How to Communicate with those Elected to Speak for You
By Pamella King
Executive Assistant in OK State Senate 2016 to present
Former Legislative Assistant in OK House of Representatives 2006-2016
Action makes the heart and head feel good! It’s important for an active citizenry to communicate regularly with those elected to speak for us, but there are ways to communicate more efficiently. With this guide I hope to help you be as effective as possible when you are lobbying at the Oklahoma capitol.
You’ve heard more times than you can count that to make a difference you must vote! That is one way, but you can start communicating with your legislators before you even vote. Before you’re even old enough to vote, in fact legislators love contact from the kids in their districts.
To start, learn who represents you in both Oklahoma and Washington D.C. You will want to know both your state and federal Representatives and Senators. Internet to the rescue- the Oklahoma State Legislature has a form where you enter your address and it will tell you your Federal Senators and Congressperson as well as your state representative and state senator- bonus points if you save their phone numbers and email addresses in your contacts! Try it out: http://www.oklegislature.gov/
Now you know who is representing you in Congress and in the Oklahoma legislature. If you chose to email them, it’s an email form, if you don’t live in their zip code coverage you won’t be able to easily find their email address, but that’s ok because you can still call them, and please do! Ringing phones and voice mails are the best way to make an impression.
Next, teach yourself about the issue you’re interested in. When it comes to contacting your legislator regarding how you’d like them to vote on a specific bill, have the bill number or the author of the bill because there are over 1,000 bills any given year and we would love to know exactly which one you’re talking about and where it is in the legislative process (committee or chamber floor). If you leave a phone message, talk plainly, slowly and leave your name and phone number. If you write, please include your name, address, and city. You do not need to prepare a detailed speech, just stating that you care about the issue and helping office staff understand which bill you’re talking about will get the point across.
Always leave your contact information; sometimes you’ll get a call back. If you’re handing out literature for a group or organization and you live in the member’s district, it will have a greater impact if you write your contact information down because it’s more likely to reach the members hands. Why is it important that you be in a legislator’s district when you reach out about legislation and voting? It’s important because that person ran in your area to represent you and if they want to continue representing that district, they want to hear from people there more than people across the state. They are elected 1st to serve their district and 2nd to serve Oklahoma as their district desires.
That is not to say you cannot contact legislators outside your district- in fact it is very common when bills go to committees for a vote. But know that as a constituent living in their district, your message will carry more weight.
In addition to contact via email or phone, most Oklahoma legislators will be on social media, which is another great way to reach them, but it might not get a response due to the high volume of postings and many only use their official accounts during elections. Note again, though, that a phone call will be taken more seriously. Legislators all have a bio page on the OK House (okhouse.gov) web site or OK Senate (oksenate.gov) web site where you can find their contact information and learn a little about their background. You can email them without being in their districts, but seriously, call them. As an assistant who has to answer the phones and voice mails, we will make sure the boss hears about those calls and what they are about.
If you feel the need to write a letter or letters to everyone then do that, but you are likely to only get a response from your actual legislator. If you want to deliver handouts, make them short and one sided. Sadly, most of them wind up in the recycle bin, unless you actually live in the legislator’s district. Of course, you should call or write to the Governor as well- everyone lives in their district! They dread calls as much as any other lawmaker.
Finally, whenever possible, go in person. This is a great way to make an impression- although it’s not an option for everyone. The advice I’d give you for a personal visit with your legislator is to call first or check the House or Senate web page to make sure that someone will be there. Not only does the Oklahoma legislature does not meet year-round, legislators often return to their districts on Fridays to meet constituents. Don’t expect your legislator to be sitting at his/her desk five days a week. It doesn’t work like that. You can, however, ask for meetings outside of the capitol and if you live far outside the OKC metro area it may be a better option for both you and your elected official.
The Oklahoma legislature meets from the first Monday in February and has to be done with the people’s business by the last Friday in May. Again, legislators also are only at the Capitol Monday through Thursday during that time, so don’t expect to visit with your legislator on a Friday as they won’t be present, with one exception: usually the last two weeks of May are especially busy, so legislators may be there. Legislative assistants will be glad to listen, take your literature and assist you if the only days you can go are Fridays during Session or anytime during the interim (the time between June 1st and January 31st when they don’t meet).
Always call first because normally legislative assistants can be very helpful. You don’t have to tell them you’re coming if you feel that an ambush works better for you. The important thing is that you reach out to those elected to represent you however you feel best doing it. Be respectful, but no need to be in awe, they’re just people who stepped up to run for office and won. Remember that the person who answers the phone is not the one who will be voting on legislation (so be nice!) but your legislative assistants will be happy to let your voice be heard.