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Utahns Clog Congressional Phone Lines, But Is Congress Listening?

Julia Ritchey, KUER

If you’ve tried calling Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office lately, you might be hearing this message a lot more:


“Thank you for calling United States Senator Orrin Hatch. Unfortunately, we’re unable to take your call at the moment. We encourage you to leave your name, number, and a message so we may get in touch with you as soon as we’re able to."


Since the election, Utahns opposed to the Trump administration have become increasingly vocal over everything from his cabinet choices to executive orders on refugees and the Affordable Care Act.


Hatch’s office issued a statement earlier this week apologizing for the busy signals and full voicemail — while also blaming out-of-state robocalls for jamming the lines.


The office of Utah’s junior Senator Mike Lee has also reported an increase in call volume.


Emily Ellsworth, a writer and former staffer for Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Rep. Chris Stewart, says despite the hassle, it’s still the best way to make your voice heard.


“You’ve got to make the most personal contact that you can,” she says. “Writing tweets or sending messages on Facebook is easy for you, but it’s just not effective and easy to ignore.”


After the election, she wrote series of viral tweets on how best to reach out to elected members of Congress. Ellsworth says direct, personal appeals will have the greatest impact because they take the most resources to process.


“Make a phone call and make it personal,” she says. “Don’t rely too heavily on scripts and things that make it easy. Just tell your story, don’t be nervous and pick up the phone and make a call.”


She says the other mistake people make is calling members of Congress who don’t represent them, for example House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.


Ellsworth says while it’s tempting to go directly to the top, she says your best conduit to those leaders are through your own elected representatives, who will relay what they’re hearing back home.  



Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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