While we were putting this issue together, I was getting my travel arrangements made for the American Public Transportation’s Legislative Conference, held each year in March in Washington, D.C., to help develop the industry’s legislative strategy. It also features sessions with Administration officials and affords time to meet with your own legislators on the Hill.
I was going through my papers and came across information from a Wisconsin Urban and Rural Transit Association (WURTA) meeting from several years ago, put together by Gary Goyke, our state lobbyist and a former state Senator. With the Legislative Conference coming up, it seemed an ideal time to pass some of his reminder along.
He put together a guide to effective relationships with state and local governments. It includes a wealth of information, such as some of the do’s and don’ts when dealing with legislators for those not as seasoned in it yet.
Know your legislators. Read their biographies; identify people you both know; get to know their staffs; get to know your own legislator for the area where you live, and legislators representing the communities where you own businesses or provide services; get to know legislators who are leaders in fighting for your special interests; and make your legislators your friends. The cardinal rule in politics is loyalty; if you are perceived as a loyal friend, your actions and words will impact on legislators.
Involve your legislators in your business. Invite them to your office or property, invite them to events, and make sure they understand your business and your concerns.
Involve your legislators in your community. Invite them to high-visibility events where they may meet people; politicians like crowds. Invite them to church, social and civic events. Invite them to your state association meetings and invite them to speak at your association meetings.
A full page of the information was dedicated to “nevers;” those things to never do as they will defeat your purpose. A few of those things to not do: Address legislators with Mr. or Ms.; express your partisan views with legislators present; pile on lengthy data that needs interpretation; count on your lobbyist or organization to get the job done for you; burn your bridges — you will need legislators’ support on other issues; mix your other concerns with your groups’ interests; and alienate legislator’s staff or friends, as they have influence.
Finally, one of the easiest yet most forgotten, don’t forget to say “thank you” in a letter after a contact or a vote. It will be long remembered.