Meeting With Your Legislator
Before you make an appointment to speak with your legislators, it pays to do a little homework.
Learn About Your Legislators
The more you know about the legislator who you are going to lobby, the more effective you will be in your efforts. Answers to questions such as those listed below will give you a better idea of how to approach that particular legislator.
- Where is his or her district?
- What was his or her background prior to being elected to office?
- What hobbies does he or she have?
- Is he or she a new or seasoned legislator?
- What is his or her voting record on similar and opposite issues?
- What are his or her constituents like?
- What other issues that concern you has he or she sponsored or voted for in the past?
Know What A Legislator Does
A legislator’s activities include:
- introducing and/or cosponsoring legislation;
- holding hearings, or testifying at hearings, on legislation;
- lobbying other legislators;
- meeting with constituents; and
- campaigning for office.
Each legislator is assigned to at least one-and sometimes many-committee(s). Assignments are made by the leadership and are usually based on the interests and experience of the legislator. Find out what committee(s) your legislators sit on, and how active they are in the committee’s work on the state’s website.
Making an Appointment to Meet with Your Legislator
Your Virginia legislators have two offices: One is a district office and the other is at the Capitol. Always telephone your legislator’s office well in advance of your visit. If you are planning on visiting the State House office of an elective official, call at least three weeks prior to visiting. It is important to know in advance the dates that the state legislature is in session prior to planning your trip. Check with their staff to find out when recesses are scheduled, make your appointment, and then arrange your trip.
Some state legislators have regular district hours in the same place every week, like a library or meeting room within a town or city hall. Others rotate around the district and will publish their district hours in local newspapers. Some have evening hours as well as daytime hours. Arrive on time and don’t expect to have more than about 15 or 20 minutes to meet with the legislator.
If meeting at the Capitol, know that you may be interrupted by roll call votes or other pressing business that may pull the legislator away. If you are meeting with the legislator and a staff person, the staff person will probably stay with you if the legislator is called away. If meeting with your legislator in the district office, there will probably be a number of constituents lined up behind you to also give him or her a piece of their mind or to ask for his or her help on something.
During Your Meeting
Keep your discussion of the issue brief and to the point. Have at least two copies of any material you want to share with the legislator (one to give to him or her and one for you to use as reference as you talk). Offer to leave them if he or she wants them. Don’t weight down your package of material with trivial items. Stick to a one page fact sheet, letters of support from other constituents, and newspaper articles or editorials in support of your position. If you are aware of other lengthy statistical or data-based material that supports your position, offer to share them IF your legislator wants copies. Otherwise, use them only through footnotes or references in a fact sheet.
DON’T BE DISMISSIVE OF STAFF MEMBERS. If the legislator is unavailable to meet with you but a staff person who handles the issue can meet instead, go for it. The staff person is often the one with the most knowledge on an issue and usually welcomes the input of constituents or experts on the issues. Staff members often make recommendations to the legislator. Winning over the staff member is one of the best ways to win over the elected official.
DON’T ARGUE. Even if the legislator is adamantly opposed to your position, stay cool and calmly reiterate your position, showing broad based support for it.
DON’T BURN BRIDGES. If he or she is not swayed by your presentation and disagrees with you, don’t get hostile. Just because your legislator was against you on this issue, doesn’t mean he or she will always be. Let him or her know you appreciate his or her time and consideration of your viewpoint. Don’t threaten to vote him or her out of office!
Thank the legislator and/or staff person for their time and let them know you will follow through with any promised material at a later date.
After Your Meeting
Write a thank-you note. Whether your legislator has agreed or disagreed with you or was non-committal, he or she at least took the time to listen to you. Thank him or her (and the staff person).
Follow through with any material you promised to send.
After two weeks, call to see if the non-committed legislator has now made a decision on his or her position. Remind the staff person that you met with the legislator and are following through to see if his or her boss has made a decision.
