How to Meet With Elected Officials

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Elected officials are, if you like, the “Jackpot.” They are the ones who have the power to get the Georgist proposal across the finish line. Whatever success you see manifests itself in public policy.

If any Georgist wants to make a difference, you have to start, well, at the beginning.

Begin with an e-mail or letter, followed by a phone call.

Make your request in writing and follow up with a call to the office scheduler. Waiting for about four business days is my practice.

Let them know what issue and legislation (by bill number, if it has one) you wish to discuss.

Please notice the words “issue” and “legislation.”

Sometimes, the legislator knows Henry George, but the chances are slim.

You may get a first but brief meeting if you start and end with the law of rent.

We don’t show up to give a lecture but to exchange thoughts and ideas. You’re presenting an idea that will make their communities better and their jobs easier.

Suggest a time and date and let them offer an alternative. The scheduler works for an elected official; therefore, they work for you. Be polite, but do not be put off.

Ensure they know that you are a constituent or represent an organization/interest directly relevant to an issue the official would be concerned about.

Prepare for Your Meeting

Call an experienced Georgist organization for materials. We should have information to help you decide on your talking points and articles/reports that you can leave with your elected official.

Fresh fish tastes best. An interesting article from 1902 is not going to cut it.

Decide well in advance who will attend the meeting. Bringing more than four or five people is too hard to manage. Keep it small, but get people who represent perspectives with a knowledge or interest in the legislation or the discussion. Hypothetically, the meeting would have an academic, a business person, a community, or a civic representative (homeowners group, civic association, etc.).

Agree beforehand on talking points. It’s tough to make a strong case for your position when your team spars with each other during the meeting! If an issue is causing tension in the group, leave it out before the meeting starts.

Plan out your meeting.

Plan out your meeting. People can get nervous in a meeting, and time is limited. Plan the team’s behavior, including who will start the conversation. Make it clear to your colleagues that one person will be the master of ceremonies, but no one can dominate the conversation. From experience, if one of your group acts as an “individual,” they should be excluded from future meetings. You won’t regret the ruffled feathers. Legislators can be very sensitive to bloviating and not in the right way!

Decide what you want to achieve.

What do you want your elected official to do – vote for or against the bill? Commit to introduce or co-sponsor legislation? Asking your legislator or a staff member to do something specific will help you know how successful your visit has been. In most jurisdictions, no one knows if LVT is legally permissible. Don’t assume! Sometimes, an LVT advocate’s best friend is an attorney or staffer in the legislative research bureau.

During the Meeting

Be prompt and patient. Bring a pen, a memo pad, and business cards if you have one. Elected officials run on very tight schedules. Be sure to show up on time for your appointment, and be patient – it is not uncommon for legislators to be late or to have your meeting interrupted by other business. Don’t get hurt feelings if they take a phone call or one of the aides interrupts.

The aide is probably the person you will be in contact with; don’t condescend, ever.

Keep it short and focused! You will have twenty minutes or less with a staff person and as little as ten minutes if you meet with your elected official. Make the most of that brief time by sticking to your topic and specifics.

Remember that if your meeting lasts half an hour or more, you’ve got them at least partially hooked. If the legislator or the aide calls someone else to the meeting, that’s a terrific outcome.

Bring up any personal, professional, or political connections that you may have with the elected official. Start the meeting by introducing yourself, then let your colleagues do the same.

Thank the legislator for past votes in support of your issue. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you.

Stick to your talking points! Stay on topic, and back them up with five materials you can leave with your elected official. Conversely, if the prospect wants to talk about the 1962 Mets, by all means, smile and chime in (bemoaning Marvelous Marv Throneberry can help!).

Always try to get the next meeting at the first meeting!

Provide personal and local examples of the likely impact of the legislation. Stressing the relevance of these examples is the most important thing you can do in a visit. Because you’ve done your research, reference a community or issue in the legislator’s district so they pay attention.

Saying “I don’t know” can be a smart political move. You don’t have to be “the” expert on the topic you are discussing. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is okay to tell your legislator that you will get that information for them, which gives you the chance to put your most persuasive arguments into their files. It’s the perfect opportunity to contact them again about the issue.

Always try to get the next meeting at the first meeting!

Never make up an answer to a question – giving wrong or inaccurate information will permanently damage your credibility!

Set deadlines for a response. Often, if an elected official hasn’t taken a position on legislation, they will not commit to one during a meeting. If they have to think about it, or if you are meeting with a staff member, ask when you should check back in to find out what your legislator intends to do about your request. If you need to inform your legislator, let them know when and follow up accordingly. That way, you aren’t left hanging indefinitely.

After the Meeting

After the meeting, compare notes with everyone in your group to examine what the elected official committed to do and what follow-up information you promised to send.

Everyone who participated in the meeting should promptly send a personal thank you letter to the elected official and any staffers you met. Follow up in a timely fashion with any requested materials and information. The CSE definition of appropriate is five working days.

If the elected official or staff member doesn’t meet the deadline for an action you agreed to during the meeting, ask them to set another deadline. Do it with a smile. Be persistent and flexible!

Knowing what arguments your elected officials used, what issues are important to them, and what positions they had will help you make our lobbying strategy more effective!

Remember: a personal meeting with your councilperson or legislator is one of the best opportunities to demonstrate that there is a constituency for change in your district. They will act accordingly!