Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Governors offices and I don't see eye to eye. Many (though not all) of them seem to think e-mail is just like snail mail -- respond in a couple of days and you've done well. I expect my e-mails to be treated more like phone calls: If you don't answer immediately, at least acknowledge my message the same day.
I discovered this difference of opinion when I tested their response speeds to electronic messages. I e-mailed every governor (avoiding contacts explicitly for the media, so as to mimic the experience of constituents asking for help), telling them about my test and requesting a brief acknowledgement of my message ASAP. Only half got back to me within a day.
You can find my whole report, including the performance of every state, here. Some observations that didn't make it into that article:
Not to pick on poor Governor Corzine, but I found his e-mail Web form irritating. Before I could e-mail him, I had to choose from a list of topics. I could voice my opposition to the state bear hunt or demand that my 401K contributions be taxed, but didn't have a choice of "Other" or "None of the Above," which is what I wanted for my project. (Ultimately, I opted for "Invitations and Special Letters" because I thought my letter was pretty special.)
A few states have ramble-proofed their Web forms with strict limits on the number of characters of text a writer can submit. Here's a rule of thumb for governments: If a constituent can't submit Lincoln's famously concise Gettysburg Address, you've gone too far. That's true of the governors offices in New Hampshire, Vermont and Oregon.
I was stumped as to how to satisfy this request on the governor of Utah's Web form, even as a professional writer: " Please provide a brief but detailed description of the issue or concern you'd like to share with the Governor." At least they didn't ask for evocative prose or a thrilling D'enouement.
Finally, one state responded to me after my deadline. That would be California and the office of Arnold Schwarzenegger, from which I received a message 16 days and 4 minutes after I sent my e-mail.
That message stated, " In order to ensure that your concerns are properly addressed, you may wish to contact the Governor's Press Office," and provided me with contact information. I received lots of similar responses from other states, even though my message stated, " All I'm looking for is a brief response that says, 'Your message has been received.' "
That sounds like evidence of "silos" (now excuse me while I wash my mouth out with soap for using that word). The press people are press people and the constituent service people are constituent service people, so they're not quite sure what to make of a reporter who contacts constituent service.
Then I received a second message from Arnold's office later that evening, which I believe was automated. It read, in part, " Due to the unprecedented number of emails sent to the Governor, there may be a delay in immediately responding to your email."
So, 16 days after I sent my message (and after I'd already received a response), they notify me that there may be a delay. No kidding.
On the plus side, California was the only state I noticed that offers a spell check for its governor's Web form. So, as I waited weeks, I could rest assured that my message didn't have any typos.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.