Taking a More Active Role in the Legislative Process
Rules of the RoadCardinal Rule 1: It’s all about relationships! Life at the Legislative Plaza can be a lot like high school. The more people you know and the better you know them, the greater the influence you can have. Just like in high school, there are certain movers and shakers who you really want to build a good relationship with and these might include party leaders and chair persons of key committees.
Cardinal Rule 2: It’s always better to build a relationship with a legislator before you need to ask their help with legislation. It’s not unusual for an organization to spend time building relationships a year or more before they have a bill that they want to introduce.
Cardinal Rule 3: Don’t mix issues. If you are working with a legislator, then you want to focus on a single issue or bill, two at most. Don’t risk confusing or alienating a legislator by bringing up unrelated legislation.
Writing, Faxing, and Emailing Your LegislatorLegislators pay attention to their daily mail whether its a personal letter, fax, or email.
- Do your homework - Know the pros and cons of your issue and be prepared to supply information. If possible, thank the legislator for past support on issues of personal interest.
- Make it personal - In the first paragraph, state why the issue concerns you and what you think should be done. Then in later paragraphs share your knowledge and experience. Explain how the issue will personally affect you, your family, friends, quality of life, and the community. Provide concrete real life stories and analogies.
- Focus - Advocate for only one issue per letter, fax, or e-mail. Present your case in a convincing rational way to the legislator. Do not use buzz words or initials that may not be understood.
- Constituents Count - Be sure to identify yourself as someone who lives or works in the elected official's district, include your address and phone number. You are a part of their constituency and an active registered voter.
- Making the Ask - End your letter with a request for a response or specific action such as support for a bill that you believe in.
- Follow-up - If you receive a response, then follow it up with a letter of thanking the legislator for taking the time to hear you out. Even if the legislator doesn't agree on this particular issue, do not burn your bridge because they might be a great ally on another issue down the road.
Tips on Calling Your Legislator
- Courtesy - Always be courteous to legislators and staff members.
- Constituents Count - Identify yourself by name and address so the legislator or staff member know that you are a constituent.
- Be Prepared - Be familiar with the basics of the bill that you support or oppose and don't worry if you are not an expert. Be prepared to identify the bill by name or by legislative number such as "Senate Bill 0123." This will make it easier for the legislator to follow-up.
- To the Point - Keep it brief, simple, and friendly.
- Making the Ask - Ask for the legislator's view on the bill and let them know - in friendly terms - whether you want them to support or oppose the legislation.
- Voice Mail - Leave a message if you are transferred to voice mail. Be sure to leave your name and community, the date and time of your call, a brief reason for your call, your telephone number, and request for a response.
- Strength in Numbers - You legislator tracks the volume of calls that come into the office on each issue so ask your friends, family, and co-workers to make a call or write a letter.
Meeting with your legislator
- Courtesy - Always be courteous to the staff members.
- The Introduction - When speaking to the legislator or staff member, quickly identify yourself, the issue you would like to discuss, and the fact that you are from the legislator's district.
- Prepare Ahead of Time - Write down key points to discuss in the meeting as well as any questions you might have. Appointments move quickly, sometimes lasting only 5 to 15 minutes so be prepared to make your case simply and succienctly.
- Don’t forget to listen - The appointment is for both of you to talk and share ideas.
- Agree to Disagree - Recognize there are legitimate differences of opinion. While you may differ on one piece of legislation, you may agree on others. Likewise, don't condemn your legislators as being too far to the left or to the right. Politics involves the art of compromise.
- Thank You - At the end of the meeting thank the legislator and/or the staff for their time and later send a Thank You note to reinforce the conversation and build on the relationship..
- HAVE FUN! Take pictures, shake hands, and make memories. With each meeting you will become more confident and effective.