Getting to know who your representatives is the first step toward impacting their policy decisions. Every interaction with an elected official is a step in building a relationship — not only for the issue you have today, but also issues you may want to talk about in the future. Some tips for getting to know your reps:
- Look for places where you share common ground — as people and on the issues
- Listen to the words they use, the arguments they make and the stances they take and craft your messages to them in a way they can hear
- Ask them questions and truly listen to their answers
- Track how they vote on the issues you care about
- Thank them for action or votes you agree with
Remember, your representatives are people too. If you approach them with civility and respect they will be more willing to listen to your viewpoints. If you approach them with anger and insults, they may not want to listen to you now or in the future.
Initiate a relationship with your officials as you would with anyone else. Engage in friendly conversation. Focus on what you have in common. Respect their time. Leave them with a simple one-sheet of good data or a strong personal story about an issue that matters to you. Send a thank you note afterwards.
Use this TOOL: Meet with your representatives to help you plan a meeting with your elected official.
- Go to town halls. This is a great way to learn where your representatives stand on the issues, how they talk about the issues, arguments they make to counter your viewpoint, places where their knowledge base may be thin and so on. It’s also a great place to meet their staffers and engage in friendly conversations that can lead to important meetings in the future between you and the staff or the representative him or herself. Check out our 12 TIPS for Town Halls for more information.
- Try to meet with your congressional representative. Call your representative’s office to schedule a meeting. If your representative is unavailable, meet with a staff member. Use the opportunity to build a good relationship while discussing your questions, concerns or ideas so that you can contact them again to talk about important issues. Find out who your congressional representatives are and how to contact them by clicking here.
- Get to know these great tools. Several apps and websites can help you navigate the congressional session, track how your congressional representatives vote and help you contact them with your feedback. Countable.us shows you what votes are coming up each week and helps you contact your Members of Congress (MOCs) BEFORE the vote. VoteSpotter lets you know how your MOCs voted and helps you contact them with your feedback AFTER the vote. GovTrack.us provides information and status of bills in Congress and sends you alerts about bills coming up for a vote or changing in status. Plus the site provides voting track records on each congressional representative. CallMyCongress.com is a tool to help you easily call your MOCs, WriteToCongress.org allows you to choose from a list of pre-written letters to send to any of your MOCs, and Resistbot allows you to send a fax to your MOCs by sending a simple text through their system.
- Get to know your state legislators.
- During the State Legislative Session (late January-mid March), legislators have limited time to meet with constituents, though some are willing to set a side a few moments for a meeting on a specific issue pertinent to the session. Request a quick meeting or go to the State Capitol and meet with them briefly outside of their chamber during floor sessions. Or simply email or text them.
- The rest of the year: After the state legislative session is finished, our state legislators return to their daily lives as doctors, lawyers, ranchers and so on, and have more availability to hear from their constituents about your questions, concerns and offerings of helpful information, personal stories and data about issues that matter to you. Reach out to your legislators and have a nice phone call, meet up for an ice cream, bake them some cookies or schedule a meeting so you can get to know your legislator and they can get to know you. Find out who your state representative and state senator are and how to reach them by clicking here.
- Check how your legislators voted on the issues that mattered most to you. The state legislative website is a great resource for finding out all about bills that are requested, debated, passed or failed, and funded in the State Capitol. Or use Action Utah’s Vote Tracker to find out how your state legislators voted on issues you care about. Then contact your legislators to thank them for supporting good bills, or hold them accountable for supporting bad bills or failing to support issues that matter to you.
CITY AND COUNTY LEVEL:
- Find your City and County offices. This may sound simple, but many people don’t know where their local government meets or how to reach them. Do a simple search online or use CountyOffice.org to find county office info.
- Find out who your local government officials are. Input your home address at vote.utah.gov and select “Contact My Elected Officials” to find out who your state and local legislators are and how to contact them.
- Learn the best way to contact your city or county council. Rules, ordinances and laws are passed at the city and county levels as well. Call your local city or county council’s general number and ask them if they prefer calls or emails from constituents on specific issues (all cities are different). Also ask how you can participate in the legislative process by adding agenda items to city council meetings, attending meetings and speaking up before the council.
- Find out when your city and council will be meeting. Local websites can be useful sources of this information, but sometimes the best way to find out when councils will meet and what the agenda will be is by calling the general number. You can also check out Voterheads to get notifications about some local city and county meetings. You can use the “free” option to find the date, time, location, and agenda of local city meetings.