Communicating with Your Legislators
Meeting face-to-face is the best means of communicating with our legislators. The first step that you will need to take is to make an appointment through the legislator’s staff. When doing this, let them know what it is that you would like to discuss. The University Advancement staff will provide you with the needed information and materials to assist both you and the legislator in understanding your position.
On the day of the actual meeting, be sure to be a few minutes early. Feel free to bring someone along with you, but make sure that this person is also well-informed on the issue that is to be addressed. While it is encouraged to bring one person along, keep your group to only a few.
During the meeting, remember that it is extremely important to briefly state your case and leave after expressing thanks for your legislator’s time. The ideal amount of time to cover your topic in is between five to ten minutes. Try not to exceed ten minutes if possible, and do not hang around unless your legislator chooses to lengthen the meeting. This meeting should be a time when you can exchange thoughts and information. Present your reasoning and then listen as your legislator expresses his or her standpoint on the topic at hand.
Always remember that if your legislator poses questions that you cannot explain, be sure to answer honestly. Admit that you do not have the answer, and say that you will provide the requested information later and then be sure to do so! At the closing of your meeting, leave any written information that you may have about your position, and don’t forget to thank the legislators for his or her time.
Putting Pen to Paper
Another effective way to communicate to your legislators is through a letter. Here are some guidelines to follow when communicating via a written letter:
- Use personalized stationery. This will make your letter look professional, and it also leaves your contact information on the letter. It is important for your legislator to have a place to contact you with questions or concerns that he or she may have. Plus, the legislator may want to set up a personal meeting with you to further discuss your position.
- Be specific on your position. State the necessary information and be sure to include exact information such as the bill number (if appropriate), title and subject matter.
- Use a personal touch. Put the letter into your own words. Do not use a form letter, as it is not as effective as a personal letter. You can use a sample letter to guide you, but be sure that the letter is in your own words. You can also mention something unique about your legislator, such as a recent event he or she participated in to add more of a personal touch.
- Be concise. It is recommended that your letter be only one page long. Begin your letter by explaining your reason for writing (i.e., “Please support House Bill …”). Remember to briefly state your main points. You want to provide your legislator with the necessary information without taking up too much of his or her time.
- Obtain any necessary information to support your case. Contact our University Advancement staff to acquire any supporting documents or information about the issue to be addressed.
- Request a response. Ask that your legislator send you a reply that confirms his support and states his position on the issue.
- Proofread your letter multiple times prior to sending it. Have a few others look over it as well for spelling and grammatical errors. Be absolutely sure to spell your legislator’s name correctly and confirm the address as well. A mistake in your correspondence will make you, the cause and our institution appear less credible.
Legislative assistants can carry your message
Many times you will not actually be able to see a legislator. Even at times when you have an appointment, you may be referred to an assistant or intern. Please be understanding of this situation. There will be times, due to quickly called committee meetings or requests by the governor’s office, that your appointment will have to be cancelled or changed and that the legislator could not avoid such last-minute scheduling changes.
What do I do if my legislator has an opposing viewpoint?
It is important to remember that your legislator will not always share your nor the university’s viewpoint on a particular issue. Actually, he or she may completely oppose your position and that of UWG. Your reaction to this situation may greatly affect your legislator’s willingness to meet with you or any UWG delegate in the future.
Here are a few tips that you can follow to help you deal with opposing views:
- Agree to disagree. Do not be afraid to contest your legislator’s arguments and provide him or her with a few supported points of your own.
- Do not insult the opposition. They likely believe in their position as strongly as you believe in yours.
- Leave your legislator with some stimulating thoughts. Ask questions that will encourage the legislator to contemplate your position and also will help you better understand that of your legislator’s.
- Express your gratitude. Always show appreciation to your legislator or staff member for taking the time to listen to what you have to say and letting you express your opinion.