During the recent MTA Truck to the Capitol, Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing was posed the question: How can I get my legislator to pay attention when I contact them? Implied in the question is a cynicism that politicians don’t really listen. His response was candid and encouraging. Yes, they do listen. However, some methods work better than others to get their attention.
Personalization is the Key – Legislators tune out messages that come in the form of mass e-mails or blast faxes. While volume is meaningful, personalization is the key. The same exact message received from a large number of constituents is noticed, but not given the same weight.
I Am a Constituent – In any form of communication, it is very important to note that you are a constituent. Declare your special status in the subject line (e.g. Subject: Constituent from Your District Opposes HF 1234). Repeat it in the first line of the message. Making it clear you are a constituent – and a voter in his or her district – moves your message to the top of the pile. Elected officials hear from lots of folks, so they need your help flagging those they represent.
Area Code, Please – Phone calls really do work. You are not likely to reach a legislator when you call, but your message will be noted. Most legislators review all of their messages and try to return them, especially from constituents. If they cannot call, they will ask staff to call you back. The same rules apply when you call. Identify yourself as a constituent, state what bill or issue you are calling about, and leave information on how you can be contacted. One little-known secret is that legislators are very willing to set up telephone appointments. You can work with his or her staff to set up a time and have a meaningful conversation.
Old School Really Works, Too – In an electronic age, a handwritten note really stands out. Legislators view these as gems, works of personal effort and commitment. Sending a personal note almost guarantees it will be read by the legislator. The legislative world operates at a fast pace, with sound bites and bits of information. A letter allows you to both personalize your story and develop your argument. Legislators value a real-life story about how a policy or law impacts you. The personal letter is still one of the most powerful lobbying tools you have.
Don’t Blast ‘Em – Think what you may about legislators, they are people just like you and me. A courteous, professional tone elicits a much more positive response. You can be firm and disagree, without being disagreeable. While legislators may not share your views, they are not enemies. Use them for the voice and resource they are.
Get to Know Them Back Home – Legislators, by the very nature of what they do, rise from the ranks of your friends, neighbors and business acquaintances. They come from your communities. They understand the unique aspects of where you live, from the price of corn in Marshall to the walleye limit on Lake Mille Lacs. Meet them were they live. Say hi at church. Invite them for coffee. Attend one of their local meetings. They want to help their neighbors and friends. Again, you don’t have to give up your principles to be a respected constituent.
Best Truck to the Capitol Ever – With over 80 attendees, this year’s Truck to the Capitol was the best ever. Our members did a fantastic job delivering the message with facts, honesty and real-life stories. I have never been more proud to be a trucker!