We’ve all heard a hundred different versions of a workshop teaching us how to communicate with our elected officials. Build relationships, tell a story, they say….it’s really much easier than you think, they say. Well, do ‘they’ really have any idea what they’re talking about?
Turns out they do; according to panel of Montana legislators who spoke during the MFBF Summer Conference in Great Falls. Representatives Jeff Welborn and Christy Clark, and Senator Rick Ripley offered their insights and shared how they like to receive information from constituents.
Here are their five tips for being a better constituent and communicating effectively with your legislator.
1. Relationships are important
Rep. Christy Clark told the group, “If you’re not communicating with your legislator and researching issues before the session begins, you’re already behind the eight ball.” So, those nagging workshop presenters and Farm Bureau staffers aren’t just blowing smoke; it’s important to contact your legislator and begin creating a relationship. It can be as simple as introducing yourself, explaining your expertise in agriculture and inviting them to contact you if they have questions.
Another great option is for the county Farm Bureau to host a candidate’s forum, an open house event, or a farm and ranch tour for local elected officials.
2. Tell a story
During the 2015 legislative session, legislators saw nearly 1,200 bills in four months. That’s a lot of paperwork to sort through and details to understand. That’s why we need to be specific when asking a legislator to vote with us on a certain bill. Don’t just ask them to vote ‘yes’ on SB 1234; show them how it impacts you and provide information to help them make a decision.
It’s unfair to ask a legislator to make a vote simply because you asked them too. They have a tough job and do care about the outcome, so as constituents we need to be organized and help them make the best decisions possible.
3. Become a Farm Bureau member
Now for just a little horn tooting—throughout the panel discussion the legislators reiterated that membership organizations are powerful when it comes to influencing lawmakers. As Senator Rick Ripley put it, “Farm Bureau is the best represented ag group in Helena,” and that’s because we have the power of the grassroots supporting all of our policy positions. Legislators look for that kind of influence and guidance when deciding how to vote.
When you join Farm Bureau, you too have the ability and the voice to shape those policy positions.
4. Keep it classy, Farm Bureau
While not something we hear about regularly, the panel also advised constituents to be conscious of their decorum and presentation when emailing or leaving messages.
We’re all passionate about specific issues and it can be a challenge not to let our emotions get the best of us. But the panel said nothing hurts a cause more than unprofessionalism from constituents.
A quick tip for keeping ourselves in check: don’t send anything when you’re angry. If you wouldn’t say it when having a face to face conversation it probably shouldn’t be said at all.
5. Just do it
Earlier we mentioned how effective grassroots membership organizations can be. While we’re proud of MFBF’s influence among state lawmakers we’re only as good as the grassroots supporting us. When it comes time to implement the policies created by Farm Bureau members, just do it.
Please take a few moments to respond to that action alert (be sure to add a person touch!), leave a message for your legislator, attend a Calling on the Capitol event, or testify in person.
Bottom line; the power is in the grassroots and the legislators will listen. So, next time Farm Bureau asks you to send an email, make a phone call, or maybe testify in person we hope you realize how valuable and influence your voice really is.