Friday, November 13, 2009

Constituent response - FAIL

Last week I sent messages to Senator John Cornyn, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Congressman Michael McCaul about issues with BlueCross BlueShield. I explained my situation and expressed my support for the health care reform bill currently working its way through the legislative process. I told each that I was writing because I wanted them to know that not all of their constituents are anti-reform.

I got immediate form e-mails back from Cornyn and McCaul thanking me for writing, and I haven't heard anything from either since. Last night I got a response from Senator Hutchison, and it's obvious that the person at her office responsible for handling constituent inquiries just looked at the subject line of the form I submitted and sent a standard response.

The e-mail thanks me for contacting the senator and then launches into an explanation of everything she is doing to prevent passage of the health care reform bill in the Senate and lists the "advantages" of the bills she is sponsoring. The e-mail closes with this:

You are among thousands of concerned Texans who have written to express their views on this topic. You may be assured that as health care reform legislation comes for consideration before the full Senate, I will continue fighting against the Democrats’ proposal to enact a government takeover of our health care system.

And that's the part that really pisses me off.

In my life prior to being a freelance writer and editor, I worked for the Texas Attorney General's office (back in the day when Senator Cornyn was the attorney general and Congressman McCaul worked for him; I've actually met both men). One of the many hats I wore was supervisor of the Citizens' Assistance Section. The AG's office received tens of thousands of letters and e-mails every year, and our section responded to all of them that weren't related to consumer protection issues and child support collection - other sections handled those.

I would have NEVER allowed a response like the one I received to be sent. Never.

People wrongly assume that the Attorney General of Texas is the attorney for the people of Texas. Instead, he is the attorney for the State of Texas. But people would write to us looking for legal advice, asking for referrals to attorneys, asking for help with landlords or doctors or whatever. And every single response we sent was appropriate to the request. If we couldn't directly help the letter writer, we'd supply a referral to someone who could, whether it was another state agencyor the writer's state legislator or a lawyer referral service or a tenants' rights group.

And if a constituent sent a letter with an opinion that was contrary to the attorney general's, we'd at least acknowledge that the person had an opposing viewpoint. The staff worked very hard to make it clear that we really did read each and every letter and e-mail that was sent. We also kept stats on the number of messages we got on either side of issues and reported them to the attorney general.

That's what makes me so mad about the e-mail from Hutchison's office. There's not even the pretense of having read my message. There is no recognition that I hold a different point of view or that I don't support her efforts.

I sent the message in the hopes of having my voice heard, and it is apparent that it wasn't at all.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I am impressed -- not with Hutchison's office, but with how you handled correspondence in the attorney general's office. I am sure you made a difference to many people. How sad that there are not more people like you as staffers for the public servants. (Not sure that the term "public servant" even applies here.)

Cookie said...

Yikes :S I hate those form letters.

Baino said...

Very frustrating. I withdrew from a job offer a couple of times recently and received the standard Government response "We regret to inform you that your application in this instance was unsuccessful and we will not be requiring you to attend an interview". Hello? I was the one that called off the interview Idiots.