Camden: ‘Proper’ mail and the ways elected officials still use it

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Jim Camden is a columnist with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Email: jimc@spokesman.com.

In this age of tweets, instant messaging and email, it can be both comforting and surprising to find people using real mail. Like with an envelope and a stamp and a trip to the post office or the nearby letter box before pickup time.

Apparently, elected officials — who are probably in that shrinking subset of people who get lots of mail that isn’t an envelope full of coupons or an offer for another credit card — still like to send missives to other elected officials to tell them how they feel.

Or so it seemed last week as electeds in Washington, the state, sent letters to electeds in Washington, the city, about things in the news. Gov. Jay Inslee and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler sent a letter to the state’s 12 honorables in Congress urging them to turn thumbs down to the latest Senate Republican health care plan.

It surely came as no surprise to any member of the congressional delegation, Democrat or Republican, that Inslee and Kreidler are big fans of Obamacare. But sometimes a person feels the need to be on the record.

Yes, an Inslee spokesman said, they put copies of the letter in envelopes, affixed stamps and mailed them. They also sent an electronic copy because, after all, the Senate might have voted on Graham-Cassidy at any point. So while Miss Manners might counsel that mail is the proper way to convey feelings, a backup assures one is not overtaken by events.

But congressional offices get scores, and sometimes hundreds, of letters a day, so how could they be sure it wasn’t lost in the deluge? They used the very distinctive State of Washington stationery, the spokesman said, with the first president looking out from the state seal.

Also in the mail last week was a letter from all 50 members of the House Democratic Caucus to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, asking them not to exile persons who registered for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. Their suggestion: Freeze any deportation of DACA recipients while Congress considers a more thorough overhaul of the immigration system.

Given Congress’ historic inability to do a thorough overhaul of almost anything, that could be interpreted as “freeze deportations of DACA forever.” But House Democrats weren’t so foolish as to say that, even if they were thinking it.

Although an issue of great import, the urgency is somewhat less on a fix for DACA because President Trump has given Congress six months to do something. So legislators could have given it to someone biking across the country and it would have arrived in time.

But they did mail the actual letter, with all 50 actual signatures, a Democratic Caucus spokeswoman said. And two stamps on the envelope because, with all those signatures, the letter was five pages long, and thus over the one-stamp weight limit.

It was sent on official House of Representatives stationery. Which makes one wonder whether Republicans McConnell and Ryan will realize all 50 signers appear on the House roster with a D after their name. The letter doesn’t mention that, which may be either politic or a bit sneaky, depending on one’s point of view.

The downside of letters

Then there was the letter 12 Democratic legislators sent to Washington State University President Kirk Schulz, suggesting the university rein in College Republicans based on the actions of the group’s former president.

It, too, went in an envelope with a stamp, which created a problem for reporters getting any kind of response from the university the day the Democrats announced they’d done it. The letter had just arrived in Pullman that morning, and Schulz was out of town.

One advantage of putting words on paper is that a mistake might be caught and corrected before the letter is sent. Even though a dozen legislators signed off on this letter, no one seemed to notice the WSU president’s name was misspelled.

No big deal, Phil Weiler, the communications vice president, said. There’s lots of ways to spell Schulz.