Meeting with Your Elected Officials
Meeting with an elected official is simply the face-to-face version of writing a letter or having a telephone conversation. Most legislators want to meet with citizens to hear their concerns and recommendations. You don’t have to be an expert lobbyist to get you message across – just someone that is passionate about the issue you want to talk about. Because you are a constituent, your opinions are incredibly valuable and can carry more weight than any number of lobbyists.
It may seem difficult or intimidating to set up a meeting with your legislator, but it is critically important. During the legislative session, a legislator will usually take the time to meet with you if you are willing to travel to Santa Fe. Outside of the legislative session, you can often arrange a meeting with your elected official in their home districts. Remember that you have several elected officials at the federal, state and local level with different decision-making authority. If appropriate, you should contact any or all of them if they can support your issue.
Arranging the Meeting
During the legislative session, it is easiest to travel to Santa Fe and try to catch your elected official in their office or while they are walking to committees.
Outside of the legislative session, you can call your legislator’s home or office and ask to make an appointment, or e-mail your legislator. Remember: outside of the legislative session, your elected official may not have staff or a scheduler to arrange meetings. You may end up speaking with a family member, or the legislator themselves. Always be respectful.
Identify yourself as a constituent of the legislator, stating where you live.
Briefly explain which issue you would like to discuss with the legislator.
Request a 20 minute meeting with the elected official (you might be given less time, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for 20 minutes).
If the legislator is unavailable, ask what times and dates may work in the weeks to follow. You may not be able to get a meeting right away if your elected official is busy, but having a flexible schedule will help make sure that you can find a time to meet.
Send a note or fax to confirm the appointment. Include the time, date and location of the appointment, as well as your name, address and daytime phone number.
Do you want to meet with your legislator about a conservation issue? Want help setting that meeting up? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-8683. We’d be happy to help!
Preparing for the Meeting
If possible or applicable, gather a small group (three is optimum) to accompany you during the meeting. Bring different members of the community if necessary, such as a business owner, teacher, doctor, scientist, homemaker, etc. If you are representing a larger group or organization(s), be sure to convey that to the legislator.
On your own or in the group, determine the message you wish to convey before meeting with the legislator. If in a group, divide out the tasks of who is the main spokesperson, and who will speak or answer questions regarding specific topics. (Also, assign someone to take notes and to write the follow-up letter). Be sure to include brief personal stories or experiences, which demonstrate why this issue is important to you or the group when preparing your message. Ultimately, you want to keep your message brief and simple so that your legislator understands the issue.
List all arguments for and against and develop responses. This will avoid being put on the spot if the legislator disagrees with your argument or has questions.
Prepare your message or information in a letter or fact sheet format to leave with the legislator. Ideally this information should be one page, concise, and easy to read. If needed, have other voters or organizations prepare letters or materials of support for your issue. If you wish to convey amendments or revisions to legislation, provide your edited version of the bill. Do remember though, if you bury them in paper, they may not read it!
Familiarize yourself with the legislator’s voting record or their history. This will help you to relate to them and determine which arguments will be most effective (e.g., economic or political).
Role play your presentation with others who can provide feedback. Practice until you are confident and know the information or message, but do not memorize it like a script. Make sure that the information you are presenting to the legislator is limited enough to allow time for questions and discussion.
If your legislator asks you a question, and you don’t know the answer, it’s okay. Just tell them that you don’t know the answer, but will find out for them. Then, follow through: do the research, find the answer, and call or email your legislator.
During the Meeting
Be on time. Some elected officials may not be on time due to meetings or hearings. Be patient and flexible. If the legislator must leave early, ask to continue the discussion at a later time.
Dress nicely. Initial impressions are important in this setting and a good one can only help your message, not detract from it.
Relax. Do not feel that you need to be an expert. All that matters is that you are an intelligent citizen with voting power. Your best tool will be to show how genuine your concern is for the issue.
Remember to have everyone introduce themselves and their organization if appropriate.
Make eye contact. This shows confidence. Speak with authority and remember that they are people too.
Begin with a compliment such as stating how supportive their conservation voting record is, or at least thanking them for taking the time to meet with you.
Make your opening remarks a brief and clear description of the issue, your position on it and what you want the elected official to do. If legislation is involved in the discussion, be sure to state the bill number, name and sponsors.
Watch the body language as it can often reveal more than the discussion.
Following the opening remarks, continue with your prepared presentation. If you lose your train of thought or get flustered, pull out your fact sheet to refresh your mind or another member of the group can jump in to pick up the discussion.
After you have presented your message, let the legislator respond. Listen carefully. If you cannot wait until after the meeting, take notes on what the legislator says.
Ask the legislator what you can do to help them support your message.
Make sure you have answered the legislator’s questions. Answer the questions as best as you can. Don’t make up answers. Acknowledge what you do not know. Make a note of the questions you could not answer and tell the legislator you will follow-up to provide them with an answer.
Make sure the discussion stays on goal with the message you are trying to convey. If the discussion gets off course, steer it back to the important points or the issue.
Be firm about your position, but don’t try to change the legislator’s mind if they are adamant. Be courteous, direct and fair. Ensure that no personal remarks are made. If you are not seeing eye-to-eye with the legislator and are frustrated, move on to another part of the issue or politely end the meeting. It is important not to alienate the legislator since you may need their support on another issue.
Unless the legislator is clearly opposed to an issue, ask if they will commit to supporting the issue by speaking out on the floor or voting for or against a bill.
Remember to leave the legislator a copy of your fact sheets, letters or other information.
Thank the legislator or staff member for their time, even if they did not agree with your position.
After the Meeting
Before you leave the building, immediately take notes regarding the main points of discussion, the legislator’s remarks, any unanswered questions, etc.
Complete your research on finding information for the unanswered questions.
Promptly follow up the meeting with a thank you letter. Use this to restate your key points, state the answers to the outstanding questions and reiterate any commitments the legislator made. The letter should be signed by all parties who attended the meeting, as well as those interested parties who could not attend.