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How to Get to Know Your Lawmakers

Here's how you can be an effective advocate on important education issues.

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The legislative process can be intimidating. But remember, lawmakers are elected by voters like you to represent your interests at the state level, so don't be shy.

Establishing a relationship with your elected officials isn’t as difficult as it might seem. The first step is reaching out by phone or email. TASB’s tools, tips, and resources can help you get started.

Find Out Who Represents You, and Reach Out

It’s easy to look up and contact your state legislators. Call or email their offices to make an initial contact and introduce yourself. Find tips on crafting your message below.

Best Practices for Contacting Your Legislator

The first step to building a solid working relationship with your lawmakers is to reach out. Whether you call or write, make sure you:

  • Know your legislator
  • Know the issues
  • Stay focused

Get To Know Your Legislators

Before you contact your state representative and senator, gather some basic information about them. Knowing this can help you plan your advocacy strategy:

  • Personal information: Knowing some basic background information can help you establish ties to your legislators. Where did they go to school? What do they do for a living? What about their families? 
  • Committee assignments: Find out what committees your legislators serve on. This is especially important if they're on a committee that regularly deals with education issues. However, even if their committee assignments don’t directly impact education issues, their votes do. 
  • Staff members: Get to know the legislative staffer who deals with education issues, and make sure he or she gets to know you by name. Staff members are paid to pass along information to their boss, your lawmaker. Establishing a good relationship with them is your foot in the door.
  • Voting history: Find out how your legislators voted on earlier education issues. This can help you anticipate where they are likely to stand on upcoming issues and will help you prepare for conversations with them.

Texas State Rep. Trent Ashby said the best way to develop a relationship with your lawmakers is to set up a meeting to introduce yourself and get the discussion started. "In doing so, you've put a face with a name and have the opportunity to follow up with the member again to remind or update them on the issue."

Get To Know the Issues

Effective advocates use the facts, their personal stories, and their networks to amplify their messages on issues that affect our local schools and children.

Make sure you’re an informed public education advocate:

Stay Focused On Your Message

Whether you write or call, make sure to share all the same basic information. And if you can’t get in contact with the official, speak to an aide. Here are the most important things to remember:

  • Identify yourself by name and let them know you're a constituent.
  • Identify your role (parent, school board member, teacher, concerned citizen).
  • Tell them what issue you are contacting them about.
  • Explain the local impact.
  • Be clear about how your legislator can help.
  • Follow up with a short thank you note.

If you’re reaching out about a specific piece of proposed legislation:

  • Mention the bill number.
  • Be specific about your position on the bill as it is.

Thank the lawmaker or staff member for taking the time to hear your position. Once you've done that, encourage others to echo your message. "It's true that there is strength in numbers and as your coalition grows, the louder your message becomes. The more times a member or an office hears about an issue, the more pressure there will be to respond," Rep. Ashby said. 

When communicating about a controversial issue, Ashby encourages folks to keep it civil. "It's always important to maintain a respectful and professional demeanor and remember to adhere to the Golden Rule."  

More Tips for Writing to Your Legislator

  • Start early: Making a connection before a legislative session begins is important. Visit your lawmakers' local offices while they're in their home district to get more of their time. 
  • Be timely: Contact your legislator before an issue becomes big news, before they take a position. This gives them time to reply. When messaging about an imminent vote, make sure they get the message before the vote. (Phone calls work great for this!) 
  • Use your own words: Avoid slogans or politically loaded language. If you're using a form letter, be sure to adapt it to your own personal experiences wherever possible.
  • Keep it short: Your legislators and their staff don’t have time for a wall of words. Make sure your message is brief and to the point.
  • Keep it focused: Limit yourself to one issue or bill per letter and always mention the bill number. Trying to address multiple issues or bills will dilute the importance of your main point.
  • Explain the local impact: Describe how the bill will affect schools and students in your community. Personal experiences or the likely effect of proposed legislation makes for a powerful message.
  • Request a response: Ask your legislator for their position on an issue and their reasoning behind it. 
  • Thank them: When your legislators vote the way you ask, write them a brief note to let them know you appreciate it. If you worked with a member of the staff, include his or her name in the note. This could ensure the member sees your message.