Visits to Legislators

Making a personal visit to your legislator can be an effective way of communicating your views on an issue. For an important legislative issue, you may want to make a special trip to the capitol. If the issue is not at the crisis stage, wait until the legislator returns home. Many legislators have offices in their districts, and most have specified times during which they make themselves available in schools, public libraries, or other public places to allow constituents to communicate their ideas and opinions. You should try to meet with your legislator to let her/him know how current or proposed laws affect you, and how they should be changed or why they should be enacted. The following suggestions will help you make the most of your visit.

Make an appointment as far ahead of time as possible. Your chances of meeting with your legislator as opposed to a staffer are increased. You will be able to state your case directly. However, even if you do have an appointment you may meet with an aide instead of your legislator which can be an advantage. An aide may be more knowledgeable about a particular issue and may have more time to talk with you about it. Legislators depend on the opinion and advice of their staff.

Prepare a fact sheet on your issue to give your legislator or aide after you talk.

Prepare yourself mentally. Be very clear about your purpose, and plan your arguments carefully.

Review your legislator’s record. Be prepared to refer to particular actions – votes or public statements – which relate to you.

If you are visiting in connection with a particular bill, refer to it by name and number; know who introduced it and what it proposes.

Prepare yourself to discuss the bill’s impact on the legislator’s home district.

Be ready to give reasons for your position on the issue. Your legislator is interested in your own experience and observations.

In the office, take advantage of the waiting time to ask the secretary how the mail is running on your particular issue – for and against.

When you meet your legislator, introduce yourself and tell her or him if you are visiting as an individual or as a representative of an organization. Tell the legislator that you are a constituent. Also mention your occupation, your involvement in community affairs and any activities with the political party and the election campaign.

State your concern and ask your legislator whether or not she or he is familiar with the issue. Find out what their position is and decide which of your planned arguments would be most effective.

If you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, do not guess. Offer to get an answer.

If you feel the topic is being diverted, steer the conversation back. Recognize as dodges such general comments as “You have presented some interesting ideas”, or “I will certainly take your views into consideration”.

State your point of view clearly and back it up with reasoned arguments.

Show your familiarity with his or her voting record, especially any part of it relative to your concerns.

After the meeting always write a thank you letter. Whether or not your legislator has voted the “right” way, thank her or him for listening. By doing this, you will remain courteous, remind the legislator that you are still a constituent, and that you will be there watching during the next vote and the next election.

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