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Thursday, December 1, 2016

 10:53 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Good letters are read, the rest are tallied

After a busy and political November, this week’s column takes a lighter tone: tips for letters. 

Letters and emails are still the most common form of communicating with a member of Congress. Depending on the office, officials often receive hundreds to thousands of letters each week on a range of topics as wide as the ocean.  Emails can easily be sent to most members of Congress via the official’s webpage (Note: this usually requires the constituent’s zip code to start and most sites do not allow for attachments).

Some of these letters are sent as form letters.  These forms are often drafted by an association or a cause, and sent to its membership or supporters, as an URGENT “action item” to sign and forward along to a specific official.  For most officials, unless there is an extremely massive quantity of form letters, the letters may flag the issue, but they do not move the needle.  (And candidly, most staff find them to be a bit of a nuisance). 

One of the biggest problems with form letters is that neither officials, nor their staff, really know the level of passion or commitment to the cause that a form letter signer holds.  In surveying staff on this issue, one said that he called a few signers to gain a better understanding of the issue, and one signer said how he did not really know anything, while another said a neighbor asked her to forward it so she did, and so on it goes… not the best advocates.  These letters are usually tallied up, the signer is often sent a courtesy form response back, and that is the end of it.  In my experience, most form letters are a waste of time and a good reminder to always know what is being signed. 

Facebook posts are growing more popular, however, an official usually cannot tell if the person is a constituent or not, so this is also not the most effective approach if a constituent is really trying to have a message be heard by his representative or senator. 

If a person does not have a relationship with an office from a previous encounter, a good, old-fashioned, signed personal letter or email is still the way to go for written contact.  Keep in mind that snail mail coming into the U.S. Capitol is screened, delaying its arrival.  If an issue is urgent, an email or phone call may be best.  For many offices, ten, genuine, personal letters are far more impactful than 100 form letters.  A personal letter from a constituent that tells the story about how a person is specifically impacted by an issue, shares his opinion on legislation, and is polite and factually accurate, is valued.  Doing all that in one page, and definitely less than two pages, is greatly appreciated.  These are the letters that are READ, not tallied.  Plus, personal letters often need and receive a more personal response.  If a constituent feels his letter was not responded to well, or was too generic, the constituent should write another letter.  Offices keep track of sent letters, so the staff will need to put more effort into a second response, as it should not send the same letter again.   

And of course, if letter writing is not a person’s favorite activity, there is always making an actual telephone call to the office or attending a town hall meeting – depending on the issue and time-sensitivity, each method has its own benefits and value.  

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

 11:11 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Faith, hope, love and Trump

Eight years ago, I teared up on Election Night.  I had quit my job, moved to Iowa – where I knew no one – to spend five months living out of a cheap hotel room and working 18 hour days campaigning for John McCain to be the next president … and then we lost.

I did not understand how America could elect an inexperienced community organizer who, in my eyes, was a talented speaker lacking substance, over a wise, experienced war hero, to be the leader of the free world.  But, the people had spoken.  Democracy worked.  I turned off the news, took a breath and packed my office.

Life always provides winners and losers, and I had lost.  However, I knew the sun would still rise, and that even after campaigning against President-elect Barack Obama because he terrified me, I knew I was beyond privileged to live in the United States – the truest, most elite one percent.

Fast forward eight years, and in irony of all irony’s, on Election Day, I thought, “maybe Obama is not so bad.”  I did not agree with him on almost anything besides a March Madness bracket – but he seemed okay and a good dad.  However, democracy propels us forward.

The pendulum swung hard from “change we can believe in” to change.  Despite the most untraditional campaign, lack of political experience and an unapologizing biased media, people voted for now President-elect Donald Trump.

In the days since, I have read and heard countless comments aimed at Trump and Republicans and Democrats, that are far worse than anything Trump has said.  How does this make us any better?  He started it?  That is the example of civility we set for our children?  Hate – one.  Forgiveness – zero?
Yes, there are bad eggs on both sides who are using this election to act in horrible ways.  But that is exactly what they are – bad eggs.  (Trump was a registered Democrat from August 2001 to September 2009).

