Tips For Communicating With Legislators
Letters, e-mails and telephone calls really do make an impact, especially when they come from voters in a legislator’s own district. Every legislator has a story of how a seemingly small number of calls or letters – sometimes only one – made the difference on an issue.
Legislators have sensitivities. While it is important for you to advocate strongly for your position, remember to be polite and reasonable in expressing your opinions. It is important to say "thank you" even when a legislator disagrees with you.
General Lobbying Communication Guidelines
- State your purpose at the outset. Be constructive, not negative. Suggest solutions or better alternatives.
- Use specific facts and examples to illustrate your point. You are an expert on what is happening with your child and your local schools. Legislators want to know how their votes affect constituents.
- Don’t assume that legislators are as well-informed as you are about a problem, issue or bill. Legislators keep track of many subjects in addition to K-12 education. Explain the situation, what you think and why.
- Letters or calls about a specific piece of legislation should include the bill number. If your legislator is an author of the bill, acknowledge it.
Effective Letters and E-mail
- Be brief, but don’t sacrifice clarity and completeness. A one-page letter on a single topic is best.
- Be certain that your name and address are on the envelope and letter. Type or write legibly. In an e-mail, include your full name, address and telephone number.
- Addressing correspondence to legislators requires particular etiquette. Address them as "Representative" or "Senator" on the envelope, the inside address and in the salutation.
Effective Telephone Calls
- Identify yourself to the person who answers the phone. Be sure to say that you are a school district resident and a constituent in the legislator’s district.
- If the legislator is unavailable, give the staff member your specific message. The legislator will know that you called.
You can schedule an appointment to talk to a legislator by calling his or her office. Be sure to identify yourself as someone who lives in the legislator’s district.
As the session goes on, legislators get busier and have less time to spend in their offices. Another way of connecting face-to-face is to catch your legislator before or after a committee hearing. You can learn on which committees a legislator serves and when/where they meet on the legislative web site or by calling your legislator’s office. All committee hearings are open to the public.
Most likely, you will not be the only person trying to talk to a legislator before or after a hearing. Be sure not to interrupt another conversation. Wait your turn, then identify yourself as a constituent and ask if you can have a minute of the legislator’s time. A good tactic with a legislator in a hurry is to ask if you can talk to the legislator while he or she walks to the next committee meeting.
If you attend a committee hearing, never attempt to speak to a legislator who is sitting at the committee table while the meeting is in progress. Remember to turn your pager and cell phone to "silent" mode while in the committee room.
If it is inconvenient to travel to Madison, make an appointment to meet with the legislator when he/she is back in your home district.