While contacting your legislator might seem daunting at first, our step-by-step guide will help simplify the process. Feel empowered to take part in making legislative change!
“Communicating with your legislators is important because it helps legislators be empowered to work on the constituents’ behalf,” says Council CEO/Executive Director, Denise Jess. “If legislators don’t know what is important to their constituents, they’ll be left in a position to make decisions from their own knowledge-base or their own biases, which may or may not represent the needs of their constituency. It’s also important for the constituents themselves to know that they have both a right and a responsibility to communicate with their legislators about what’s important to them.”
Step 1: Believe in Yourself. You need to believe your perspective is important, because if you do, your conviction will be apparent when you are having conversations with legislators.
Step 2: Learn Your Rights. Feel empowered, knowing your worth. You don’t have to approach the conversation with a sense of apology or entitlement, but knowing your rights can help you feel confident and knowledgeable.
Step 3: Follow Reputable Sources for Learning about Legislation. Before you reach out to a legislator, do your homework. Follow reputable sources, such as the publications of the Council. Find organizations you trust so you know what legislation is before the lawmaking body, and so you have a sense of the lawmaking climate.
Step 4: Discuss Your Questions and Concerns. It’s OK to ask questions before talking to your legislator. Don’t hesitate to go to your trusted sources and ask questions so you thoroughly understand the legislation.
Step 5: Identify your Connection to the Proposed Legislation. Think about how it will impact you and give concrete, specific examples. Legislators are there to represent their constituents-- they work for you--and your real stories matter because they give your point-of-view a personal touch.
Step 6: Contact your Legislators. The first step in contacting your legislator is knowing who your legislators are. The easiest way to contact your state legislators is use the tool found on the Legislature’s home page, at http://legis.wisconsin.gov. In the right-hand side of that page is a link that says “Find My Legislators!” Type your address in the box below that link to get the names of your state representative and senator. For information on how to contact Federal elected officials, visit https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. You may leave a message for your legislator’s Capitol office or indicate your position on legislation through the toll free Legislative Hotline, at 1-800-362-9472.
Step 7: Communicate in a Way that Works for You. If you are good at having phone conversations and are comfortable making your point by talking, then a phone call might be your best and most effective way to communicate with legislators. If writing is more your forte, put your thoughts down on paper. Remember that a paper letter is more effective and will get more notice than an email.
Step 8: Plan What You Will Say Ahead-of-Time. First, let the legislator know who you are, and that you are a member of their district. Then let them know specifically why you are contacting them, giving a two-three sentence explanation of your story and the impact—positive or negative—the legislation will have on you. If there is something specific you would like the legislator to do, ask, but do not expect an explicit commitment from your legislator. If your legislator is interested, you will notice hints, and they will often ask questions. Respond to any questions they have for you. If you don’t know the answer to a question, let the legislator know and either encourage them to contact the Council, or make a commitment yourself to find the answer and get back to them. Finally, thank them for taking the time to talk with you.
Step 9: Remember that Talking with an Aide is as Important as Talking with the Legislator Directly. Aides are the direct conduit to the legislator. Even though all calls are recorded and all letters will be read, the aides often make decisions about whether they will highlight the call or letter with the Legislator. Treating aides with respect is important, because the aides are often the ones doing the research, and are content specialists who are usually quite knowledgeable.
Step 10: Follow Up and Say Thank You. Legislative relationships are relationships, and whether you agree or disagree with the stand they take, they do work hard, so gratitude is important.
Remember to contact your legislators when you are both happy and when you are concerned. Use your legislative clout wisely, and decide where you want to put your energy. It’s all about building warm and effective relationships. If there are legislative issues that are important to you, contact the Council or go to your trusted sources to let them know.
“While the Council can represent issues along our legislative priorities,” says Denise, “it is so impactful for the constituents to make contact. Legislators want to hear from the people they represent.”