The majority of Trump supporters are no more racist and sexist than Hillary Clinton supporters are entitled and whiny losers.

Rather than spewing hate, labeling, or typecasting someone for their vote, we should concede that not all voters liked the choices and remember this in future elections.  For many, it was despite the candidate’s positions, not because of them: what was “less evil” based on personal ideology.  It was not as much racism as resentment – a resentment that grew into a Trump movement as the participation-ribbon, safe-space, no-feelings-left-behind political correctness bubble appeared to be permanently ballooning out of control.

Personally, I have worked in Washington politics for a decade and have experienced the “boys club” firsthand on numerous occasions.  I feared Washington moving backward.  I also know Republican women in the military who feared Clinton, because after Benghazi, she could not be trusted to have their back.

We all voted the way we thought best.  I accept Trump won, and I support him for four main reasons.
First, “We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead,” as Clinton compellingly said in her concession speech.  Painful words to utter, yet true.  Campaigning is over and the reset button must be pressed.  No one is perfect, and few of us would like our life scrutinized like a presidential candidate.  In opening my mind, I acknowledged that Trump had a (pretty amazing) female in the top job – something many male leaders would never do.  His eldest daughter is clearly a strong, capable business woman.  This gives me faith.

Second, Trump said a lot of things on the campaign trail, but many will prove as likely as the numerous celebrities who said they would leave the country if he won.  Now that we have struck both sides of the pendulum, perhaps it will not be much longer before we return to the middle, stop tip-toeing around issues and hold honest discussions.  I have hope.

Third, Trump is the president-elect.  Come January 20th, 2017, he is the pilot of Plane America.  We all soar to new heights or crash and burn with him in the cockpit.  I want America to soar.  Before turning my back or passing harsh judgment on him as a person, I will let Trump take office and watch his actions that first 100 days.  When I do not agree, or I witness injustice, I am not going to light cars on fire, or punch people, nor will I wait four years for another election.  I will channel that emotion into having my voice be heard in a constructive way and speaking up for those who cannot.  Love of country.

If you recall, when Obama took office, many thought he oozed arrogance and an ego.  He also had darker hair.  The greatness of the office humbled him… and aged him.  Trump is clearly already recognizing the HUGGEEENESS of this position, and we should allow him the same moment we would want to truly begin to process the weight being placed on our shoulders.  I prefer my glass half-full and do believe he wants to do well by America.  Vice President-elect Mike Pence most certainly does.

Finally, let us not blame all our anger and the world’s problems on one person most of us have never met.  As the former First Lady Barbara Bush said, “Your success as a family…our success as a nation… depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.”

Decisions we make start with us.  Actions we take start with us.  In our house.  Not every four years, but every single day.  In all our words.  All our actions.  Our compassion for others.  No elected official, regardless of title, can instantly make our culture in America better – only we can do that by actively living faith, hope and love among each other every day.

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

 10:15 AM 

Schumer adds Baldwin to Senate Dem leadership team

Newly elected leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, announced today he is expanding the Senate Dems leadership team to add Tammy Baldwin, Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin.

Baldwin, D-Madison, comes from the party’s progressive wing, while Manchin, D-W.V., is one of the more moderate members of the caucus. Sanders, meanwhile, has been an independent who caucused with Dems before running for the party’s presidential nomination this cycle. All three are up for re-election in 2018.

Baldwin will serve as Democratic Conference secretary, Sanders chair of outreach and Manchin vice chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Baldwin wrote in a Facebook post that too "many Americans feel like they are being left behind" and she will be focused on "making a difference in people's everyday lives." She also wrote "the Republican establishment now owns Washington" with lobbyists, big banks and Wall Street "calling the shots."

"I have never been afraid to stand up to these powerful interests in Washington and I will continue my fight for the people of Wisconsin to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top," Baldwin wrote.

Schumer noted the caucus previously had a seven-person leadership team. Adding the three members “shows we can unite the disparate factions of our party and our country. Our whole leadership team is emblematic of that.”

He also said the Dem team is ideologically and geographically diverse, mixing the “wisdom of experience with the vigor of youth.”

