Legislative Priorities: Writing to Your Legislators
Writing to Your Legislators
The future of public education in Hawaii is in the hands of our elected officials. The average teacher is focused on the students in their classroom. Getting involved in political action does not come naturally and it tests teachers’ comfort zones. However, when we elect candidates who support teachers and public education we have a better chance of improving student learning and helping all children in Hawaii maximize their potential.
Hawaii State Legislature
Citizen’s Guide to the Legislative Process
Committee Information for Submitting Testimony
Thank you for your engagement.
Here are some general tips that can be used when you contact a legislator:
Letters and e-mails can be particularly effective in influencing legislators’ views. Writing to legislators also offers an opportunity to maintain contact and keep your issues on the front burner even when you cannot meet personally.
Writing an Effective Letter
KEEP IT BRIEF
— Keep letters to one page. Try to discuss only one bill or issue in a letter.
— Begin with an introduction of yourself or the organization on whose behalf you are writing. Use a simple statement, such as “I am a third-grade teacher at _______ elementary school.”
GET TO THE POINT
— Follow your introduction with a brief statement of your issue or concern, such as “We urge your support for HB _____, which will ________.” If you are writing in reference to a specific bill, include the bill number. Follow your opening paragraph with a concise explanation of why you support or oppose the particular bill or issue. A few strong, well-thought-out arguments are much more effective than a laundry list of reasons to support or oppose a bill. Whenever possible, use bullet points to outline your arguments.
RELATE IT TO HOME
— Help the legislator understand why your position is important to his or her constituents. Include specific facts about how a bill will impact educators, students or schools in the legislator’s district. If possible, include a local anecdote illustrating the problem you are seeking to address. Avoid the use of form letters or generic postcards — use your own knowledge and experience to inform the legislator.
ALLOW FOR FOLLOW-UP
— Include specific contact information and offer to act as a resource should the legislator or staff have questions or need additional information. Where appropriate, state in the letter that you will follow up with a telephone call.
Address your letter correctly:
1. Using E-mail
E-mail can be an easy and effective tool for communicating with legislators. The tips outlined above for writing letters to legislators also apply to e-mails: keep them brief and to the point, with facts and anecdotes relevant to the legislator’s district.
2. Avoid informal language — E-mail to a legislator should be treated as seriously as a written letter. Resist the temptation to use the informal language and symbols often associated with e-mail communications. Never use impolite language or make “demands.”
3. Include your full address and zip code — Make sure the text of your e-mail includes your full name and street address, including zip code. Many legislative offices screen e-mails for address information identifying the sender as a constituent. E-mails that appear to come from outside the district are unlikely to be read and may be blocked by filtering programs.
Ten Golden Rules of Lobbying
1. POLITICS IS CONSUMER-DRIVEN
Help your legislator understand why your position is important to his or her constituents. Fight where the legislator lives through grassroots organizations at home.
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Know your stuff. Understand your issue, the bill you support or oppose, and the legislative process before you approach your legislator. Know who the players are, who decides what, and which issues are hot at the moment.
3. INFORMATION IS POWER
The secret is the distribution of information to legislators and their constituents. Be prepared to give the legislator information he or she can use, including what you are hearing from other legislators and from people back home.
4. A LITTLE PROFESSIONALISM GOES A LONG WAY
Be credible, honest and trustworthy. Never threaten, lie or conceal facts. Stay calm — if you lose your cool, you lose the case.
5. BE POSITIVE
Always make your case without being critical of others’ personalities or motives.
6. THERE ARE NO PERMANENT FRIENDS AND NO PERMANENT ENEMIES
Don’t take your traditional friends for granted. Never write off a legislator just because of party affiliation. Don’t make enemies of legislators — you may need them as friends in the future.
7. BUILD A BOND, NOT A GAP
Research things you might have in common with the legislator. Use shared values to create easy, friendly, frequent communication with legislators.
8. BE A PARTNER
Build coalitions and look for allies among other organizations. Be accessible to legislators and other lobbyists if they have questions or need follow-up information. Become known as a reliable resource.
9. ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY
Aim for consensus rather than for a “victory.” Be willing to settle for making progress toward your goal, getting the bill passed, and fine-tuning it in future sessions.
10. STAY COMMITTED
Remember — you are the expert!! You have a compelling, energizing reason to keep fighting until you get what you need.