whether you can act in an official CNPS capacity, be sure to ask your Chapter President, State Legislative Committee Chair, or the State President for approval.

If you get a reply to your letter that reports or suggests a position on the issue which you wrote regarding please relay that information to the CNPS Legislative Committee Chair. Be prepared to lose a few battles but learn from each experience - have a long-term perspective. Remember, one objective is to become a significant constituent to the elected official.

Adapted from "Communicating with your Legislator" in Fremontia, the journal of the California Native Plant Society.


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