A face-to-face meeting with an elected representative, or a key member of their staff is the best way to teach them about your concerns and, ideally, help shape their views. Don't feel you are imposing, legislators meet with constituents and interest groups daily. Legislators depend on you for support just as you depend on them. Speaking with constituents is a key opportunity for them.
Don’t just drop in. Schedule 2 - 3 weeks in advance through the secretary in the Columbus office.Don't ask to meet for more than half an hour. You will probably get 10 to 15 minutes. Explain the reason for the visit: Meet and greet? Specific issue or piece of legislation? Request for assistance? Identify who will be attending. Depending on legislative developments, it may be necessary to meet with staff rather than the legislator. Don’t express disappointment should this occur.Staff members are vital gatekeepers; they must be cultivated. They can provide you with access and, if they are sympathetic with your position, can become a trusted voice in the ear of the legislator. If your legislator decides to adopt one of your causes, it is the staff who will do much of the work. Confirm the visit by letteror email soon after arranging the appointment, and then again by phone the previous day.
If you're going as a group, agree on your goal and message beforehand. Show a united front, divisiveness is both irritating and confusing. Agree on one spokesperson in advance and stick to one issue. Have well-reasoned facts and figures on your issue(s) ready, but do not be overwhelming. Be ready to answer questions and (when necessary) respond to counter-arguments made by your opponents. Don't be afraid to say you don't know, but will get back to the legislator with needed information. Be sure that all participants in the meeting are familiar with the legislator’s political affiliation, the extent of his/her district, his/her committee assignments, number of terms served, voting record, and/or position, on the issue(s). Be aware of what the legislator did before he/she was a member of the General Assembly – often they were local officials/agency heads. This will help you gauge their knowledge of your issue.Google his/her bio to research their background or go to Real Clear Politics or PollFuseTake an information packet for the legislator. Include your business card in the packet. If needed, a request for specific action and the reasons for it should also be included.If possible, have high profile supporters (including influential board members) send strong letters expressing their point of view before your meeting takes place. "Dear Colleague" letters, written by elected officials and directed to their fellow legislators, are also effective and should be sent prior to your meeting or at least be included in your information packet.
Be on time, positive, friendly. Know your agenda and stick to your message. Don't assume the legislator is familiar with the details of the issue/bill. Take notes during the visit which will provide a written summary. Be alert to staff members assigned to work in this area. Ask them for a card so you can follow up with them.“Keep It Simple, Stupid”: Make your presentation simple and straightforward. You may have only 5 or 10 minutes left by the time you get through with introductions and pleasantries. Because it was you who arranged the visit, legislators will expect that you start the discussion.
Create an Open Climate. Begin the visit by introducing yourselves and thanking the legislator for meeting with you as well as for some favorable position they have already taken (eg. work they have done locally in the community).Present your Message. OPEN the discussion by framing the issue on your terms.EXPLORE the issue by taking a position: We could do more if for voters if . . . SUPPORT your position by explaining why such a measure is good public policy: Our approach is original and successful – and saves taxpayer money.APPLY the request to real lives by making clear how services impact legislator’s district.
Make a Specific Request for assistance such as support for a piece of legislation or budget amendment.A specific request for will allow you to control the meeting. You have now set the agenda. Seek a commitment - If an offer to help with your request is not made, ask the legislator for his/her advice on how to reach your goal. Follow the advice, and let them know you did and what successes/problems came of it.Leave with a sense that the office door is open to you by ensuring the opportunity for follow up – If there is an offer to help, ask what the best way is for you to follow up with him/her. FOLLOW UP.Be responsive to your legislator’s questions. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't fake it or bluff. Say "I don't know, but I'll get back to you on it." Then DO IT. Don't overstay your welcome. Conclude the visit by again extending the appropriate thank you. Reaffirm your intention to forward any information or materials which was requested by the legislator.If a legislator responds negatively to your issue, never overreact or become emotional. Always keep the door open for the future. Many times a legislator will change their opinion after learning more information. Remember to talk to your adversaries as well as your advocates. Never take any vote for granted. If you are going to oppose someone’s bill, tell them. Often a compromise can be worked out that will benefit both parties. You can gain a supporter!
Sample Meeting with LegislatorScript/outline for a meeting with elevator speech, here’s why I care, what I care about, my story, then general info about AOF and broader HHS issues. Ask Cathy for model. Intro includes reference to AOF, talk about critical safety net services, one plank in overall platform of AOF. And we’ll be back and look forward to meet with you again. (Schedule before you leave?) Introductions: Name, organization, coalition; If you live in the district, say so.If possible, thank member for past work; make a personal connection Introduce Advocates for Ohio’s Future, with a short “elevator speech” stating what the coalition is. If you are a member of an organization, introduce your own organization, what it does, whom it serves. (Optional) Share a very short, well-rehearsed story that illustrates the need for state funded services, preferably about someone in the legislator’s district. The story should be a compelling story about a person who had a problem, with picturesque details, who was helped by a state funded service.The story should be personal – a person you helped or something that happened to you. Laying out the Problem: The reason I am telling you this story is that 11 million Ohioans may need to rely on state-funded services, at some point in their lives, if something unexpected happens in their lives. IF YOU CAN, TALK ABOUT WHAT STATE SERVICES PROVIDE IN THE LEGISLATOR’S DISTRICT. We recognize the huge challenge of the state budget, but we want you to understand fully how state funding benefits Ohioans in need. Successful services include…. Cutting these programs would…. The ask: We would like to know if you will support [fill in the AOF ask]; we would like to hear what you think. Discussion: Listen carefully. If the legislator asks a question you cannot answer, say you will get back to him or her and ask how to follow up (usually through the aide). Make sure to follow up – call AOF staff for help. Make sure after the visit you write down what the legislator said. Find out what the legislator’s particular concerns are about human services, i.e. whether there is waste, etc., so that we can follow up with materials. Follow up: Thank the legislator for taking the time. Send any materials promised.
Debrief immediately afterwards as a group.Personal visits always increase a legislator's awareness of an issue. However, the effectiveness of such a visit increases markedly when accompanied by follow-up actions.Send a thank-you note or letter which reinforces your message and the local impact, restates an understanding of the legislator's position, highlights the main points of the visit, and concludes with a personal story which surfaced during the conversation. It should also provide the member with any additional materials or information she/he may have requested.Send a copy to other members of the group. If the visit was held with a staff member, still address the letter to the legislator with a copy (cc) to the staff member.
A major share of legislative action happens in committee. Committees offer legislators a chance to hear all sides of a bill, and ask questions of expert witnesses. Committees are used primarily to amend or kill a bill. Arrive early and sign in.Have written copies of your testimony or position.Identify who you are and whom you represent.Be sure you have been given the authority to speak on behalf of your organization.If you are testifying as an individual, point this out.State your position early in your testimony.Don’t be redundant.
Indicate your agreement or disagreement with previous speakers and state why.Be brief, don’t oversell or overkill. Limit testimony to no more than 10 minutes.If facts are given, indicate source. If you are in conflict with other witnesses or committee members, always remember there are different views on every issue.Always maintain your composure before a committee.Talk directly to the committee chair (“Mister Chairman”/”Madame Chair”) and committee members.When possible, end on a positive note with the committee.Questions of experts vs. questions of individuals: Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I will get you that information.”