Establish a personal relationship with your elected officials
Increasingly, elected officials are becoming a go-to source for community issues and can be helpful in bringing media attention and possibly action to your issue. It is important to take the time to gather information about an elected official before contacting them. Consider the following:
- Is the official a member of a committee of importance to our issues?
- How has this person voted in the past on church-state, or “related” issues?
- If you are meeting with a state or federal official, who is the key staff member working on your issues? Contacts with staff can be just as productive as meeting with the elected official, as many rely on their staff for background material on key issues.
Know Your Elected Officials
- School Board Members
- County Commissioners
- City Commissioners
- State Representatives
- State Senators
- State Commissioners
- U.S. Senator
- U.S. Representative
- Vice President
Working on Their Time
Once you have established who your elected officials are, it is also a good idea to know the legislative schedule. Then, you can strengthen your alliance with the official by meeting with them when they have time to pay attention to your concerns (usually during legislative recesses).
Pay Them a Visit
Schedule an appointment with your elected official at their district office. It’s more convenient for you and these meetings can be very effective since the staff at district offices don’t get as many visitors and are more likely to pay attention to what you say. You may also want to visit along with coalition members. Remember, elected officials are elected and are receptive to constituent concerns. They want to hear what you have to say, but you should make it easy for them by keeping the visit brief and bringing reference materials (see below). Staff members—or the elected official—often use reference materials when they consider their positions on any number of issues.
Let’s Do This Again
Ideally this would become the first of many “annual” visits. These meetings can be brief, to simply reiterate your position on church-state separation issues, and to voice concern about (or support for) any pending legislation that might come up for discussion during the session.
Make It Easy for Them
Bring background materials supporting your position. In establishing your relationship with the elected official, position yourself as a resource. Provide information or background material on key church-state issues on a continuing basis. The easier it is for the elected official to reference your material, the greater the chance of it having an impact on them.
Be sure to send the official a thank you note following your visit. This can be as simple as an e-mail or postcard. By doing this, you demonstrate that you value the official’s time and will be likely to be heard should you return again to speak with the office.
If You Can’t Make It
Sometimes scheduling office visits may not be possible due to proximity or time issues. In this case, you can write a letter to your elected official. Be sure to be polite yet clear, and make sure you include your address so you can receive a reply. A written letter is usually replied by the elected official. Here is a sample outline for a letter to a legislative official (state or U.S. senator/representative):
[Official’s Title, Name, and Address]
I am writing you to urge you to support/oppose Bill Number _____ which would (explain expected consequences of the proposed legislation).
Briefly state why you support/oppose the proposed legislation. Use personal experience, observation and a few statistics to strengthen your argument.
I urge you to vote yes/no on Bill Number _____ so that (the general effects of the legislation will/will not effect constituents).
[Your name/title, if any]