“But from top to bottom, the common thread is that each of these senators have devoted their lives to fighting for the middle class and those struggling to get there,” Schumer said. “Each of us, each of us, believes we need sharper, bolder economic message about returning the economic system, which so many feel is rigged against them, to one that works for the people.”

-- By JR Ross


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

 1:05 PM 

House Republicans unanimously back Ryan to return next session as speaker

House Republicans today unanimously backed Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, to return next session as speaker.

The formal floor vote will be in January, when Ryan would need a majority vote of those present -- typically 218 votes -- to hold onto the gavel.

Ryan tweeted after the vote, "It is a tremendous honor to be nominated by my colleagues to serve as Speaker of the House. Now it’s time to go big."


 8:22 AM 

Ryan formally announces re-election bid for speaker

Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, has written his GOP colleagues formally indicating his plans to run for re-election as speaker, saying he has heard from them "it is time to go big."

Ryan, who won the post a little more than a year ago after John Boehner stepped down, asked colleagues to think back to that period. He wrote they were divided as a conference. But instead of "continuing to drift," Republicans unified, went on offense and opened up lines of communication as they "developed a positive, specific policy agenda, and took it to the country."

He wrote that agenda will allow Republicans to hit the ground running with President-elect Trump.

"If we go for it -- if we go big and go bold -- we can make America so great that it offers our children even more than it offers us," Ryan wrote.

The House Republican Conference is set to meet today for leadership elections. There will then be a floor vote in January, when Ryan would have to garner a majority of members present to retain the gavel.

Read the email:
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=381918


Thursday, November 3, 2016

 9:17 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Just vote: No excuses

While at this point, some of us would rather have a colonoscopy, root canal, or even ALMOST a Vikings Super Bowl victory, than hear another word about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, voting for our elected officials is a privilege that we should not take for granted.

If anyone has been living under a rock, Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Every vote counts.  Every vote matters.  Nothing is for certain until the ballots are counted.

There is no excuse to not vote.

Too busy?  According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, the average American watches approximately five hours of television a day.  Make the time to vote.  There are also options to vote early absentee in Wisconsin.

Not registered?  Wisconsin is one of only 10 states (and the District of Columbia) that offers same day voter registration, allowing a person to register right at the polls.  In Virginia, for example, a person would be out of luck to vote, if they were not registered by the middle of October.  Plus, a voter would need a valid excuse to vote early absentee, as well as a valid photo identification.

Don’t like the candidates?  Become a candidate.  Or, get educated sooner in the next primary and vote for who should win, not who is thought to win.  Or, recognize that our nation has had good and bad elected officials in the past and still survived.  Voting is our civic duty.  Demonstrating our support for freedom and democracy is important.  And selecting the leader of the free world is a responsibility that no one should take lightly.

Winston Churchill is quoted as once saying, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”  Let us do everything we can to prove him wrong.  Take some time to learn about the candidates on the ballot and make an educated decision based on personal principles when voting.  The individuals we elect will be making decisions that impact our lives for the next two, four, and six years.

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

 10:29 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Just hold your nose and vote!

As a child, I loved going to the voting booth with my dad – back when there were levers to pull for candidates.  When I reached voting age, I practically skipped to the polls to cast my ballot and wore my “I Voted” sticker with pride all day.  This cycle, I am genuinely worried I may be sick on my way to or from my polling place, but I will still vote. 

America spoke.  These are our nominated party candidates.  To not vote is squandering a privilege others long to hold.  To not vote is a vote: a vote in support of everything a person opposes because he did nothing to change the outcome. 

Although many people, myself included, are disheartened by the top of the ticket selections, we must still show up on November 8. 

Votes matter.  We cannot assume anything and should not take anything for granted.  Nothing is certain until the ballots are counted. 

But how to decide when the two front-runners hold the lowest favorability ratings ever in a presidential cycle?  The Washington Post recently researched what voters do when they consider every option bad and found that people tend to vote by rejecting the choices they do not like, instead of affirmatively choosing the one they dislike the least.  Whatever works for the voter mindset …

We are fortunate to live in the United States. Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” 

Our nation is the envy of people across the globe who do not have the right to vote.  Voting is a privilege.  It demonstrates a small attitude of gratitude that says, “I’m grateful to live in such a great country and I am doing my part.”  Reports of low voter turnout are a sad representation of our nation, regardless of how frustrated we feel this cycle.  Yes, government can be slow, and yes, elected officials are human and make mistakes, but voting can bring about change – look at the Tea Party movement or the UK’s Brexit vote for recent examples (for better or worse). 

