They’re back! The 2nd session of the 110th General Assembly in under way in Nashville. Legislators and lobbyists are still trying to find their footing in the the newly renovated Cordell Hull Building. Those that have spent years in Legislative Plaza may spend a little more time wandering strange hallways but will be pleased to breathe fresh air in the former state office building.
A new session brings again new opportunities to engage with policy makers. One benefit of engaging with your state lawmakers is finding them all under one roof for predictable lengthy periods of time…a challenge on the local political scene.
So now that they’re back in Nashville, what’s next?…ENGAGE!
There’s an issue on the table, how do I engage? There are several ways to engage — in-person meetings, phone calls, emails or snail mail. These are ALL effective avenues. Choose the medium that fits you best.
What first? Identify your elected officials. Download the TN Secretary of State’s GoVoteTN app. Enter your name and zip code and you will see: Your U.S. Representative, your State Senator and State Representative, your local Councilmember, and your school board member.
But does my voice matter? YES! A motivated constituent is more effective than a paid lobbyist. They want to hear from you…the voter! Identify your elected officials and introduce yourself to these folks when you see them out in the community. They want to know you!
Communication Tips. No matter which medium you choose, the rules are the same:
Be kind. Everyone you speak to that works with an elected official is an influencer. In politics, first impressions matter.
Be positive. This isn’t the time to subtly attack your representative on an issue on which you disagree. You’d be surprised the common ground you may find with someone with whom you don’t think you have anything in common. Keep your eye on the ball, or rather the issue at hand. Thank them for something. Being an elected official is a thankless job. You can be broad and thank them for their service or be specific and thank them for a specific vote.
Introduce yourself. Tell them: 1. Where you live — Give them your address. Being able to be identified as a constituent will give you more credibility. 2. What organizations you’re a part of. 3. Where you work and where that business is located. The key point is to help them identify you as a constituent.
Be brief. Assume you don’t have much time. Most interactions with elected officials are brief because they serve many constituents like you. At the legislature, most meetings are scheduled in 15 minute increments. You can cover a lot of ground in that timeframe. With that in mind, Have your 2 or 3 specific points ready and be ready to convey them.
If in person, be alert and read your audience. Put your phone away. Listen to your representative’s and their staff’s responses and read their body language. Notice what message is or is not resonating.
Group meetings. Sometimes you will be going in a group to see an elected official. Coordinate who will speak and what each participant will cover. Support your colleagues and fill in gaps if they miss a critical point. Allow time for everyone to speak.
End on a positive note. Thank them for their public service no matter how you feel about them. Invite them to visit your organization or business. Leave your card and contact information.
Follow up. Send a thank you note or email. Restate your message.