How to get Alaska’s congressional delegation to work for you: A citizen’s guide

How to get Alaska’s congressional delegation to work for you: A citizen’s guide

WASHINGTON — The work of Alaska’s congressional delegation routinely involves pushing for the state’s legislative priorities, delivering speeches, attending hearings and casting votes — but there’s plenty more their offices can do for Alaskans.

From getting passports fast-tracked, to helping veterans access benefits, to scheduling constituents a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, aiding Alaskans is part of the job for the offices of Rep. Mary Peltola and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.

And if you’re an Alaskan who wants the delegation to know your stance on an issue and why, there are more and less effective ways to let them know.

Each office has staff dedicated to constituent services who can guide Alaskans through the federal bureaucracy, and every office has mechanisms for Alaskans to share their political views.

But navigating Congress can be daunting, so read on for tips on how to get the state’s congressional delegation to work for you.

Getting help with the feds

Assisting constituents with individual issues involving federal agencies — or casework, as it’s known — is a critical part of the day-to-day operations for congressional offices. The delegation can offer help on a range of issues, including passports, Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, immigration, veterans benefits and tax matters, to name a few.

Sullivan and Murkowski’s offices each have a slew of staffers based in Alaska whose primary responsibilities include constituent services. Peltola’s office has two full-time, in-state staffers working on casework — House of Representatives offices employ fewer staff than in the Senate. Other delegation staffers pitch in as needed.

To give you a sense of their case workload, Peltola’s office has resolved more than 400 cases since Jan. 1 and is currently working on over 100. On the Senate side, since Sullivan took office in January 2015, his office has closed 8,845 cases and has nearly 200 active now.

Sometimes Alaskans’ cases can be closed in a matter of days or weeks, like expedited passport requests, which are in high demand now due to an application backlog. Other issues can take months or years to resolve.

One example is the case of former Bethel resident Rebecca Trimble. Trimble, who was adopted but unaware that she was not a U.S. citizen until she was 22 years old, faced deportation for voting in the 2008 presidential election. Alaska’s congressional delegation stepped in, sponsoring private legislation to grant Trimble a pathway to U.S. permanent resident status, which was signed into law in December 2022.

“That’s sort of a really, really big example of how casework can be more than just directly getting assistance with something like a passport,” said Zack Brown, the former communications director for the late Rep. Don Young.

Alaskans can request assistance using a form on Murkowski, Sullivan and Peltola’s websites.

By law, before members of Congress can start to work a case, Alaskans must put in a written request. Forms on all three of the delegation members’ websites will generate a printable document to mail to their office so that their team can begin to help. Part of the request includes a privacy release form, which constituents must sign before members of the delegation can intervene in their cases.

Staffers for the delegation said in order for them to start looking into an issue, it helps to be prepared by bringing the relevant paperwork and offering a detailed description of the problem.

[Questions on minimum wage, paid sick leave and campaign funding could be heading to Alaska voters]

Sullivan’s website walks through information to include while reaching out for assistance involving several federal agencies. For example, for the office to open an inquiry with the Internal Revenue Service, constituents must provide their Social Security number and list the relevant tax years in dispute.

There are limits on how the delegation can help. Sullivan and Murkowski’s websites include details on why they might turn down a request. Offices cannot, for example, provide legal advice or intervene in court proceedings, under Senate rules.

How to share your views

If Alaskans want to get the delegation’s ears on a policy or political issue, there are a few ways to get their attention.

Set up a meeting: Connecting with the delegation and their staffers face-to-face is a good way to convey policy ideas or concerns, according to Bradford Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation, which trains “citizen advocates” on working with Congress and conducts research on effective forms of constituent engagement.

Murkowski, Sullivan and Peltola each provide a form to request a meeting on their websites. It’s a good idea to reach out well in advance to get on staff’s busy calendars, and Fitch recommended giving offices a wide window of potential dates to increase the likelihood an office will agree to a meeting.

According to Fitch, surveys by the Congressional Management Foundation show both meetings in-state and in Washington, D.C., can be effective ways of communicating with congressional staff. While it’s better to get face time with the lawmaker themselves, meetings with staff can be key to building lasting relationships with an office.