Drop Us a Note
Please send us copies of any correspondence you send or receive from your legislators. When we know what a legislator promised a constituent we can use this information as a tool in our lobbying efforts. We are always interested in hearing your reaction to meetings you have had with elected officials. You comments help us to build profiles on legislators which in turn will help others who may want to call on that individual.
When there is time before a committee meeting or vote on a bill, writing a letter can be a very persuasive way of getting your message across to your legislator. Here are some dos and don’ts for making your letter as strong as possible.
DO make sure you are sending your correspondence to the correct elected official. U.S. Representatives and Senators vote on federal bills; state representatives and state senators vote on state bills; and city councilors, selectmen, county supervisors, etc. vote on local bills or ordinances.
DO type or print your letter, if possible. Your elected official can’t respond if she can’t read your handwriting.
DO be specific about the issue. List the bill number and the title of the bill, if known, and what the bill addresses.
DO be brief. State your position in precise words and explain why you feel that way. Let your elected official know if you have personal expertise in, or experience with, the issue.
DO be courteous. Ask politely for your legislator’s views and/or support or opposition.
DO ask that your legislator write back to you letting you know where he or she stands on the issue.
DO give credit where credit is due. If the legislator has been supportive of your issues in the past, make sure you acknowledge that support. Write him or her a thank-you letter when your legislator comes through for animals, the environment, or any other issue you care about.
DO use the correct address and salutation on your letters.
DON’T be threatening or rude. Even if you know that your legislator’s stand on an issue is different from yours, be polite in explaining your point of view and in asking him or her to change his position. Threats will send your letter to the trash.
DON’T be a pen pal. Writing lengthy letters to your elected officials on a weekly basis turns you into a pest. Remember that your elected officials hear from many constituents on many issues. If you write too often, they will stop paying attention to your letters.
DON’T accept a non-answer. If your elected official writes back with a vague response or an “I’ll keep your thoughts in mind if this matter comes to a vote,” send the letter back, thank him or her for writing and ask for clarification about where he or she stands on the issue.
DON’T be discouraged. Remember that most meaningful legislation takes years to become law.
Phone and E-Mail Etiquette
Sometimes you don’t have time to write a letter to your elected official about your concerns because immediate action is needed. In either case, a phone call or e-mail message may be the most expedient way of getting your opinion and your message through to your representative or senator.
Before You Call or E-Mail Your Elected Representative
Check to be sure you are contacting the correct person. Is this a local issue? a state issue? or a federal issue? Check to see what chamber of the state legislature is taking action on the bill. Is it in the Senate? or in the House? What is the bill’s status?
When placing your call to a member of the Virginia State Legislature, you may call the legislator’s office directly or may use the general numbers:
Senate Legislative Information and Constituent Services (LINCS) Office (804) 698-7410
House of Delegates Information and Communication Services (ICS) Office (804) 698-1500
and ask to be connected to the correct office. If your elected official is unavailable to speak to you, ask to speak to the staff person who handles the issue you are concerned about.
BE POLITE. Staff members are assigned to handle calls from constituents and deal with dozens of callers each day. If you are polite and respectful of their time, you will find a much more sympathetic ear than if you are dismissive and rude.
BE BRIEF. Tell the person on the other end of the phone that you appreciate his/her taking your call and that you simply wanted to register your feelings on a particular issue with the elected official. You hope to have his/her support and will call again at a latter date to see what the outcome was on the vote or debate.
SAY THANK YOU. Thank the person for their time and give him or her your name, address and phone number to confirm that you are a constituent and to give your legislator’s office an opportunity to get back in touch with you if needed.
To get an updated listing of e-mail addresses, visit the state’s website.
Keep your e-mail messages short, sweet and to the point. Give the bill number (if one exists) that you are concerned about, a short presentation of your views and any pertinent facts, and ask for your elected official’s support of your position. Make sure you give your voting address.
Checking the Status of Legislation
If you are unsure where a bill is in the legislative process, you can check on state’s website or our legislation pages.