Effectively Communicating With Your Lawmakers
Letters - Email - Fax - Telephone - Meetings - Town Hall
Additional Writing Tips by Jeff Baxla - ABATE
As a voting constituent, you have a tremendous ability to influence the outcome of legislation. Ask any elected official which individual's concerns are most important to him, and chances are they all will deliver the same response: the constituents`. All politicians are keenly aware of the fact that it is their constituents who hold the keys to their political futures. Therefore, constituent concerns are of the utmost concern to politicians. The best way you can affect the outcome of legislation is to directly communicate your views to your lawmakers. REMEMBER: Your lawmakers work for you! Since the primary concern of all politicians is to get re-elected, be sure you communicate your concerns with your own elected officials first! Then, if you wish to express your views to others who don't directly represent you, you can do so. But make sure your legislators hear from you first!
As a Floridian, one of your greatest
responsibilities is to help elect the representatives who represent
you and the state's more than 14 million other residents. But your
role in the democratic process of government does not end at the
polls. By sharing your opinions and ideas with your representatives
and senators in Tallahassee, you help them decide what to do about
the issues and pending legislation that affect us all. They value
your suggestions and encourage you to express them.
WRITING EFFECTIVE LETTERS
How To Address Your Representative. Address your letters to "The Honorable _______," and begin the letter "Dear Senator" or "Dear Representative." If writing to a Committee Chairman or Speaker of the House, address him as "Mr. Chairman" or "Mr. Speaker."
Address letters to senators this way:
Identify your issue or opinion at the beginning of the letter, don't bury your main point under trivial text.
Never write more than one page. Concise written correspondence is more likely to grab and keep the reader's attention. If you have another issue to address, write another letter.
Back up your opinions with supporting facts. Your letter should inform the reader.
Avoid abbreviations or acronyms, and don't use technical jargon. Rather than impressing your reader, such terms will only frustrate him or her.
Type or print legibly. Sign your name neatly and give your address correctly so they can respond to your letter.
Be Brief, Specific, & Always Be Courteous! Letters shouldn't exceed one page, and the purpose of your letter should be stated clearly in the first paragraph. If your letter pertains to specific legislation, identify it accordingly (use the bill number, if known, and the title of the bill and/or a brief description). To make sure your letter is as productive as possible, always be courteous, even if you disagree with your representative's position! Never threaten or use abusive language. This only hurts your cause.
Ask Them To Write Back. Always ask for a response to your letter. You'll want a hard copy of your legislator's positions on these issues for future reference and to document their positions.
Don't send the same letter to
more than one representative. Personalized letters have more impact.
EFFECTIVE TELEPHONE CALLS
Identify Yourself As A Constituent. As someone who lives and votes in the district or state of the lawmaker you are contacting, your phone calls carry the most weight. Calls to representatives outside your district or state can be helpful as well. However, be sure to always contact your own legislators first.
State Your Point Quickly And Clearly. Be sure to limit your telephone call to one subject. Be brief but specific. Your phone call should last at most only a couple of minutes. State the reason you are calling, giving a brief description of the bill and bill number if possible. REMEMBER: ALWAYS BE COURTEOUS! NEVER threaten, or use abusive language.
Request That Your Legislator Follow Up Your Call With a Letter. Be sure to give your name and home address and request that your legislator follow up with a letter. You took the time to call, so have your legislator take the time to respond.
You Do Not Always Have To Identify Yourself Solely As An ABATE Member! Unfortunately, many anti-motorcycle politicians are under the misguided impression that ABATE members only say what ABATE tells them to say. If you identify yourself as a voting constituent; community or business leader; PTA, VFW, or American Legion member; or homemaker, lawmakers will find it harder to dismiss your call.
Schedule An Appointment. Elected officials have extremely hectic schedules. To help increase the chance that you will have time allotted for you to speak directly with your legislator, call in advance to set up an appointment. In all likelihood, most of your personal meetings will be scheduled at your lawmakers` district offices, so be sure you contact these offices to make your appointment.
Explain How Proposed Legislation Will Directly Affect You. Use specific examples to show your lawmaker how motorcycle-related bills will jeopardize your rights or the lives of law-abiding citizens, and unduly burden those engaged in lawful activities. If the proposed measure will strengthen our rights or benefit bikers, specifically cite examples to support this position.
Always Be Polite! Nothing is as detrimental to a visit with a lawmaker than rudeness, vulgarity, or threats. Even if you disagree with the position of your legislator, be courteous. Dress professionally to convey the seriousness of your visit.
If Your Lawmaker Is Unavailable, Meet With His Staff. Your representative may not always be available for a meeting. In such cases, try to schedule an appointment with the staff member responsible for motorcycle-related issues. Legislative staff will bring your concerns to your legislator's attention, have great influence on legislators' voting decisions, and often have expertise on biker issues. Send a follow-up letter to the staff member you met with as well. Keep in mind many congressional staff members later run for office themselves, so these relationships can be invaluable in the future!
Bring Ample Materials To Share With Your Lawmaker And His Staff. These materials will bolster you point and serve as valuable reference materials after your meeting has concluded.
Prepare a one-page fact sheet concerning your issue to give to your representative. This will help him or her better retain what you present.
Follow Up Your
Visit With A Letter. Regardless of how your meeting goes, send a
letter to your legislator thanking him for his time, and reiterating
the points you discussed. This gesture will go a long way, and
possibly allow for future meetings.
ATTEND TOWN HALL MEETINGS
Get On The Invite List And Attend The Meetings. Write your lawmakers and ask to be put on the invitation list for the lawmaker's town hall meetings. If they do not have such a list, ask for information on the next meeting. When you receive word that a town hall meeting is scheduled, be sure to make plans to attend, and share this information with others that have your opinion.
Prepare Questions Ahead Of Time. Have specific questions in mind, such as asking for your legislator's position on a specific bill or issue.
Get An Answer. Ask your question clearly, and as simply as possible, e.g., "Do you support Stronger Right-of-Way Laws/ Do you support Helmet Choice?" If your legislator doesn't answer your question sufficiently, politely repeat the question. A good way of achieving this is to ask that they explain their answer more completely to your question. If it is totally side-stepped (a famous tactic of politicians not wanting to give direct answers), you can re-word your question.
Follow-Up With a Letter. Whether you had the opportunity to ask your question or not, follow up with a letter to your lawmaker. Let him know you attended his last town meeting. Ask your question in your letter if you didn't have an opportunity to do so at the meeting, or address his response to any motorcycle related questions other constituents may have asked. This letter will ensure your lawmakers take you and your views seriously, and will allow you to obtain a written response addressing your concerns that you should also share with motorcycle enthusiast.