Rule #1: Always be courteous to staff members!
When speaking to the legislator or staff member:
- quickly identify yourself
- describe who you are representing
- raise the issue you would like to discuss, and
- be sure to mention that you are from the legislator’s district.
- Chances are that when you call the legislator’s Columbus office, you will speak to the legislator’s aide or administrative assistant. A legislator’s aide or administrative assistant is your entry point in conveying information to the legislator. Because legislators are busy attending committee meetings and voting sessions, the staff will often take care of your inquiries. Learn the staff members’ names, develop relationships with them and always be courteous. Remember, it’s always more pleasant for you to deal with clients who are friendly. Legislators and staff have that same attitude.
- Don’t be offended if you leave a message with the legislator or staff and it is not returned promptly. Like you, legislators are busy and will return constituents’ calls as soon as possible. If you do not receive a timely response, call the legislator’s office again and remind staff that you are still trying to make a contact.
- Ask when the legislator will be back in the district for the purpose of scheduling an appointment.
- Always leave a phone number where the legislator can return your call.
Rule #2: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
- Gentle repetition in contacting a legislator is key. Stick with it. The hardest part of getting to know and establish a relationship with a legislator is the initial phone call or meeting.
- Repetition. If a legislator senses that an issue is of great importance to many of his/her constituents, that issue increases in importance to the legislator.
- Don’t be offended if the legislator does not return your call promptly. With all the activities going on in Columbus, legislators often cannot get to their constituent requests until late in the day. Don’t be surprised if you receive a phone call from the legislator at home during the evening. Even if the legislator does not return your call within a few days, be patient (unless there is a required deadline such as an upcoming vote on a bill). Place another call to both the local and Columbus offices and remind staff that you recently called and would like the opportunity to discuss an important issue.
- Personalize your correspondence. Form letters are answered with form letters.
Rule #3: Put the legislator at ease by convincing him/her that you are there to serve as an educational resource
- Good legislators establish “information banks” of constituents in their districts on whom they rely for education and information. The ultimate goal of the Key Psychologist Program is to have the legislators call to ask your opinion on a piece of legislation that involves mental health care issues.
- Don’t just contact your legislator when you need something. Isn’t it annoying when the only time you hear from a friend or relative is when they need something? Legislators can feel the same way. Part of any successful effort to establish a relationship with a legislator means picking up the phone just to ask how the legislator and his/her family is doing or informing the legislator of a community event. It doesn’t always have to be business.
- The ideal constituent-legislator relationship encourages the legislator to contact you when he/she has questions on issues on which you have expertise.
If you are not familiar with the legislative process, don’t be afraid to admit it. Legislators generally have limited familiarity with psychology. Tell the legislator that you are working with OPA as his/her Key Psychologist and that you would like to provide some information concerning psychology or a certain piece of legislation.
Rule #4: Put broad policy issues in a local perspective
- If an issue is of importance to many voters, it is important to the legislator. The Key Psychologist program is successful when we can make our priorities a legislator’s priority.
- Legislators who know how issues will impact local voters tend to grasp ideas more easily and are generally more receptive.
- Once you make contact with a legislator, clearly explain your issue and how the issue affects the legislator’s constituents. For example, if the legislator is from Dayton, tell him/her how an issue or piece of legislation could affect constituents at a local business.
- Don’t expect your legislator to agree with you on every issue. Long-term relationships are more important than short-term battles.
- One of the best communication and education tools is placing the legislator in your working environment so he/she can view your day-to-day duties and see the constituents you are serving. You are now the “home team” where important issues will be discussed on your turf. Use this opportunity to introduce the legislator to your staff and some of your clients. This localized method of relaying your message is very effective.
Rule #5: Volunteer your time to help them get re-elected
- To help establish a relationship with your legislator, volunteer your time to help him/her on a project or campaign activity. The OPA realizes your personal time is very limited, but one of the best ways to get to know your legislator is by volunteering your time to help them get re-elected.
- Volunteer to pass out campaign literature, hold a local fundraiser, operate a phone bank, or put a sign in your yard. At a local fundraiser, the amount of money you raise for the legislator is not the focal point of the event. Invite twenty of your neighbors and colleagues and ask them to donate $25 per person.
Rule #6: Above all, don’t be afraid of your legislator
- For some reason, legislators often intimidate professionals. Don’t let this happen, as legislators are “regular folks” who are also leaders in the community. Don’t be afraid to approach them. Legislators are interested in what you do for their constituents.
- Also, with the increase in new legislators due to term limits, there will e an increased need to educate these legislators. Being new, they will truly appreciate your help in bringing them up to speed with health care legislation.