Communicating Effectively with your Legislator
Early Greek philosophers once opined that "we are all political animals." Even though advocacy efforts have become sophisticated, there remains several truisms which are just as effective today as they were several centuries ago. It is these truisms which are our guideposts for you as you advocate for parks and recreation.
- Overcome your indifference or apathy to state politics. While there is truth to the adage that "all politics are at the local level," it is important that the parks and recreation industry has a voice at the state level. Your job may be directly affected by what takes place in Sacramento. You are the expert in your field.
- Practice makes perfect. One of the largest obstacles confronting individuals assigned with this task is the "fear factor." People should not expect miracles their first "go."
- Persistence is a virtue. Legislators have many layers of staff that you may have to "wade through" before reaching the representative. If it appears the possibility of reaching your representative seems remote, discuss your issue with your representative’s district or capitol office "chief of staff." These individuals perform several functions, including acting as the legislator’s information "clearinghouse." These individuals may facilitate your request to your representative.
- You are the spokesperson for parks and recreation. We assume there is a lobby, coalition or advocacy group that will "take care of my interests." It is true that a portion of member dues are used for legislative purposes (i.e., lobbyists). However, many organizations are discovering a changing legislative dynamic with advocacy. While lobbyists serve an important function, it is vital that their efforts are supported by effective communication by those who are directly affected by legislation - you! Before contacting or corresponding with your representative, CPRS recommends you first contact your chief executive/city manager for authorization and to find out if your position is consistent with that of your agency.
- Be prepared. Always identify yourself, your affiliation and the specific item(s) you wish to address. Because of the volume of legislation introduced each year, members typically do not know the particulars of the legislation you may want to discuss. Summarize the legislation and discuss your opposition or support and why. Take the time to learn a little about your representative or issue before going forward.
- Never be antagonistic and always remain deferential. Oftentimes people forget politics is an exercise in compromise and persuasion, and that it is conducted within the context of continuing relations. Diplomacy and composure will always be more effective than confrontation.
- YOU are the constituent and these legislators are your representatives. Discuss the importance of your issue within the context of how it will affect your representative’s district. State politicians often engage in partnership and philosophical battles based on party lines. More often than not, though, political futures hinge on more provincial concerns—concern over the economics and social health of a member’s district will often supersede partisanship.
- Timing is critical. Much of the success in communicating your message may not depend on the delivery as much as when it is delivered.
- Do not hesitate to harness technology to your benefit; many legislative offices have the capacity to correspond via e-mail or social media channels. CPRS always recommends communicating your position early and often, however, there are critical windows of opportunity when a message will have a greater impact.
- Marshall untapped and existing resources and identify critical linkages to better profile issues. CPRS members maintain memberships with other associations or have close colleagues who belong to organizations with policies consistent with those of CPRS. These individuals are excellent resources in building "critical mass" for your issue. Supervisors and council members—along with mayors—possess a certain level of clout with the legislature; they too are excellent resources. Also, some agencies retain lobbyists who can work in cooperation with CPRS advocates to help elevate the issue in the Capitol.