Working with Legislators
Find Your Legislators
Three recommendations for building successful relationships with legislators include:
- Make Personal Contact: Before a legislative session begins, make appointments to speak with your state delegates and senators while they are still in your community. If possible, make additional appointments to visit them in Charleston.
- Stay in Touch: During the year, stay in touch with your legislators. Get them involved. Invite them to your organizations’ functions and introduce them to the audience. When possible, einvite them to participate in some part of the event (such as have them present an award to a 4-H member). Recognize their contributions (such as acknowledge their role in securing funding for a community project your organization supported).
Know How to Reach Them: Do you know the names of your state delegates
and senators? Do you know their local telephone numbers? Do you have the telephone
numbers for their offices in Charleston?
- Find their names and numbers by phone:
- In your phone book, find the County Government section. Locate the listing: County Clerk. Then, find the number of the Voter Registration Office. Ask personnel in that office about your area’s state officials. They will give you the names you need. You will find the officials’ local numbers in the residential section of your phone book.
- If you need the officials’ Charleston telephone numbers, call the toll-free number of West Virginia’s Legislative Information Office at 1-877-565-3447.
Find their names and numbers on the Web:
Questions? Contact the event organizers.
Contact Your Legislators
Legislators carefully consider constituent viewpoints as they decide issues. You
don’t have to be an expert on the issues in order to lobby your legislators. It
is your interest and concern rather than your knowledge about the issue that counts.
Legislators carefully consider constituent viewpoints as they decide issues. You don’t have to be an expert on the issues in order to lobby your legislators. It is your interest and concern rather than your knowledge about the issue that counts. However, the way that you lobby does make a difference.
Five Basic Rules for Effective Communication
- Be brief. A legislator’s time is limited. So is yours.
- Be appreciative. Acknowledge past support and convey thanks for current action.
- Be specific. Refer to local issues and needs.
- Be informative. Give reasons why a measure should be supported.
- Be courteous. Be positive and polite. Ask for a specific action or support. Do not demand or threaten.
While letters are very effective and the preferred means of establishing contact with your legislator, a telephone call when time is short – just before an important vote – may indeed influence a legislator’s decision about supporting or opposing an issue. The following tips will be helpful in making sure your phone call is properly noted:
- Before you call, know your facts. What do you want the legislator to know or do? If there is a specific bill number and title who is the sponsor? What specific section(s) of the bill concerns you? How does the legislation affect your interests, job, or livelihood? What alternatives can you suggest to make the legislation better?
- When you make your call, be brief, to the point, and courteous. Identify yourself as a constituent by giving your name, address, and phone number. It is not necessary to speak directly to your legislator. Leave your message with the person answering the phone or with the staff person working on the issue. Present your facts and position on the issue. Tell the person what action you would like your legislator to take. Do not argue. To ensure your message is transmitted to your legislator, request a response in writing. Thank the person for listening to your request. Be ready to answer their questions.
- Follow up. Determine how your legislator voted on the issue. If your legislator supported your views, be sure to thank him or her. If the vote was not what you wanted, note your disappointment but indicate you want to continue working with your legislator and to keep lines of communication open. NEVER, NEVER be rude, impolite, or threatening.
Email is a fast easy way to communicate with legislators when the need for action is critical. The same general rules for regular correspondence apply.
In email, closely follow the general good form for letter writing. Some legislators may respond to email only via the postal service. Be sure to provide your mailing address in the email message.
Personal Meetings with Your Legislators
Nothing is more effective in building personal relationships and getting your point across than a one-on-one meeting between you and your elected representatives. Knowing the proper way to set up and conduct personal meetings with your legislator and/or their key staff assistants, will enhance your ability to convey your message about a specific issue:
- Plan your visit carefully
- Make an appointment
- Be prompt and patient
- Be prepared
- Be political
- Be responsive
- Be polite
Always follow up. Immediately send a thank-you letter to your legislator. Recap the purpose of your meeting and the points covered, and provide any additional information or materials that may have been requested. Reinforce your interest in not only your issue, but also in working with your legislator.
Letters are the chief fuel that powers any legislative vehicle. They are read. They elicit responses. They represent votes. Each letter-writer is deemed to represent several like-minded if less highly motivated constituents.
- Be timely – write before the vote, not after the vote.
- Explain how the legislation can help you, your family, and your community.
- Be clear, concise, and legible.
- In the first paragraph, state the name of the legislation about which you are writing including the bill number if you know it.
- Include your name and address on the letter because envelopes are often thrown away.
- Be polite.
- Write on personal stationery or plain paper.
- Ask for a reply because as a constituent, you have the right to know your legislator’s view.
- Identify yourself as a constituent.
- Use your own words.
- If your legislator’s vote pleases you, express your thanks. Also let him or her know, politely, if you are disappointed.
West Virginia Farm Bureau Legislative Guide
WVU Extension January 2004
Meet Your Legislators
When you visit legislators, time is of the essence. Be prepared to introduce yourself
and quickly get to discussing business.
Here are a few ideas for conversation starters. These will also be provided in a small card format. They are “short and sweet,” which legislators appreciate, and are an effective way to tell each legislator a little bit about the WVU Extension.
- Remember they are interested in your ideas, and they like hearing news from their hometown. Relax!
- Be sure to let them know that you appreciate the time they are taking to meet with you.
- Be brief and to the point. Practice ahead of time what you will say. If you are visiting in a group, be sure to designate a spokesperson to deliver your messages.
- Below are some “conversation starters” that may help you as you tell your legislators a little bit about WVU Extension.
Suggested Conversation Starters
- We’re from ____________ County (or WVU-ES office) and represent the ______________ WVU Extension Program (CEOS, 4-H, Master Gardeners, etc.)
- WVU Extension is important in my community because ______________.
- WVU Extension has provided trusted research and progressive solutions for more than 100 years and are looking forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the state.
- WVU through WVU Extension is in every county of the state, delivering needed programs and practical information; thank you for helping us keep all 55 county WVU Extension offices open to serve West Virginians.
“Tips and Talk” When Visiting with Your Representatives
- Supporting higher education in West Virginia means you support the important work of WVU Extension, including programs like _______________ (4-H, Energy Express, help for farmers, community development, safety).
- This program is important to me because _________________.
- As a West Virginian, I (we) hope that our legislature will continue to support West Virginia University and WVU Extension because they provide tremendous resources, outreach and programming for citizens throughout West Virginia.
- Our West Virginia 4-H program – a program of WVU Extension – serves one in four West Virginia youths. By supporting WVU and WVU Extension, you are supporting more than 63,000 youths in our state.
- An investment in West Virginia University is an investment in West Virginia.