Sometimes advocating a position means compromise, not extremes, but it does not mean giving up.  Sometimes it means waiting a turn instead of instant gratification, but we still must try to move the ball forward.  And, sometimes voting is not all about us, but the overall greater good. 

Our votes should be cast based on more than who sounds like us, or who we would like to drink a beer with, or our level of anger.  We are electing the leader of the free world.  This is a huge responsibility to our family, friends, and fellow citizens here at home, and to people across the entire globe – especially those who do not hold the right to vote.  Of the candidates, who is best to lead the nation for the next four years?  Represent us on the global stage? 

If we do not like our choices, then let this be a lesson for us.  And let us hope that Washington officials also learn a lesson and become more action-orientated. 

Perhaps in future elections we all could pay more attention to substance over soundbites.  We may live in a 24-hour news cycle world, but maybe instead of saying he or she holds my attention, or speaks the best, maybe it is time to start examining plans, policies, and records of achievement.  Maybe we should be listening more to what a candidate is truly saying – regardless of the candidate’s level of energy when saying it, appearance, or how well the candidate works the media.

With all that said, let us not lose hope.  Our great nation has had good and not-so-good presidents in the past, and we have endured and prospered because of, and sometimes even in spite of, that president.  Our nation is bigger and stronger than any one individual. 

Additionally, the Founding Fathers were wise in establishing a system that leaves much of the critical decision making to states and local governments.  Leaders for positions at the state, county, and local governments are on ballots across the country, and are worth our consideration, as well as a trip to the polling place.  These elected officials are far more likely to impact our daily lives than the president, so please research them and cast the ballot accordingly. 

Yes, I dread voting for a presidential candidate this election.  However, at the end of the day, I am grateful to live in an amazing country where I have the right to vote, and I am appreciative of all the candidates who are willing to run for office and serve in a (often) thankless job.  

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

 8:23 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Congressional ABC’s and 123’s

As Congress is in recess until the November election, now is a great time to catch-up on some homework. By homework, I mean the Congressional version of ABC’s and 123’s, such as knowing bill sponsors and numbers, and preparing one-pagers.

Before any meeting or contacting an elected official, it is critical to do the necessary homework to ensure advocates position themselves in the best light and are viewed as a trustworthy source. Some items seem really simple, but they are often overlooked by groups. As a result, the group loses some credibility. For instance, I cannot even count the number of times a group lobbied my office on a piece of legislation without knowing the actual bill number. In my informal survey of Hill staff, this occurrence was common throughout their meetings as well. In corporate America, this would be like not having cost estimates for a project, or in the classroom, the teacher not knowing what chapter the class was on.

It is important to remember that while a group may eat, sleep and breathe that one specific bill, Members of Congress and staff deal with more than 10,000 pieces of legislation that are introduced into Congress each session. To ensure the member and staff are aware of the correct legislation, make sure they have the bill specifics: a group advocating in support or opposition of a bill should always provide the bill name, number, and sponsor.

For some homework extra credit, be aware that these numbers often change with a new session. Come January, Congress hits the reset button, which means bills need to be reintroduced and will then receive a new number.

Another good homework project is preparing a one-page document with all the pertinent information of the legislation in an easy-to-read format. Yes, this should include the bill name, number, and sponsor, and if it has a companion bill in the other chamber, but a one-page document should also include useful facts, such as a brief bill summary, cost estimates, historical framework, district impacts, timelines and so forth. This document is what members and staff will read first, so it should be full of details and accurate. Many groups like to provide the one-pager during the meetings, however, a majority of staff, would prefer receiving the one-pager ahead of time to be better informed on the issue. This can be done by sending it with the meeting confirmation email and also bringing copies to the meeting. After all, does a group prefer the member or staff read it A) while the group is presenting, or B) ahead of time to provide for a better meeting conversation?

Those answering B receive the “A” for the day!

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.


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