Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on May 19, 1974 · Page 71
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 71

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 19, 1974
Page 71
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Page 71 article text (OCR)

You're a VIP in Washington By Stanley Jacobs If you lliink you don't count, try w riling your Representative or Senator in \\ aldington and see how quirk he answer*. Visitors at the nation's capital recently were startled to see a famous senator sprinting down the hall, coat-tails and hair flying as he bellowed: "Where are they? Great Scott, I hope they didn't get away!" "Is he looking for President Nixon?" asked a curious visitor. "No -- for some other important people!" the legislator's secretary replied with a grin. "The Senator has a date to show the Capitol to five high school teachers from his home town!" In an era when Washington teems with famous visitors who receive the red carpet treatment, it's easy for John Q. Citizen to get the unhappy notion that our public servants have time only for Very Important People. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Today, more than ever, you and your family are the real VIP's to the men who make our laws. They go to fantastic lengths -- and personal expense -- to keep you informed, shake your hand, give you advice, offer free seeds, extend congratulations, or get you government loans. They may even introduce special legislation for you if the purpose is a worthy one. "Though we .may be photographed showing an Indian potentate or a prime minister around Capitol Hill don't think we are high-hat -those visitors don't vote for us!" comments a veteran ^ solon. "The real power -and the voices we heed -- belong to the f o l k s back home!" +· We can't all camp on the doorsteps of our congressmen, but we can.use the State Magazine, May 19, 1974 most direct method available to tell him what we think of want -- the U. S. mails. Each day, the postmen stagger in with 200,000 letters to congressmen and senators. No movie star ever thumbed so eagerly through his fan mail as dp these busy men. If the letter volume slackens, they are edgy and worried. If it spurts up unexpectedly, they fret lest they are doing something that is raising the hackles of those all-important voters back home. If you still have doubts as to your own importance to Congress, consider the alchemy in a single letter which changed the fortunes of thousands of Americans. An Air Force captain wrote plaintively that he had been passed over in civil service exams in his home state. "We men in uniform are penalized for being in the armed forces, when it comes to taking tests for jobs with our own government," he wrote with some ire. The lawmaker investigated and learned that the civil service rules did indeed discriminate against our troops. As a result, legislation was introduced which continues eligibility for civil service posts while applicants are still in uniform. * Never think that your letter won't be read, either by a congressman or his staff. Representative O.K. Armstrong of M i s s o u r i once warned a freshman lawmaker: "Better read all your mail, son! Especially the letters written with a pencil on cheap tablet paper." He emphasized what every seasoned Washingtonian knows: the letter written with a spluttery pen and a telling earnestness will reflect more true grass-roots sentiment than a ream of mimeographed letters obviously inspired by a pressure group. And when you do write to your congressman, be specific and show some individuality in your thinking. Use your own stationery, not that of a club or organization. Give the local point of view on an issue. Don't forget.the personal touch either -- congressmen are human. If you heard him give the Independence Day speech last summer, and liked it, say so -- he'll appreciate it. *· All of this deference to constituents' voices is relatively new in Washington history. Half a century back, Congress sat in session just a few months a year. A lawmaker then received about 15 or 20 letters a week. These he answered in longhand, rarely having a secretary or typewriter. But these days Congress is in session almost endlessly. They consider subjects not even in existence four decades ago. The wrath of a single voter can often change the entire course of Washington history. Legislators will tell you that one accusatory letter to a senator set in motion a sweeping i n v e s t i g a t i o n which sent a former chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee to jail on bribery charges. Says Sen. Jacob Javits of New York: "Paper and pen in the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen are the most important weapons we have in the war for good government. Actually, the most powerful lobby iff the United States is made up of the people back home!" He will tell you of letters from home folks which have saved taxpayers millions of dollars, changed the thinking of representatives, and resulted in new laws which benefit thousands of people. .For example, there was the solitary missive re- Clip and Save Sen. Jennings Randolph Room 5121 New Senate Building Washington, B.C. 20510 Sen. Robert C. Byrd Room 105 Old Senate Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20510 Rep. John M. Slack Jr. Rayburn House Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20515 Rep. Ken Hechler Room 242 Cannon House Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20515 Rep. Robert H. Mollohan Room 314 Cannon House Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20515 Rep. Harley Staggers Room 2366 Rayburn House Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20515 ceived by a Midwestern senator, which argued that military housing in a certain area was much too costly. The senator investigated and found the letter writer was correct. He introduced legislation w h i c h u l t i m a t e l y saved us $40,000,000 in reduced housing expenses. There'.s also the "Case of the Air Force Gloves", still remembered on Capitol Hill. One day, an eastern senator received a letter from an unknown constituent in an upstate town asking: "Why in the world does the Air Force need 1,500,000 pairs of dress gloves? Are they flying -- or going to a ball?" He tuned the letter over to a Senate Investigating Committee which took a hard look at the proposed glove deal. As a result, the contract was cancelled and the taxpayers saved more than $2,000,000. Your congressman can and will do many things for you. He can recommend your son to West Point or Annapolis; he may get flood control for your hard-hit county, if you request it. If you're a businessman, your congressman -- or congresswomian -will put you in touch with the proper bureaus or departments, if you are seeking government contracts. Your congressional representative probably maintains an office at home as well as in Washington. Call on the person who runs it and make yourself known. Frequently, this local office can perform a service for a constituent with greater dispatch than if it first has to clear through Washington. A widow, close to poverty a year after the death of her husband, called at her congressman's local office and told her plight. The assistant discovered she was entitled to social security payments, but hadn't realized it. By expediting the paper work, he helped her out of her financial jam and even found modest-priced living quarters for her. Remember, it is the right of any citizen to petition his government for any purpose whatsoever. Your closest pipeline to Uncle Sam is your congressman or senator -- and you'll find them eager to help, if possible. As a good "boss", you the constituent, should get the facts about your congressman. Who are his supporters? Business? Labor? Veterans? What is his own business or professional background? What is his voting record on issues close to your heart? You can learn much about him and his role in Washington by checking the Congressional Directory in your public library. You can also ask your local newspaper editor, women's club, or trade association how they evaluate his legislative performance. "Look up your congressman's committee assign- m e n t , " advises one oiu Washington hand. "Know his' sub-committees also. Is he the chairman or ranking minority member? How does he stand on issues -- or does he straddle the fence? "Read his speeches -he'll be delighted to send you copies. Ask him blunt questions. After all. you are the boss, ar.en't you?" : : CHARLESTON, W. VA5m

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