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How to reach your congressman

Since President Trump's inauguration, the Mail Tribune has been awash with news stories, opinion pieces and letters decrying the sad state of our country and rife with calls from the left to protest, resist and overcome the terrible things that the president has inflicted upon us. A significant portion of these include appeals to let your congressmen know your thoughts.

Having worked in Greg Walden's Medford office from 2005 through 2014, I would like to offer some insights on how a congressional office is staffed and organized to help the member stay current on what constituents are saying about issues that are important to them. In general, staffers in the district have primary duties of either constituent services (assisting constituents who are experiencing difficulties with federal agencies) or field representation (attending activities in the district acting as the congressman's eyes and ears) or some combination of the two. In many district offices, including Congressman Walden's, staffers also answer the phones and greet constituents who stop by the offices. Staff in the district, and in D.C., regularly provide the congressman with press clips on what the various local district media outlets are reporting. In Congressman Walden's vast 2nd District, this work is done by three staffers in Medford, two in Bend and one each in La Grande and Hood River.

Members of Congress try to make it easy for constituents to let them know their comments and concerns about the issues of the day. During normal working hours, constituents can call or visit the district office nearest them and talk to a staffer. If your nearest district office is not a local call you can call the 800 number. You can call any time and leave a voice mail for the congressman or you can send a fax.

You can leave your written comments on the congressman's web mail page on his house.gov website, or you can leave comments on his Facebook or Twitter page. You can use the old-fashioned, but tried and true, method of writing the congressman a letter. Or you can sign up to be included in his periodic telephone town halls, or attend a town hall in person.

When you contact your representative by any of the above methods, one of the staff will take your name and contact information along with your comment(s) on the issue(s) and enter that into the constituent data base. All constituent comments, taken by any staffer, in any office (district or D.C.) are entered into that one database, so contacting one office makes your input available to all staffers and the congressman. Similarly, you don't need to call (write, email, etc.) repeatedly on a given issue. Your comments are already in the database and multiple contacts on the same issue just make more work for the staff.

With all these methods of communication available, some constituents are still asking “Where's Walden?” They're asking him to have meetings with groups who disagree with him or have a town hall in their area.

These are fine if the attendees are polite and respectful, but all too often, this is not the case. There have been numerous recent news accounts of Republican members of Congress being harassed and threatened during town halls. In my time on the staff, we have had to call law enforcement several times to keep the peace during protests and sit-ins. In one case, after regular office hours, a protester relieved herself in an office wastebasket rather than go down the hall to use the restroom! She was arrested by local police.

Some constituents are lamenting that “He doesn't represent my values” or “He doesn't represent Oregon values.” Please remember: (1) that his district is vast — larger in square miles than every state east of the Mississippi River and he cannot possibly agree with the myriad views of his 700,000-plus constituents at the same time; (2) that if you are a Democrat in Congressman Walden's district you are in the minority, just as Republicans are the minority in Oregon's other four congressional districts; and (3) that his staff is there to help constituents who may be having problems with federal agencies and to do their best to ensure that constituents' comments and concerns are made known to him. But no matter where he is, with the help of his staff, he is hearing the concerns and comments of all of the constituents who take the time to contact him.

— John Howard, a retired U.S. Navy commander, worked in Rep. Greg Walden's office for nine years.