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8 Tips For Talking To Your Legislator

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Kathryn Blume 16 Dec 2019

With the legislature primed to take up S.54, the bill to create a taxed and regulated commercial adult-use cannabis market, as soon as they return to Montpelier in January, and with Cannabis In The Capitol coming up on January 9, canna-advocates are in a great position to significantly influence their legislators in the early stages of the session.

While the notion of speaking to policy-makers can seem intimidating, your elected officials work for you, and – particularly in a small state like Vermont – it doesn’t take much to have a positive impact on issues you care about. In all likelihood, you either know your senators and representatives personally, or you know someone who does. 

Those personal connections are an important part of what makes Vermont’s capitol building truly, as it’s known, The People’s House. 

Being prepared in advance for your meeting will absolutely increase your chances for a positive and fruitful encounter.

That said, legislators are still very busy folks working on numerous issues simultaneously, and trying to get a lot of legislation passed in a very short period of time. Which means that being prepared in advance for your meeting will absolutely increase your chances for a positive and fruitful encounter.

Even if your legislator doesn’t agree with you, or intend to vote your way, building a good relationship with them is a reminder that legislators serve all their constituents, regardless of political leanings or party affiliation, and (to get lofty for a moment) helps strengthen the fabric of our democracy.

Phone calls, letters, and personalized emails are all effective, but of course nothing beats meeting with someone face-to-face.

  1. Know Your Rep

Look up your local reps by going to the Vermont General Assembly site and typing in your town. You will be able to find detailed information legislators, including email and phone numbers. You can also call the State House (802) 828-2228 during normal business hours between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. – the State House Sergeant-at-Arms will direct your call to the appropriate place.

  1. Know Their History

All votes are a matter of public record, so you can look up how legislators have voted in the past on similar issues or an earlier version of the bill you’re currently interested in.

  1. Decide On How You’ll Communicate With Them

Phone calls, letters, and personalized emails are all effective, but of course nothing beats meeting with someone face-to-face.

Specific asks are great for knowing how effective your communication has been.

If you do send a letter or an email, even if you’ve been given a sample script, or talking points, be sure to phrase everything in your own words. It’ll mean more coming from your authentic voice. Sharing your personal opinion, and recount your own story. Also be sure to include your name and what town you’re from.

  1. Be Clear

Know ahead of time what you want your legislator to do – vote for or against a piece of legislation, or make a commitment to introduce or co-sponsor a bill. Specific asks are great for knowing how effective your communication has been.

Remember that legislators are just like you. They’re your friends and neighbors.

  1. Use Your Manners

Remember that legislators are just like you. They’re your friends and neighbors. So be yourself, be kind, listen to what they say, and be honest about your experiences and your reasons for your position. Facts are important, but personal stories are more effective than lectures.

Don’t forget to thank your legislator for taking the time to meet with you, and write them a nice note afterwards. If legislative staffers have been helpful, be sure to thank them, too.

  1. If You Meet In Person

A particularly useful tactic for meeting in person is to start by asking your legislator what their thoughts are on the subject you care about or the legislation in question. You’ll get a sense of how strong their stance is, what their questions and concerns are, or whether there seems to be flexibility in their position.

Don’t shy away from your emotions. They’re a powerful tool. 

Once you’ve heard their thoughts, you can respond directly from your own perspective, with stories of your experience. As we’ve said, facts are great, but personal narrative – what happened to you and how it made you feel – is even more powerful. Don’t shy away from your emotions. They’re a powerful tool. 

Feel free to bring along notes, both for you if you get nervous, but also as supplemental information to leave with your legislator. Keep it brief, clearly written, and easily comprehensible. Your legislator is likely not going to be an expert on your issue of concern, and basic education can go a long way.

Never make up an answer or give inaccurate information. It’ll just damage your credibility.

  1. Be Honest

If your legislator asks a question, and you don’t know the answer, it’s ok to say so. In fact it’s a great excuse to contact them with follow-up information.

Never make up an answer or give inaccurate information. It’ll just damage your credibility.

  1. Set A Deadline For A Response

If your legislator hasn’t taken a position on your issue or piece of legislation, they probably won’t do it in the middle of your meeting. Ask when you can check back to find out what your legislator plans to do about your request. If they don’t have an answer for you, be politely persistent and find out when you can check back again.

If you’re providing them with follow-up information, let them know exactly when it’ll be coming in, and keep to your commitment.

We look forward to seeing you in Montpelier!

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