TMN organized a workshop in 2003 entitled “Communicating with the Legislature” given by former State Representative Sherri Greenberg of Austin. Sherri served 10 years as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, completing her final term in January 2001. She is now at the LBJ School of Public Affairs where she teaches courses in public financial management, policy development, and public administration and management. Sherri gave us lots of great tips on how to lobby. Below are some notes from her talk.
When you call your legislators, be sure to let them know that you are a constituent, if you live in their district. When you call, just say, “I live in (Senator X or Rep. Y)’s district”. If possible, when you visit bring along someone who you know already has a relationship with the legislator. (Although, if you don’t know anyone like that, go by yourself). If you do come with a group, have a plan of who is going to say what. Have a conclusion to your presentation. If the aide or legislator wants to talk about something else, talk about what they want to talk about and then get back to your priorities if possible. Don’t go solo if possible. Bring others, but not too many people. Make an appointment. If the member is not available, make an appointment with the legislative aide. Treat an appointment with the aide the same as an appointment with the actual legislator. Aides will pass on what you say to the member. Be courteous to the aide. In fact, treat the aide as if she or he is the actual legislator. Do not be disappointed if you do not get to see the actual legislator. The aide will pass on your position to the legislator. Golden Rule is “The staff = the legislator”. Don’t be rude. During the legislative sessions, direct your calls to the capitol office, not the district office.
If possible, prepare a one page list of what you want to convey, including the bill numbers if they have already been assigned, and a bullet list of reasons you support the bill or issue. Legislators and staff love bullet lists. Be as concise as possible. If you want to give them a longer document, include an executive summary that is short and concise. They don’t have a lot of time, so BE CONCISE. Leave several copies for staff.
You can also visit with committee staff separately. Call the chief clerk to meet with them. The two most important committees for death penalty issues are the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.
Be on Time!! Follow up your visit with a letter thanking them for their time, and reiterating your main points. Don't be afraid to say that you don't know the answer to a particular question. If you say during the meeting that you can provide them with an answer later, then don’t forget to do that. Include the answer in a letter, or call the aide and let them know the answer on the phone. Always thank them for the meeting. Don’t be a pest with a lot of calls to the office. Use your common sense about that. If the opportunity presents itself, ask to walk along with the legislator to their next meeting and talk while you walk. Give your bullet list to the legislator, but also leave some for the staff.
DON’T ARGUE, ever. Discuss the issues, but don’t get in an argument about the issues, especially if the person you are talking to takes a moral position on the death penalty. Know your audience. Do some research on the legislator. Say such things as, “I certainly understand your point of view”. You must internalize respect for the validity of other peoples’ points of view. Say something like, “I have some additional information that I’d like you to consider”. Then tell them your info. You can also bring a list of names of other people who live in the legislator’s district and who support your position.