In the first debate between Mike Fitzpatrick, incumbent Republican Representative for the 8th congressional district, and his Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy, Fitzpatrick mentioned twice that he wrote letters expressing his opposition to parts of Medicare D. (In my posting on the debate, see questions #3 and #1). Murphy said specifically “I don’t write letters.”
In the second debate he mentioned sending the Dept. of State a copy of one of JFK’s state of the union addresses for them to think about. (link, question #10). I know what would cross my mind if I opened that particular envelope and it would not be to thank Rep. Fitzpatrick unless the words came through clenched teeth.
Every once in a while I get a letter from my elected officials, usually either telling me how wonderful they are or implying they do a great job. The bulk of these letters arrive in election years as close to the general or primary elections as possible. I will confess some skepticism about them. So, I wondered if there was a different culture among the elected. Do they take letters from each other more seriously than I and, perhaps other voters, do? Is it a customary form of communication and persuasion? (It brings up the image of dueling inkpots at dawn!) Personally I tend to think that phone calls, either sweetly or harshly worded, depending on the situation, would be more effective, but I will confess great ignorance as to the inner workings of government.
I wondered if letter writing was a particular talent of Rep. Fitzpatrick. Perhaps he is a master of the feather quill. I had already examined some of the writings of Patrick Murphy so it seems only fair to look at Fitzpatrick’s as well. Searching through newspaper databases I found a number of examples of him mentioning letters he has written. These are not cherry picked. It is a complete list of those I found. However, I focused on letters that he sent individually and did not include references to letters signed by a number of congressmen.
Please pardon my cynicism but fairly often I think letters released to or mentioned in the press are meant to communicate far more to the public than they are to the person to whom they are addressed.
Here is the list of Rep. Fitzpatrick’s letters mentioned in a variety of Pennsylvania newspapers:
“Last week, Fitzpatrick send a letter to Gov. Rendell asking him to push for an agreement with New York City and New York, New Jersey and Delaware officials that would require water levels in three reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains – reservoirs which ultimately feed the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey – be kept at 85 percent or below. (“Lowering reservoir levels” Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 2, 2005)
This is admirable – flooding is a real problem in parts of his district.
“On Thursday, Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Bucks County, penned a letter to constituents declaring that he was saying “’No’” to President Bush’s “stay-the-course” strategy” in Iraq. That followed a Fitzpatrick statement earlier this month saying, “When it comes to the war in Iraq, President Bush has been bold, principled, resolute, but mistaken in crucial ways.” (“Wiretap ruling sets off new partisan flurry – but GOP division on Iraq hampers exploiting national security issues,” by Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Aug. 19, 2006)
It probably is important to let your constituents know you have changed your position, but doing so less than 3 months before an election can look a little like campaigning instead of legislating.
“On Monday, Fitzpatrick sent a letter to the Iraq Study Group with the United States Institute of Peace, a bipartisan, independent group working on an assessment of the war and a possible new strategy for the United States’ role in Iraq.
later in the article
Fitzpatrick wrote that the group should consider what more can be done to train and equip Iraqi military and police forces, speed up Iraq’s economic recovery and make sure American soldiers are properly equipped.” (“Fitzpatrick breaks with Bush,” by Brian Scheid, The Intelligencer Aug. 8, 2006)
As with the state department example above, I wonder if this missive was met with enthusiasm or rolled eyes. After all, one must assume that the Iraq Study Group was probably already focused on studying Iraq before Rep. Fitzpatrick wrote them. I wonder if they would have considered training and equipping Iraqi military and police forces, speeding up the economic recovery and making sure American forces were properly equipped without having been encouraged to do so by Fitzpatrick. My guess is that they would. Somehow I doubt these ideas originated with Fitzpatrick and were probably floating around long before he brought out a sheet of stationery and sat to compose his words.
“Fitzpatrick has sent a letter to Philadelphia Mayor John Street, blasting the city’s pending decision to oust the Boy Scouts from their Philadelphia headquarters for refusing to change their policy prohibiting gay members.” (“Fitzpatrick blasts city effort to oust scouts.” By Brian Scheid, The Intelligencer July 29, 2006)
I know Fitzpatrick has been a big supporter of the Boy Scouts, but is this in his district?
“Meanwhile, Bucks County Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, sent President Bush a letter urging him to direct the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to extend the deadline six months or waive penalties for seniors who missed Monday’s enrollment deadline.” (“Health,” by Jo Ciavaglia Bucks County Courier Times May 16, 2006)
Wouldn’t it have been better to have passed legislation of some kind about this, or was this a procedural, not a legislative, matter? Is sending a letter to the president the best action, instead of sending it directly to the Centers? Again, wouldn’t a phone call have been more effective?
