Build relationships with legislators before you need them
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Building relationships with your legislators takes time. By regularly contacting your legislators and developing a relationship, though, you will be able to influence their decision-making.
Contact your legislators prior to the legislative session to introduce yourself. Establish a relationship so that when you call about an issue during a legislative session, your legislator will be more willing to consider your point of view.
Phone calls may be best when time is of the essence, such as when a bill is up for a vote or to express appreciation immediately following a favorable vote.
Give your name, title and the school board on which you serve. Ask to speak with the legislator but be prepared to talk to legislative staff. Staff are the keepers of all things the legislator does, so treat them with respect and work with them to speak to your legislator.
If you have spoken to or seen the legislator recently, remind him or her of the contact. Legislators meet with many constituents and may not remember precisely when they saw or heard from them last. This can help to break the ice and lead into your reason for calling.
Identify the specific proposal you are calling about, by bill number if possible. Call about only one issue at a time. Briefly state your position and how you'd like your legislator to vote.
Ask your legislator's view on the issue or bill. If necessary, offer to provide information the legislator needs to make an informed decision. If the legislator is unsure of a position or vote, offer to follow up the phone call with another call or visit.
Always thank legislators for their time and express interest in keeping in touch, even if they disagree with your position this time.
Putting your thoughts in writing is important when you are introducing a complicated topic. It will allow your legislator time to mull over the issue before responding and will help you to organize your thoughts so that you can explain them more clearly when you meet.
Put your mailing address and phone number on all correspondence so that the legislator can easily contact you with questions or for more information.
Keep your letters to one issue, short and to the point. Refer to the issue specifically or by bill number, if possible. Be informed about your board’s stance and your legislator’s position. Clearly state what it is you want them to do, such as supporting a bill on the floor, opposing a bill in committee, or drafting a bill or an amendment. Offer specific information on why it is important. What is the bottom line on this issue for your district? Always bring it back to students and tell them how a proposal or bill will impact schools in their community.
Timing is critical. If the letter arrives too early, it may be forgotten before the vote. One or two days before the vote is taken is generally the best.
Always thank legislators for their time and express interest in keeping in touch. Legislators appreciate thank you notes, as they often use them for newsletters or other materials mailed to constituents.
Take the time to get to know your legislator. The Oregon State Legislature website features a Find Your Local District and Legislator tool that will allow you to verify your legislative district and individual legislators. You will find links to your legislator’s state webpage with contact information, a biography, newsletters and a list of committees on which the legislator sits.