Legislative Reports

Legislative Reports for the 2017 Legislative Session.

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Engaging Elected Officials

(from Steve Anthony)

One of the most important actions A.A.U.P. members can take is to be engaged with their elected officials. This can include a variety of activities and different levels of commitment. Letting your government representatives (which can include non-elected officials as well as elected) is also the single most effective way to get them to vote your way.

There are many misperceptions on how to do this and there definitely is an effective and ineffective way to interact with them.  Let me first give some insight into their live as an elected official or public servant.

The unelected government officials are often overlooked as having a role in the political process. I assure you, if they are competent and have some seniority, they are very important. They are either the gate-keepers or, many times, the decision maker. How? Because they have the institutional knowledge and are “on the job” year round. Having any kind of relationship with them can prove highly beneficial. Being their friend only enhances that. Most laws are implemented through them and in doing so can put their own interpretations on it. Don’t misunderstand, they do not have carte blanche, if they go too far afield they will be corrected. They also are the only “expert” the elected official hears from. That is where YOU come in. Be another “expert” that the official hears from.

The elected officials, especially those in an arena that is NOT year round, like the Georgia General Assembly which meets only 40 days a year, are under an enormous time crunch. Trying to get them to understand a complicated issue, for the first time, in a day or two, is, at the outset, a near impossible task. Keep that in mind when reaching out to them. Be respectful of their position and demands. Be firm yet ALWAYS offer more than one way to approach your needs. Do not attack them, belittle them or assume they know nothing. (This last one takes a degree of political finesse). Guide them, help them and many times they will help you. Maybe not this time but down the road when they remember how respectful you were to them. This is the ultimate goal—CREATE A POSITIVE FEELING IN THEM TOWARDS YOU AND YOUR PROFESSION AND/OR INSTITUTION.

One of the most overlooked forms of interaction is to stay engaged year ‘round. Only reaching out to them when you need something, only contacting them during or right before the legislative session is possibly the worst way to be effective. I will present here three approaches to use and then elaborate.

  • Contact throughout the year.
  • Specific, detailed contact tied to specific legislation.
  • Becoming involved in their efforts to get elected or stay elected (assuming of course, you support them).
  1. Unless they are already a personal friend, I suggest several things to do to get them comfortable with you. Go to events and forums that they are coming to, introduce yourself to them, ask for nothing; just let them know you are their constituent and what your profession is. In each succeeding time, add more info and eventually you will be able to get one-on-one time with them. That is when you can be most effective. THEN, when you reach out during the session, all the preliminary necessities will be out of the way. Yes, this requires some time commitment. Anything worth doing…..
  2. Sometimes this can lead to an actual friendship, which is even better.
  3. If you are not their constituent then it will take time, through various forms of communication to achieve the same effect.
  4. When talking to one or more of them about a specific issue, follow these guidelines.
    • Do not assume they know anything about it….even if they have voted on it before. They will let you know if they are versed in the issue…or think they are!
    • ONLY present the truth and, if you have knowledge, debunk the falsehoods they may mention.
    • Never get personal.
    • The goal, as elaborated on earlier, is to get them to trust you. Therefore, offer your expertise to them when they need it. “Call me if you ever want to check something out”. Especially when it does not involve an issue you may be interested in right then, but falls within your wheelhouse.
    • Never forget to ask for their vote. Many times all this groundwork is done and then one assumes they know you want their vote. ASK for it!
    • Whatever they do and whatever happens to the issue go back and thank them for allowing you to engage them. This is a hard one of on the losing end but is part of the overall game plan.
    • To improve and strengthen your ability to influence, use this website to stay up to date on happenings during the legislative session. legis.ga.gov and navigate through the tabs to get to what you want to look up.
  5. If you are their constituent and will support and vote for them, then get engaged in their efforts to get elected. This by far, is the MOST effective thing you can do. If you are partially responsible for their being in office they HAVE to give you consideration. Do not hesitate to let them know if done behind the scenes. DO NOT fear giving a donation…another way to eternally have you endeared to them.
  6. If you should find yourself supporting someone else and they lose, do not assume the winner does not know. Go to them hat-in-hand!

Some general guidelines to remember:

  • Never send a form letter to an elected official. It will never be read much less have an effect.
  • Never publicly berate them, in the form of a letter to the editor, etc.
  • Never be part of a group that has other issues from those we are interested in as it will negatively affect you, even if worthy and even if it gives some benefit. You also pick up their baggage.
  • Never burn your bridges. Today’s enemy is tomorrow’s friend.
  • Did I say never get personal?