How to make your voice heard in Washington: Pick up the phone. Know who to call.

Salud Carbajal and Kevin McCarthy
Salud Carbajal and Kevin McCarthy

We hate to break it to you, but Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, does not want to hear from you.

He used to, back when parts of San Luis Obispo County were in his district. But those days are gone, as some local residents learned when they tried to email the Bakersfield congressman in response to his recent Viewpoint on the Affordable Care Act, published in The Tribune on Jan. 22. (The Viewpoint was written in response to a Sacramento Bee editorial that also ran in The Tribune.)

When they entered their ZIP codes, this message popped up: “The ZIP code entered indicates that you reside outside the 23rd Congressional District of CALIFORNIA. Due to the large volume of US mail, emails and faxes I receive, I am only able to accept messages from residents of the 23rd District.”

As it turns out, McCarthy isn’t the only member of the House who accepts emails only from his constituents. It’s standard practice and, yes, our own congressman, Salud Carbajal, follows it as well.

So does California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, though if you want to contact her in her role as Democratic leader, you can email her at AmericanVoices@mail.house.gov.

We understand the reason for screening messages. Members of the House concentrate their resources — staff, money, attention, etc. — on serving their own constituents.

That doesn’t mean we like it. Shouldn’t elected officials — especially those who hold important leadership positions — be open to hearing a variety of opinions, regardless of ZIP code?

We believe so, but that’s not the way it works in Washington.

As former Congressman Barney Frank bluntly warned in a recent opinion piece on Mic: “Lawmakers don’t care about people outside of their district.”

On a more positive note, Frank’s article, “Here's how to not waste your time pressuring lawmakers,” also contains suggestions on the best approach to take when contacting your designated congressional rep. Here are a few:

▪  Make sure you’re registered to vote. (Good advice in any situation.)

▪  Communicate with your elected officials even if you don’t agree with them.

▪  And say thanks. (Again, good advice in any situation.)

As to what form communications should take, the general consensus is signatures on a petition don’t mean much. Letters (sent to the district office) and emails are better, especially if you include personal stories. Phone calls are most effective; it’s hard to ignore jammed phone lines and a full voicemail box.

Emily Ellsworth, a former congressional staffer who’s written a much-quoted series of tweets on how to effectively communicate with your representative, writes that phone calls “shook up our office.”

“All I did all day was answer phones,” she tweeted. “It was exhausting and you can bet my bosses heard about it. We had discussions because of that call to action.”

When you do make that call, have a goal in mind. Do you want information? Do you want to share your opinion? Are you lobbying for a particular vote?

Another effective tool: The town hall meeting.

“If you want to talk to your representative, show up at town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can't ignore. Pack that place and ask questions,” Ellsworth advises.

For the record, Carbajal plans to hold a town hall meeting in our district soon. We’re glad to hear it.

One last thought: Be nice to congressional staffers. Or, as Ellsworth puts it: “Be kind, but firm.”

“They will listen and talk to you. I always, always did.”

How to contact your congressman

Email Salud Carbajal through a form at https://carbajal.house.gov/contact/email; call his San Luis Obipso office at 805-546-8348 or his Washington, D.C., office at 202-225-3601; write him at 1411 Marsh St., Suite 205, San Luis Obispo 93401.