Representatives use new, old ways to communicate with district residents
Jan 09, 2013 (Kerrville Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It used to be if you wanted to let representatives in Washington and Austin know how you felt about an issue, about the only way to do it between elections was writing a letter.
The World Wide Web has changed all that.
First came email, which for those with computer and Internet access meant almost instant access to representatives. Now many politicians are turning to social media, including Facebook and Twitter, not only to reach out to constituents but to stay in touch with their home districts during and between sessions.
Rep. Harvey Hilderbran's press secretary Lindsay Patterson said during the legislative session, his office receives between 200 and 300 emails and that they use Facebook and Hilderbran's website to post news releases and information about upcoming events.
Patterson said that despite the large number of emails, they all get read and responses are sent out to those that need it. But she said the best way to get help from Hilderbran's office is still the old-fashioned way.
"People don't call anymore," Patterson said. "If you call our office, you'll get to talk to someone and probably get assistance a lot faster. You're probably not going to get Rep. Hilderbran answering the phone, because he's on the House floor."
That's where Hilderbran was Tuesday afternoon as the Texas Legislature convened the 83rd session. On the other side of the Texas Capitol, Sen. Troy Fraser joined his colleagues in the other chamber for the first day of the session.
Fraser's chief of staff, Janice McCoy, said like Hilderbran's office, Fraser's staff checks emails and takes phone calls daily. She said there's also been a huge increase in the number of emails Fraser's office receives, but the number of written letters that come "snail-mail" is down to about two dozen a week during the session.
"The best way for a constituent to share their opinion and thoughts with the senator is however they want to do it," McCoy said.
While the Legislature kicked off the session Tuesday, members of Congress began their 113th session last week in Washington. For representatives and senators, keeping in touch with constituents is a bigger challenge, given the distance and the amount of time they spend in Washington.
Rep. Lamar Smith is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, so it's not surprising that his office has turned to social media and other ways of staying in touch with constituents.
Smith's office still receives hundreds of calls every day and has a full-time staffer to read letters, but he also holds townhall-type phone calls about once a month, has an active Facebook account, and his office will soon be in charge of multiple Twitter accounts -- one for his office and a second through the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Smith isn't the only member of Congress turning to social media to let constituents know what they are doing. Freshman senator Ted Cruz is using Twitter and Facebook to talk about the issues of the day, from gun control to Aggie football, and to let people know when he will be speaking on national news programs and throughout the state.
Sen. John Cornyn's office also is using social media, including Twitter and Facebook posts multiple times each day.
All three representatives in Washington have offices that take calls daily, but one staffer said written letters, or snail mail, isn't the best way to contact members of Congress, since letters may be slowed due to screening for anthrax or other dangers.
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