Regularly scheduled meetings with legislators in their district offices are an important activity. Using this approach, you can become a firsthand resource on all educational matters in the legislator's home district.
As the role of the state Legislature in determining the framework of public education continues to escalate, personal communication with individual legislators becomes increasingly important. Visits with legislators provide an opportunity for both parties to exchange viewpoints on a variety of basic educational issues, as well as to secure support for a particular position.
Face-to-face dialog, moreover, allows personalization of your relationship with the legislator and the legislator's staff. The importance of becoming acquainted with legislative staff cannot be overemphasized. The staff is more readily available at thelocal level and can be invaluable. Take advantage of opportunities to show your appreciation by inviting them to lunch or providing a small gift or at least a thank you note.
Contacting the District Office
Monthly meetings with the legislator can be held effectively during a weekend, on Friday afternoons, a Saturday breakfast or lunch or a Sunday brunch.
When a legislator is not available, meeting with a staff member is appropriate.
If the meeting is going to focus on a specific legislative topic, let the legislator's office know this at the time the meeting is arranged.
Make your appointment for a specific time period, usually half and hour to an hour in length is appropriate.
Preparing for the Meeting
Select a small group of knowledgeable people to attend meetings, preferably a bipartisan group.
Meet with these people in advance of meeting with the legislator to:
Determine the primary goal of the meeting.
Identify which issues or legislation need to be discussed in meeting that goal.
Discuss and develop rational for positions on issues or legislation which will be discussed with the legislator.
Review the legislator's background, key interests, committee assignments, alliances and voting record.
Determine responsibilities of individuals for the conduct of the meeting:
Select a spokesperson
Assign someone to function as an observer and mental note-taker. This individual should be responsible for drafting a written report of the meeting.
Ask another person to take the role of the conciliator and "agenda mover."
Have someone available as a resource who can provide pertinent examples of dollars and other statistics from local school districts on specific issues.
During the Meeting
Be on time for your meeting. Be friendly, but business-like.
Present your rationale clearly and honestly, but do not argue.
Ask for clarification when you are not sure you understand what the legislator is saying or restate what you think you are hearing and ask for confirmation.
Stick to the topics you planned to discuss. If the dialogue appears to be getting off the track, the spokesperson should intervene.
Use your own examples to support your points, but avoid getting side tracked into emotional or unnecessarily personal illustrations.
Shortly before leaving, the spokesperson should summarize the direction of the discussion, their understanding of any agreement reached and difference highlighted and any follow-up actions which were mentioned.
Be sure to leave on time unless the legislator clearly wished to continue. At the end of the meeting, all members should leave as a group.
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