What does a meeting with my legislator entail?
I'm willing to request a meeting with my legislator, but what does that entail?
It's great when people take the initiative to go beyond pulling the lever on election day and meet directly with their legislators to discuss what they want. As we always say, politics is not a spectator sport! Here is some basic advice on preparing for such a meeting:
- If possible, schedule the appointment to take place at your official's home/district office rather than in his or her office in the capital. Plan on spending anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes at the meeting.
- Explain what you want and the reason you want it. It's good to prepare a one-page, bullet-pointed fact sheet on your issue that you can leave behind.
- If you're requesting legislation based on, similar to, or amending existing legislation, bring a copy of that other legislation.
- More effective than creating a petition in favor of your cause is bringing other people with you to the meeting—measures backed by a coalition tend to be taken more seriously. If your group has tax-exempt status, you cannot endorse a politician in most cases, but your ability to publically praise or thank him/her is powerful stuff. It’s best that at least one person attending lives in the district represented by the politician you are meeting.
- Try to see the issue from your legislator's point of view to figure out how best to get his or her attention. For instance, humane issues are wonderful in theory and often tough to argue with, but if you are able to frame them as public safety or money-saving causes, your legislator is much more likely to perk up and take notice.
- Handwritten notes and phone calls mean a lot, so sending a thank you note or some follow-up information is always a nice touch. If any intentions were stated or promises made at your meeting, remind your legislator about them right before the next session begins, and ask questions such as, "Are you going to introduce the bill? May I see a copy?"
- Never, ever say things that could be perceived as challenging or threatening, even as a joke, such as "I pay your salary" or "I know where you live," or presume that you are owed something.
Above all else, you want to be taken seriously—so treat the meeting as you would a job interview. Bring your statistics and a sound argument, and present them in a professional manner.