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Meet In-Person With Your Elected Officials
Meeting with a elected official is simply the face-to-face version of writing a letter or having a telephone conversation.
Most legislators want to meet with citizens to hear their concerns and recommendations. You only have to be a citizen passionate about an environmental issue to get your message across, not an expert lobbyist.
Because you hold the power of the vote, your opinions carry more weight than any number of lobbyists. Don’t be afraid of lobbying as it is simply expressing your opinion and trying to sway someone that your view is the correct one.
Arranging the Meeting…
1. Call your legislator’s office and make an appointment. Ask to speak with the appointments secretary or scheduler.
2. Identify yourself as a constituent of the legislator, stating where you live.
3. Briefly explain which issue you would like to discuss with the legislator.
4. Request a 30 minute meeting with the elected official (you might be given less time, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for 30 minutes).
5. If the legislator is unavailable, request a meeting with a legislative aide or other staff person who is responsible for or knowledgeable about your environmental issue.
6. Send a note or fax to confirm the appointment. Include the time, date and location of the appointment, as well as your name, address and daytime phone number.
Preparing for the Meeting…
1. If possible, gather a small group (three is optimum) to accompany you during the meeting. Bring different members of the community if applicable, such as a business owner, teacher, doctor, scientist, homemaker, etc. If you are representing a larger group or organization(s), be sure to convey that to the legislator.
2. On your own or in the group, determine the message you wish to convey before meeting with the legislator. If in a group, divide out the tasks of who is the main spokesperson, and who will speak or answer questions regarding specific topics. Also, assign someone to take notes and to write the follow-up letter). Be sure to include brief personal stories or experiences which demonstrate why this issue is important to you or the group. Ultimately, you want to keep your message brief and simple so that your legislator understands the issue.
3. List all arguments for and against and develop responses. This will avoid being put on the spot when the legislator disagrees with your argument.
4. Prepare your message or information in a letter or fact sheet format to leave with the legislator. Have other voters or organizations prepare letters of endorsements or other supportive materials. If you wish to convey amendments or revisions to legislation, provide your edited version of the bill. Remember, if you bury them in paper, they may not read it!
5. Familiarize yourself with the legislator’s voting record or their history. This will help you to relate to them and determine which arguments will be most effective (e.g., economic or religious).
6. Role play your presentation with others who can provide feedback. Practice until you are confident and know the information or message, but do not memorize it like a script. Make sure that the information you are presenting to the legislator is limited enough to allow time for questions and discussion.
During the Meeting…
1. Be on time. Some elected officials may not be on time due to meetings or hearings. Be patient and flexible. If the legislator must leave early, ask to continue the discussion with a staff person.
2. Dress nicely. Initial impressions are important in this setting and a good one can only help your message, not detract from it.
3. Relax. Do not feel that you need to be an expert. All that matters is that you are an intelligent citizen with voting power. Your best tool will be to show how genuine your concern is for the issue.
4. Remember to have everyone introduce themselves and their organization if appropriate.
5. Make eye contact. This shows confidence. Speak with authority and remember that they are people too.
6. Begin with a compliment such as stating how good their environmental voting record is or at least thanking them for taking the time to meet with you.
7. Make your opening remarks a brief and clear description of the issue, your position on it and what you want the elected official to do. If a legislation is involved in the discussion, be sure to state the bill number, name and sponsors.
8. Watch the body language as it can often reveal more than the discussion.
9. Following the opening remarks, continue with your prepared presentation. If you lose your train of thought or get flustered, pull out your fact sheet to refresh your mind or another member of the group can jump in to pick up the discussion.
10. After you have presented your message, let the legislator respond. Listen carefully. If you cannot wait until after the meeting, take notes on what the legislator says.
11. Ask the legislator what you can do to help them support your message.
12. Make sure you have answered the legislator’s questions. Answer the questions as best as you can. Don’t make up answers. Acknowledge what you do not know. Make a note of the questions you could not answer and tell the legislator you will follow-up to provide them with an answer.
13. Make sure the discussion stays on goal with the message you are trying to convey. If the discussion gets off course, steer it back to the important points or the issue.
14. Be firm about your position, but don’t try to change the legislator’s mind if they are adamant. Be courteous, direct and fair. Ensure that no personal remarks are made. If you are not seeing eye-to-eye with the legislator and are frustrated, move on to another part of the issue or politely end the meeting. It is important not to alienate the legislator since you made need their support on another issue.
15. Unless the legislator is clearly opposed to an issue, ask if they will commit to supporting the issue by speaking out on the floor or voting for or against a bill.
16. Remember to leave the legislator and the staff a copy of your fact sheets, letters or other information.
17. Thank the legislator or staff member for their time, even if they did not agree with your position.
After the Meeting…
1. Before you leave the building, immediately take notes regarding the main points of discussion, the legislator’s remarks, any unanswered questions, etc.
2. Complete your research on finding information for the unanswered questions.
3. Promptly follow up the meeting with a thank you letter. Use this to restate your key points, state the answers to the outstanding questions and reiterate any commitments the legislator made. The letter should be signed by all parties who attended the meeting, as well as those interested parties who could not attend.
Join us in fighting for Oregon’s environment
OLCV Education Fund works to increase the political effectiveness of Oregon's environmental community by educating, training, and coordinating citizens and organizations.