Holding Hands and Keeping the Home Folks Happy: How State Legislators can Use Software to Manage Constituent Relations

Okay, I’ll admit it — I’ve opened a lot of constituent mail in my time. My time in the Texas Legislature, that is: in 1991, as a wet-behind-the-ears 22-year-old (emotional age: closing in on 16), I started work for The Honorable Elton Bomer (D-Montalba), Texas State Repesentative, District 11. I was an Administrative Assistant, which was theoretically the senior staff position in the office, but for much of the four years I worked for Bomer, I was his ONLY staff member.

Even when I wasn’t alone, in an office that small, we all handled constituents’ cases and answered their letters, and I got A LOT of experience talking to folks in the district about, well, just about everything. And I mean EVERYTHING — we got calls about child custody battles, SSI/Medicaid benefits, fence disputes, cattle diseases, landlord problems and what Rush Limbaugh had said that day. For folks in our district (particularly the ones who had discovered the 1-800 number), we were assistants, counselors, advisors and sometimes therapists — a most educational experience all around.

But one that we (and by “we” I mean “I”) organized poorly — we kept no databases and all our records were on paper. So if someone called back about an old case, one of us would have to dig through notes and folders to find any necessary info. And, we had no effective way to stay in touch with constituents we’d helped or who had contacted us. Nowadays, political staffers at the national level take constituent-relations-management software for granted — no House or Senate office could possibly keep up with the volume of communications they receive without logging it electronically.

And now the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet (IPDI) and the Council of State Governments-WEST have put out a white paper on the question of expanding CRM use at the state level. I.e, they’re trying to help my spiritual successors take care of the lovable, demanding, needy and occasionally insane people that every legislative district contains, and maybe also get the most long-run political benefit out of the process (BTW, you know how the Charlie Wilson of Charlie Wilson’s War stayed in office in the Bible Belt despite drugs, women and indictments? He made sure every little old lady in his counties got her Social Security check — our district overlapped with his, and his staff was LEGENDARY for good constituent work).

The scoop is below, and in the real world of politics, this kind of technology can make a real difference.

The Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (www.ipdi.org) is pleased to announce the release of its latest white paper, e-Constituent Relationship Management for State Legislators, which it authored with the Council of State Governments-WEST (www.csgwest.org). The white paper looks at adopting corporate “customer relationship management” principles and practices on a state level, to help legislators better manage constituent email, phone calls, and requests.

e-Constituent Relationship Management for State Legislators is available for download online. It includes practical sections on:

  • What to consider before you begin to implement any CMR tactics.
  • Principles of constituent relationship management for state legislators.
  • Case studies on building better programs, managing constituent email, developing a data strategy, and proactively using communications.
  • What to look for in a technology system.
  • Data privacy.
  • Transitioning from elected office to the campaign trail.
  • Managing constituent casework.
  • Sorting through from third party organizations.

Hear about day-to-day tactics and tools from state legislators and IT staff:

  • Representative Janice E. Arnold-Jones – New Mexico State House
  • Ric Cantrell – Chief Deputy, Utah State Senate
  • Representative Mike Doogan – Alaska State House
  • Lee Harris – Legislative Data Center, California State Legislature
  • Kevin Hayes – Session Information Office, Montana Sate Legislature
  • Paul Mouritsen – Constituent Services, Nevada State Legislature
  • Bud Richmond – IT Analyst, Oregon State Legislature

Learn from the advice and recommendations of CRM experts and inside-the-Beltway strategists:

  • Daniel Bennett – Practitioner-in-Residence, IPDI
  • Peter Churchill – Center for American Progress
  • Paul Greenberg – The 56 Group
  • Jeff Mascott – Adfero Group
  • Chris Massicotte – NGP
  • Nick Schaper – Office of House Republican Leader John Boehner
  • Thomas VanderWal – Infocloud Solutions
  • Ken Ward – Adfero Group


Written by
Colin Delany
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