Talking to the Legislature

As the time draws near for the next legislative session in Texas, we offer some tips on communicating your opinions to your legislators.

Meeting with your representative…

1. Kiss: Keep It Short and Simple. The meeting should be brief and concise. Know why you are there, why the legislator should care, and what you want. If you are with a group of people, you may even want to designate one spokesperson. Go to the meeting with a short list of bullet points that you want to communicate.
2. Have you facts straight. Spend a few minutes reading through materials and thinking about the issue so you have familiarized yourself with it before you meet your legislator. Talk about how the legislator’s constituents will benefit from the action you want. If the legislator asks you something that you don’t know, just don’t guess—find out the information and send it later.
3. Be on time, and patient. There is no quicker way to lose support for an issue than by being rude to legislators. BE NICE. Your legislator may have two committee meetings going on while he or she is supposed to be meeting with you and may be late. Don’t be offended—just be glad you have gotten some of the legislator’s time and make the most of it. Don’t show up unannounced or assail those individuals or organizations that oppose your issue. Attacking your legislator can only hinder your efforts.
4. If you go as a group, introduce your group members and note what connection each person may have to the legislator’s district. Make sure that the legislator knows your connection to his or her district—whether you are a constituent living in the district, a person working in the district, a person affected by the issue under consideration, and so forth.
5. Make the issue personal. Tell stories about how the issue affects the people in the legislator’s district.
6. Be a resource. Leave a one-page fact sheet with your representative covering your key messages. Include contact information so that the legislator or staff member can reach you with questions or notice that the issue is going to come up for action. If your legislator needs more information than you have with you, offer to obtain it. Be sure to follow up. Be sure the information that you give to the legislator is accurate.
7. Before you leave, say “thank you” again. Leave some information for the legislator to read, but keep that information simple, too. Be direct by asking at the end of the meeting: “Will you support my cause?” His or her answer will determine your future efforts.
8. Make a note about what happened in your meeting and bring your report back to your organization.
9. Continue your relationship with your legislator. When you get home, promptly send a note thanking your legislator for his or her time and giving other information about you or your organization that may be of interest. Invite the legislator to any events involving your organization or the issue that he or she may enjoy, learn from or otherwise benefit from attending.
10. Provide opportunities for positive publicity. (Photo opportunities, events, occasions to meet people.)

Writing to your representative or the governor

1. Use the correct address and salutation. For example: Dear Senator (name), or Dear Representative (name), or Dear Governor (name).
2. Type or write your letter clearly. If your letter isn’t easy to read, it could be discarded. Be sure to include your return address on the letter.
3. Use your own words and stationery. Legislators feel that personal letters, rather than form letters, show greater personal commitment on the part of the writer, and therefore carry greater weight.
4. Keep your message focused. Avoid writing a “laundry list” of issues. Your most important message may get lost in a crowd of other issues.
5. Be brief. Choose a few bullet points that are direct and short. However, include enough information to explain why you are writing.
6. Be specific. If possible, give an example of how the issue affects your district.
7. Know your facts. It is important to be accurate and honest in your letter. You can seriously hurt your credibility by offering inaccurate or misleading information.
8. If you can, find out how your legislator voted on this issue or similar issues in the past. Personalizing your letter to reflect the viewpoint of your legislator can be very effective. If the legislator has voted in favor of your issue in the past, express your thanks.
9. Be timely. Contact your legislator while there is enough time for him or her to consider and act on your request.
10. Be persistent. Don not be satisfied with responding leters that give a status report on the bill, promise to “keep your views in mind,” or otherwise skirt the issue. Without being rude, write back and ask for a more specific response.
11. Say “Thank you”. Like everyone else, legislators appreciate a pat on the back. If, however, your legislator did not support your position, let him or her know that you are aware of that, and explain why you think he or she should have decided differently. It might make a difference next time.
12. DON’T use a negative, condescending, threatening, or intimidating tone. You will only alienate your legislator and cause bad feelings that might hurt your case. Be nice!

When calling your legislator

Calling is a very effective way to contact your legislator when you must get your message across quickly. When calling your legislator:
1. Ask to speak with the aide handling your issue. The aides have the legislator’s ear, and are often very knowledgeable about the details of your issue. Be sure to take down the name of the aide with whom you spoke so that you will have a contact person in case you need to contact the legislator again. You will also have the name of another person to thank.
2. Know what you want to say and BE BRIEF. It is a good idea to have notes or other information in front of you to help you be brief and concise. Don’t keep the aide or legislator on the phone for more than five minutes unless he or she prolongs the conversation. Use your time wisely and get your main points covered as close to the beginning of the conversation as possible.
3. Leave your name, address, and telephone number (as well as e-mail and fax, if you have them). This will enable the aide to get back to you with information on the legislator’s position. Let him or her know that you want a reply.
4. Follow up your phone call with a brief note of thanks for the conversation, a concise summary of your position, and additional information if it has been requested.
5. DON’T bluff. If the legislator or aide asks you a question that you cannot answer, say that you will get back to him or her, and then do the appropriate follow-up.

And don’t forget the governor.

The governor signs or vetoes bills. Send letters to the governor just as you do to your legislators.

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Citizens' Opinion Hotline: 800-252-9600
(for use of Texas callers)
Citizens' Assistance and Opinion Line: 512-463-1782
(for use of Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers)
Fax 512-463-1849

For more info on the legislation in Texas, see:

go to this webpage
click on "subjects"
then highlight "crimes-capital punishment"
then click the arrow ">"
then click "ok"
When you get back to the main page, click "run search" in the upper left hand corner
This will give you all of the bills on a topic. If you click on a bill, you can get the exact text, the status, and lots of other info.

A good number of death penalty-related bills have been added since the writing of this DRJ. You can also choose other subjects, such as "corrections-jails and prisons" and other fun :-) subjects.

If you haven’t made a contribution to the LHP recently, please consider doing so at this time.