How to Contact Elected Officials
Legislators value and need contact with constituents and others who have expertise on an issue.
Meeting with Legislators
A great time to meet with elected officials is actually during the summer and fall when they are not tied up with the legislative calendar. Summer and fall are a great time to have them visit you at your site, especially if it is in their district. The legislative website (www.leg.mn) includes during-session and off-session contact information.
During the legislative session, it is best to call ahead and if possible, to schedule a time to meet with them in their office at the Capitol. If you attend a "Day on the Hill" for an issue organization, it is possible meetings will be prearranged. During the busiest months of the session (late Spring), it may be necessary to meet with legislators outside of the committee rooms or near the House or Senate chambers. Their staff will assist you in making contact.
For a Short but Effective Discussion
- Introduce yourself and thank the legislator for taking the time to meet with you. Identify your organization if you are working for a nonprofit or coalition. Tell a little about your mission and the people served, but keep it brief.
- State your purpose. Be clear about what legislation you are supporting or opposing. Mention it by bill number and topic. Focus on one topic per meeting. Let the legislator know your position and why you are asking her/him to vote for that position.
- Let the legislator and her/his staff members know that you and your organization have information and expertise. Let them know you can be a resource to them.
- Give them a chance to talk about their perspective on your issue.
- Ask for their vote and try to get a commitment at the meeting.
- Let them know you plan to stay in touch.
Making Phone Calls
Follow the steps below for a more effective phone call to your representative:
- State your name and address, and indicate whether you are a constituent or not.
- Give the name and House or Senate File number of the legislation, or clearly explain the issue.
- State whether you oppose or support the legislation and how you want your legislator to vote. Include a statement on how the issue affects you personally. You will usually be speaking with a legislative aide who is checking pro or con and the call will last a very short time. Keep the phone call under five minutes unless the aide or legislator prolongs the conversation.
- Listen to the legislator’s point of view.
- Take down the name of the aide with whom you spoke so that you will have a contact person in case you need to contact the legislator again.
- Thank them for their time, both on the telephone and with a note of thanks for the conversation that includes a concise summary of your opinion.
- Do not lie or try to talk your way around questions to which you do not know the answers. Say that you will get back to the legislator or aide, and then do so.
Take the following steps to write a more effective letter to your representative.
- Use the correct address and salutation (i.e., Dear Senator name, or Dear Representative name, or Dear Governor name). While the legislature is in session, send letters to Senate or House offices.
- Describe the bill by popular name and by House or Senate file number, or clearly describe the issue.
- Be brief and clear. Write about one issue per letter, and state the issue and how you want your elected official to vote in your first sentence. Letters should be no longer than one page, however longer letters may be appreciated if you have some new information on the subject.
- Be specific. If possible, give an example of how the issue affects your district.
- Be timely. Make sure your legislator will have sufficient time to consider your request.
- Know your facts. Inaccurate or misleading information will hurt your credibility.
- Be polite in your requests for support or opposition. Never express anger, make demands, or threaten defeat at the next election. You will want to have future contact with the legislator.
- Use your own words and stationary rather than form letters or postcards when possible. In addition, write legibly or type – your letter could be discarded if it is not easy to read.
- Be constructive. Explain an alternative or better solution to the problem and offer to be a resource on the issue.
- Send a note of appreciation when your elected official supports your issue.
- When he or she does not support your issue, explain why you think a different decision should have been made. It might make a difference the next time.