2017 Legislative Hits and MissesMay 15, 2017
Improving Access to CapitalJune 2, 2017
Meeting face-to-face with elected officials or their staff is the most effective way to influence public policy. It will often take many visits, emails, phone calls, and other contacts to influence a position on a piece of legislation. Far too many people in politics today are confrontational, inconsiderate, and entitled, so politeness, consideration, and gratitude can go a long way toward wielding influence. The tips below can help guide you toward a successful visit.
- Make an appointment. Don’t just show up.
- Give staff your contact information. In Columbia or Washington, schedules change fast. Meetings are commonly moved or delayed.
- Bring several people with you. Coalitions do better than singles.
- Check an official’s website and Google for their positions before the meeting.
- Check your legislator’s voting record at scstatehouse.gov.
- Plan your responses about favorable or unfavorable votes. Be polite and don’t comment off-the-cuff.
- Be on time. Legislators have a lot of demands on their time. If you’re late, you may not get another meeting.
- Stay on topic. Don’t use jargon or acronyms. Speak about one issue at a time.
- You don’t need to be an expert, you’re their constituent.
- Thank them for their service—no matter what you think of their record.
- Find common ground (through your research) where you can start the discussion.
- Don’t react negatively if you don’t like something that is said.
- Ask the legislator for their position and listen carefully.
- Be patient and don’t interrupt.
- Stay passionate, but respectful, about your issue.
- Always remain polite and respectful.
- Make as specific a request as you can. “Please vote for H. XXXX” or “Please introduce legislation that will XXXXX.”
- Give them real, concrete examples, tailored as closely as you can to your local community, of why a bill should be supported, defeated, or introduced.
- Thank them again for their service and for taking your meeting.
- Tell them you appreciate them “fitting you in” to their schedule.
- Thank the staff. They’re the ones who can get you in again, or “forget” to pass along a message.
- If a legislator asked for more information, get that information and send it along ASAP.
- Send a hand-written note thanking them for the meeting. This is the South, after all.
One final note: if a legislator asks you something you don’t know, simply say “I don’t know, but I will get you that answer.” Then, get him or her the answer ASAP.