Ahead of the meeting, Fitch said it’s vital to do research on the issue and the lawmaker’s position on the subject. While lawmakers have public stances on hot-button issues like Second Amendment rights or abortion, Fitch said on many other topics they may have a more open mind.

He recommended “being comfortable, so that when you go in, you have a degree of confidence of knowing the topic and how to localize it, personalize it with your own story.” And during the meeting, Fitch said, it’s essential to have a “clear ask” that you should follow up on in two to three weeks.

Sullivan’s office said that the senator and his staff typically meet with 50 to 100-plus Alaskans a week.

Constituents can also engage with Peltola during her constituent coffees in Washington, D.C., which are held weekly when Congress is in session.

Send an email or letter: Letter-writing can be an effective form of advocacy, especially if the messages are personal.

A survey from the Congressional Management Foundation shows that while 79% of grassroots advocacy professionals rely on mass emails as a primary advocacy strategy, just 3% of congressional offices said form emails hold “a lot of influence.”

Fitch advised that there’s power in numbers. When Alaskans can team up with already established organizations or fellow community members to advocate for a cause, it can better move the needle on policy decisions — so long as the engagement isn’t what he called “slacktivism.”

“If you localize it and personalize that message in some ways, especially if it is being sent with other messages of other like-minded people from your state, our research shows that’s going to make a difference,” Fitch said.

“If, however, you’re just engaged in one-click advocacy or ‘slacktivism,’ as we like to call it, and you don’t personalize, you don’t localize it, our research shows that message is probably not going to have a lot of impact,” he said.

Alaskans can email Murkowski, Sullivan and Peltola using forms on their websites.

Calling their office: Phone calls are another way Alaskans can express a policy position to the delegation, but Brown suggested keeping calls brief.

“The phones were constantly ringing — more so if there’s something big in the news going on, you know, the debt limit deal or Donald Trump did something or said something — the phones would ring off the hook. And I would recommend, you know, get to the point,” Brown said of his experience in Young’s office. “… Try in the first 30 seconds of your call to give your name, where you’re calling from, the issue you’re concerned about and your position on the issue.”

For context, Peltola’s office has received more than 30,000 letters and calls since Jan. 1. Sullivan’s office received 1,541 messages from Alaskans by email, phone, mail and visits to the offices in a recent 15-day period.

To reach the delegation’s D.C. and Alaska offices, you can call:

• Murkowski: 202-224-6665 and 907-271-3735

• Sullivan: 202-224-3004 and 907-271-5915

• Peltola: 202-225-5765 and 907-921-6575

Murkowski and Sullivan have other offices in Alaska that can be reached through numbers listed on their websites.

Staffers said the information collected from constituent engagement via calls and letters makes its way back to Alaska lawmakers via briefs and updates.

A tip: Constituents should only reach out to their representative or senators, which for Alaskans means Murkowski, Sullivan and Peltola. Messages sent to other members of Congress will likely be disregarded.

It’s also possible for Alaskans to get their representatives’ attention via social media. Generally speaking, though, social media is not the most direct or reliable way to connect with the delegation’s offices.

“It’s hard to conduct business through social media, like getting you to the privacy release forms and all these other things,” Murkowski chief of staff Kaleb Froehlich said. “We don’t have the best technology in the U.S. Senate and the federal government.”

[Murkowski’s interns tried to get photos with all 100 US senators in a month. They got to 75.]

Capitol tours and more

Beyond casework and considering constituent input, the delegation can help Alaskans with a visit to the nation’s capital.

The delegation can help secure tickets for tours of the U.S. Capitol and White House and a few other D.C. buildings if they are booked far enough in advance. Each office has a form on their website for Alaskans to request a tour, though each have a disclaimer that getting a tour is not guaranteed.

Finally, another little-known service offered by congressional offices: Alaskans can buy American flags through the offices�� websites. The delegation can arrange for the flags to be flown over the Capitol Building any day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, though no date is guaranteed due to weather and demand. The flags are accompanied by a certificate that they have been flown over the Capitol.

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Reporter Riley Rogerson is a full-time reporter for the ADN based in Washington, D.C. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.

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