Fort Mill Times

Don’t hesitate to communicate

There’s much to like about Congressman John Spratt (D-York). While serving across three decades, he’s proven himself to be an effective, balanced, down-to-earth representative of what grew into the largest Congressional district in the state.

That’s why it’s distressing to hear from so many readers lately who share the same complaint; we’ve been receiving a steady stream of letters from Spratt’s constituents who feel ignored. One letter we published several weeks ago, from a reader who said that neither his letters sent by U.S. mail nor his e-mails elicited any type of response, spurred another reader to write to us saying, in effect, “me, too.” That in turn inspired more readers to air similar complaints.

The readers told us they wanted to reach out to their representative on a number of issues. As expected, many have questions and concerns about the effort to reform health care and it’s a shame to think any opportunity for Spratt to articulate his position and help constituents sort out facts from propaganda may have been lost.

For the record, we didn’t have much trouble communicating with Spratt. We sent a message to him through his spokesman and soon after Spratt, recovering from recent surgery, called while on his way to a doctor’s appointment. He said he “always endeavors to write to everyone who writes to me. I can’t say I always do, but I try.”

Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said his office has responded to 10,000 letters this year and told us his office is flooded with correspondences, including “tons of mail from outside the district.” He also said, “We try to get people a substantive answer” as opposed to sending back a form letter and that has created “a bottleneck on my desk.” In his own defense, Spratt said, “you can chide me for being late, but not for caring.” Spratt’s spokesman also shared with us documentation that shows that e-mails to House members are not always received quickly because systems are slowed by tremendous volume.

Any public official who has served as long as Spratt knows the fundamental value of being assessable to constituents. As a multi-term Democrat in an increasingly conservative district, he’s learned how to sustain his appeal despite shifting demographics and eventually positioned himself as one of the most powerful members of the House. That’s why it’s more important than ever that Spratt, while at the peak of his influence, does not lose touch with constituents and does all he can to address their needs.

Even if takes hiring more staff and sending less substantive responses than he’d prefer, a timely acknowledgment of constituents’ efforts to contact him would be a great start.

Service for readersAs a service to our readers, we will publish a rotating list of names and contact information for your public officials on the back page of our A section (right below the weather). We encourage you to contact your elected officials anytime you have a question or concern that is in their jurisdiction.And, if you don’t get a response, please let us know.