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If You're Thinking of Calling Your Senator, Get Ready to Hold

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune
Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at a ceremony in 2015.

Republican lawmakers in Texas have been inundated with messages over the past few days from constituents both supportive and concerned with President Donald Trump’s nominations and executive orders. So many people called into the Washington offices of Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn over the weekend and Monday that staffers say they couldn’t keep up, leaving constituents frustrated by busy signals and full voicemail boxes.

Tom Smith, founder and director of Public Citizen Texas, says calling lawmakers is an important line of communication for constituents – frustrated or not.

“In a democracy, your ability to communicate your positions to your representatives or senators is essential,” Smith said.

That line of communication seems to be broken, or at least busy, this week after President Trump’s flurry of executive actions and as the Senate convenes this week to confirm the president’s nominees to Cabinet positions. Many Texans trying to reach their lawmakers received the following message when they called Cornyn's and Cruz's offices recently: The mailbox is full; try again later.

So, constituents have instead taken to Facebook and Twitter to express their frustration at not being able to reach the senators. 

“I’ve been trying to call for this past whole week just to explain where I stand,” Alicia Euyoque from Edinburg said. “And every time I call, I go through the whole automated system, and then it tells me that there’s no one available and it just kind of cuts me off. It doesn’t even let me leave a voice message at this point.”

Cruz staffer Phil Novack said technical difficulties with the phone system in the Senate office in Washington are partially to blame.

But Jaimie Woo, an aide to Congressman Lloyd Doggett, said  the representative’s office has also been receiving a larger-than-usual number of calls, and that they have made it a priority to ensure all callers can get through.

“All of us, I think, we’ve been able to field those calls and I don’t think -- and the congressman doesn’t think -- that this is some technological problem,” Woo said.

A congressional district has only about 700,000 people in it, while Sens. Cornyn and Cruz have 28 million constituents. So, you could expect the call volume to be similarly different. Staffers say if you're having trouble getting through to an elected official, email is the best way to reach them.

Kate Groetzinger is a part-time reporter at KUT. She comes to us from Quartz, a digital media publication based in New York City, where she served as an Atlantic Media fellow. Prior to working at Quartz, Kate graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Brown, Kate served as an intern at Texas Monthly. Her work has been published online by Texas Monthly, CultureMap Austin, The Atlantic, Quartz, The Gotham Gazette and Paste Magazine, and in print by Rhode Island Monthly. She is happy to be back in her home state reporting on news for her fellow Texans.
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