– It’s all about relationships and building trust: take the time to develop and nurture them.
– Timing is critical: schedule an introductory meeting well before the session opens and subsequent meetings just before critical committee hearings and votes.
– Be well informed, tactful and respectful and use a combo of personal meetings & public testimony.
Preparing for Meetings & Public Testimony
– Know yourself: be aware of personal biases; this will help you maintain objectivity by anticipating your own response in a given situation.
– Know your organization: if you’re representing an organization, be fully aware of their positions and justification, as well as the relationships it maintains with other organizations (coalitions are a good thing). For meetings, bring along a colleague: two sets of ears (and voices) are better than one.
– Know your legislator: try to understand the basis for his/her positions (e.g. voting record on related legislation, professional interests, committee assignments, tenure in legislature, and constituent pressures); for FL legislators, start by looking at their website & info posted at https://www.myfloridahouse.govand https://www.flsenate.gov
– Know how the legislative process works: there are a number of state/city specific websites that can help with this.
– Know your issue: educate yourself; learn status of legislation and bill #s; identify brief and explicit points; prepare one-page sheet with key points and your contact info.
– Know your opposition: anticipate opposing viewpoints; respond to arguments with positive tone.
During the Meeting (many points are also applicable to public testimony)
– Thank the legislator/staff for taking time to meet with you.
– Introduce yourself as a voter in their district and/or a member of an organization.
– Identify your issue: make brief and explicit points, why they’re important to you and the people they represent; be prepared to respond to questions and concerns; don’t hesitate to admit lack of knowledge & be willing to pursue answers and report back.
– Ask about your legislator’s interests and concerns on your issue in order to understand their priorities and underlying interests; look for common ground.
– LISTEN more than you talk; work to build a long-term relationship.
– Make a single, concrete “ask”that entails a verifiable action (e.g. voting against HB # xx) and highlight a few facts that will influence his or her thinking; don’t be abstract: focus on specific legislation currently before the legislature or which needs to be introduced; focus on top priority and the most effective legislation – don’t present a laundry list.
– Get the legislator to be specific in their response.
– As appropriate, let your legislator know that you have his or her backand will support them.
– Thank her/him their time and leave a one-page sheet with key points and your contact information.
– Send a follow-up note of thanks to the legislator (and staff, as appropriate): review points, answer outstanding questions & provide additional info as appropriate. Keep working on the relationship.
– As needed, ask others to contact the legislator to support your position.
For more information on advocacy and communicating effectively with legislators, visit https://lwvspa.org/resources/howtolobby/and https://www.flsenate.gov/About/EffectiveCommunication
On how to understand the issues & take action on gun safety: https://lwvspa.org/gun-issues/
developed by Sharon Winters January 2019