“Last week, Fitzpatrick sent House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, a letter outlining his dissatisfaction with the direction the Republican-controlled Congress is moving in and his plan to bring agreement between party politicians.” (“Fitzpatrick calls for unity” by Brian Scheid, Intelligencer, March 29, 2006)
Well, I’m dissatisfied with the direction of the Republican-controlled Congress, too, and maybe Fitzpatrick, a Republican himself, could best help change the direction by going back to Levittown, which is what he said he would do when he left office.
“Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick is joining the opposition to a proposed rule change that would allow tax preparers to sell taxpayer information to third parties. While the proposal would require payers to sign a disclosure for private information to be released, many are calling the tentative ruling wrong. Fitzpatrick in a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark W. Everson released Thursday, wrote that the proposed regulation is “patently unfair to the taxpayer.”” (“Fitzpatrick opposes IRS rule change,” Intelligencer, March 24, 2006)
I would think it would be better to pass a law stating that government agencies can’t sell private identifiable information to private companies. That would solve things.
” U.S. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick said the federal government should give county governments more time to research and buy new voting systems and comply with a federal law.
"I am concerned that the county government is being pushed to make a decision that may not be in the best interest of the voters," Fitzpatrick said in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.” (“Fitzpatrick wants voting machine deadline extended,” by Harry Yanoshak, Bucks County Courier Times, February 26, 2006)
I am concerned about the integrity of the ballot and would like to see letters written and laws passed requiring a paper trail for ballots so numbers can be checked against voting machine tallies.
“On Monday, Fitzpatrick sent a letter to President Bush that conveyed his concerns with the sale [of port operations to a company from the United Arab Emirates].” (“Fitzpatrick plans to fight port sales,” by Brian Scheid, Bucks County Courier Times, February 22, 2006 – note he also says in this article that he will introduce legislation to hold up the sale if he has to).
I’m not sure the president is impressed by letters from congressional representatives. Wouldn’t a phone call have been better?
“On Thursday he [Fitzpatrick] sent a letter to Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, chairman of the House Committee on the Budget, to increase proposed funding to Amtrak.” (“Fitzpatrick seeks more funds for Amtrak,” by Brian Scheid, February 20, 2006)
"I'm very, very disappointed in Amtrak's decision," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm committed to taking every action, scheduling any meeting and writing any letter to convince Amtrak that they are making a serious mistake." [closing Cornwell Heights Amtrak station] (“Amtrak plans to eliminate Bucks stop,” by Brian Scheid, Bucks County Courier Times, 8/31/05)
According to the Amtrak website (www.amtrak.com) this station is still open.
Fitzpatrick has sent a letter to the White House requesting a federal disaster declaration after flooding (“Still no disaster status” by Brian Callaway, Bucks County Courier Times, April 15, 2005)
Now this I understand is necessary before the area can be cleared a federal disaster area.
”He [Fitzpatrick] wrote a letter this week to Jim Nicholson, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to express his support for Dolington [as the site for a veterans cemetery], and he plans to set up meetings with Nicholson and with the staffs of U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa. (“Fitzpatrick joins cemetery fight,” by Samantha Fredrickson, Bucks County Courier Times, 1/21/05)
This issue is still undecided.
“Fitzpatrick, the GOP’s candidate in the district, sent letters to both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee asking them to “refrain from communicating messages that may conflict with the issue-based messages my campaign has put forth.””
Later in that article “Fitzpatrick sent a new letter Tuesday to the NRCC saying the most recent commercial [noting that opponent Ginny Schrader took contributions from MoveOn.org and tying that to the Taliban and the rape of little girls] was “inconsistent” with his campaign, and saying the district’s voters want “to make decisions based on records and issues, not innuendo.” (“Schrader – Fitzpatrick trade barbs,” by Alison Hawkes, Bucks County Courier Times, Oct 27, 2004)
A note in the same article states “The national, groups, meanwhile, had little response to Fitzpatrick’s letter.” So his own party campaign organizations didn’t pay much attention to his letters.
After looking over this list I again wonder if phone calls, emails, or other forms of communication wouldn't have been more effective in many, if not, most of these instances, and if some of these letters weren't written more for the public relations benefits of releasing them to the press. As someone who is not privy to the ways congress works, I can only guess at how congressional letters are received, but Rep. Fitzpatrick does seem to write a lot of them.