By E-Mail, Local Politician Makes Good But Could Make Better

Here’s the e-mail I (and all other District 14 residents? Democrats? donors?) received last week from Karen Montgomery, our Democratic representative to the Maryland House of Delegates. I commend my representative for staying in touch with me, but I think she should have revised this e-mail for greater impact. Here’s my critique of Karen’s e-mail. Once you’ve read her rather long piece, I’m interested in your thoughts.

  • Wordy! At 73 words, Karen’s opening paragraph is bloated. Here’s my 28-word revision: “As
    we approach the 2010 session of the Maryland Legislature, I want to
    wish you a fine holiday season and a settled, peaceful and economically
    stable New Year.” Fewer words would help her get her point, and her warm tone, across.
  • Raises questions, but doesn’t answer them. In her second paragraph, Karen describes the bill she put forward that would allow “…ordinary (??) citizens to learn the total salaries of the top management staff of not-for-profit hospitals in Maryland.” The bill didn’t pass, and she doesn’t explain whether she’ll continue to pursue passage of the bill or whether (and why) she’s going to focus on another issue instead.
  • Confuses constituents with unclear info about contacting her office.  When I read the last paragraph, I’m unsure about when and whether Karen or her staff will respond to my calls or e-mails: “Elaine Flanagan is my Legislative Liaison and acts as Chief of Staff.
    She is in Annapolis 2 days a week until session begins in early
    January. She will be available 5 days a week once session begins.” This is either too much or too little detail about Elaine’s schedule. I know when she works and when she doesn’t, but I don’t know how quickly to expect a response if I contact the office.

Though it may not sound like it, I was glad to receive this e-mail from Karen Montgomery. I commend her for staying in touch with constituents, and I like her warm tone and plain language approach.  I hope I’ll receive another e-mail from her soon, one that’s just a bit shorter and a bit clearer.

— Leslie O’Flahavan

From: karen.montgomery@house.state.md.us
Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 9:58 PM
To: karen.montgomery@house.state.md.us
Subject: Legislative Update

Dear Friends,

As we approach the 2010 session of the Maryland Legislature and before I fill you in on some of the work planned, I want to wish you a fine holiday season. Some are preparing Hanukkah gifts and lighting candles, others are putting up Christmas trees in their homes, and all of us are looking forward to a more settled, peaceful and economically stable New Year. My hopes are for all to be true.

Last year one of my bills allowed ordinary citizens to learn the total salaries of the top management staff of not-for-profit hospitals in Maryland. The bill was to go into effect in October, then December of this year. I wanted to provide access this information in this message, but the bill and the law are being held up by the hospitals. This legislation would show you one reason why the medical costs in this country are the highest in the world, while our health outcomes are among the lowest among economically advanced countries. Certainly not the only cost driver, but indicative of some of our health care cost problems. I will introduce other legislation this coming year aimed at reducing health care costs and increasing coverage.

I believe that the time is long past for people in the United States to have adequate, affordable and portable healthcare. Congress has addressed this issue many times, but the influence of insurance companies and drug manufacturers has stalled the enactment of meaningful legislation. States are even prevented from enacting their own legislation!

While some new health policies pick up additional people each year, the current economic situation is forcing more uninsured individuals and families into the system. The undue influence of lobbyists must be limited and it is up to voters to make that clear to our Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen.

In my position on the Health and Government Operations Committee (HGO), I will be addressing many issues. Among them will be:

  • facilities for senior citizens
  • hospital placements and management
  • small and minority business access to funding and contracts
  • medical prescription issues
  • and much more

As I work and vote in committee and on the floor of the House of Delegates, your ideas and suggestions are always wanted and welcome.

Elaine Flanagan is my Legislative Liaison and acts as Chief of Staff. She is in Annapolis 2 days a week until session begins in early January. She will be available 5 days a week once session begins. The phone # is (301) 858-3110 and my email address is Karen.Montgomery@ house.state.md.us. Please call or write if there are issues of importance to you.

Thank you for all of your support.
Happy holidays,

Karen

Comments

The thing that's most jarring about this poor bit of writing is its whipsaw changes in tone. The first paragraph sounds like she's trying to be fairly formal and almost literary: "Some are preparing Hanukkah gifts and lighting candles, others are putting up Christmas trees in their homes, and all of us are looking forward to a more settled, peaceful and economically stable New Year." That sentence, which you eliminated in your masterful rewrite, makes me think I'm can sit back, slow down, and have a thoughtful read. Wrong. Much of the rest of the letter sounds like it was written on a Blackberry or iPhone and sent without editing. Consider "I wanted to provide access this information in this message" [sic]; even a quick once-over would have caught the missing "to," but the more fundamental issue is "this information." What information? Was she really going to share compensation information for all top managers in a holiday email? Or was she referring to just managers in her district? Or perhaps a link to the information? The bill? Each interpretation is less plausible than the one before. We move quickly back into practiced, polished, political speak: "This legislation would show you one reason why the medical costs in this country are the highest in the world, while our health outcomes are among the lowest among economically advanced countries." That's followed immediately by a casual sentence fragment: "Certainly not the only cost driver, but indicative of some of our health care cost problems." The late Charles Shell, my eighth-grade English teacher, failed his students for that. Fragments have their place, but not in a letter like this. The worst offense is as much political as it is editorial. She writes "Last year one of my bills allowed ordinary citizens to learn..." but later, it's clear that the correct mood was subjunctive, not indicative. She didn't get her bill passed, so it hasn't allowed anyone to do anything. Poor writing, or deliberate weaseling? It's hard to say, although I'm voting for some of each. She should hire you guys next time she wants to send a letter. Best, David

Posted by: David Kay | December 20, 2009 at 12:29:16pm

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