How to Influence a Legislator (Free Version)

It’s action time in Jefferson City, and the updates are flying, insisting that we exercise whatever influence we may have on behalf of worthy bills or to fend off wrong-headed ones. 90% of the “action alerts” I receive are a complete waste of time, so I thought I would share a few tips for exercising influence with legislators.

1. Make Sure You Stand a Chance: If you want to accomplish anything with a legislator (as opposed to simply voicing your opinion), make sure you’re not far afield from the core constituencies and principles of the legislator you are hoping to influence. In other words, you don’t stand a chance of convincing Jason Kander to abandon the Missouri Plan, and you’re not going to get Jolie Justus to eliminate support for childcare. Go ahead and vent if you disagree, but don’t think you’re influencing change.

2. Visit Your Legislator: If there’s an important issue pending, get in your car and visit Jefferson City, or find out where you can meet with the legislator during a break, and do it. Nothing is as influential as a face-to-face meeting. If you have written materials, bring a couple copies so the legislator can review them and give a copy to a staff person. Legislators listen to visitors, so, if you can find the time and the gas money, go visit our Capitol City, and treat yourself to some ice cream at Central Dairy on your way home.

3. Write a Real, Personalized Letter: If you can’t visit Jefferson City, let the postal service do the work for you. Send a real, personalized letter expressing your thoughts and enclosing any supporting information. I’m not talking about signing your name to a pre-printed post card or a cut-and-paste from an action alert. Those are a waste of time, trees and postage. But a persuasive letter on real stationery signed by a constituent will make a legislator take notice.

4. Pick up the Phone and Call: At this point in the session, where action on bills is happening at a fast and furious pace, calling is probably more effective than writing. Even if you only get to talk to a legislative aide, your voice will be heard. A lot of legislators are pretty generous about sharing their cell phone numbers, and don’t hesitate to use them. If you wind up in voice mail, be prepared to leave a clear and short message, including the fact (if true) that you reside in his/her district. Leave your number, and you may get a call back.

5. Send an Email: Email’s easy, and that is the problem with it. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can contact every legislator in Jefferson City, and hundreds of others can do the same thing. The result is a deluge that simply drowns out even your well-crafted, reasonable missive. If you care enough to write, care enough to put it on real paper with a stamp, pick up the phone, or drive to Jefferson City. Email is a decent way to communicate with a legislator once a dialog is started through one of those means, but, especially at this time of the session, don’t expect to accomplish anything by writing an email.

Those are the basics for free influence with a legislator. If you have money to spend, other rules apply that are way too complicated and controversial to get into here.

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