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Posted: February 13, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Be prepared and leave the herd behind

If anyone has visited the state capitol during a time when the General Assembly is in session you’ve probably seen the herd.

It’s made up of large groups of people that show up to "lobby" their elected officials on different issues. On any one day there can be upwards of five or more groups of 100 or more that are roaming the halls seeking a quick moment with elected officials.

Such efforts are usually characterized by several common denominators:

- Lack of effectiveness

- Lack of information on the issue

- Limited if any time with the targeted legislators

- Frustration on the part of those participating.

Why?

If you decide to be a part of this type of lobbying you will find yourself in a long line to first fill out a page request and then join the queue for the opportunity to have a page seek to find the legislator, who may in many cases be off the floor.

Your page will return, telling you that he or she is not at their desk.

And then you can repeat the process in the senate. Should you actually have the chance to have a few fleeting seconds with the person you came to see, it could be suddenly interrupted by the bell calling them back into the chamber to a series of votes.

There is a better way. First, if you are planning on coming to the state capitol, make sure that you know who your elected officials are.

In the last article I recommended going to legis.state.ga.us and using the "Find Your Legislator" link to accomplish this. Know who you have the power to influence through your vote. No need to waste time on some fellow from Cordele if you vote in Porterdale.

Call before you go, and let your legislator know that you are going to be at the capitol. The General Assembly usually convenes at 10 a.m. each morning and there may be an opportunity to request an appointment prior to the opening that morning or after the session adjourns for the day. It’s your time, use it wisely.

Be familiar not only with your information (don’t wait until you arrive at the capitol to be "briefed"), but also with points that could be made by an opposing side. Trust me, they have usually heard them and your ability to demonstrate that you not only know what others are saying, but that you have rebuttal information puts you in a class of your own as an informed constituent with you legislator.

Consider meeting them back at home or during a day when the legislature is not in session. Often they will still be in Atlanta for committee meetings and will have much more time to meet with you. And the more-relaxed setting lends itself to a much improved atmosphere. The legislative site listed above has their Atlanta office phone number and each legislator has a secretary that can handle your requests.

When meeting with legislators, don’t attempt the "vote for this or I’ll never support you again" theory of lobbying. Did you actually support them initially anyway? Most legislators know where their support comes from. Be respectful and make your points and don’t be afraid to ask for their position on your issue. If they are undecided, then ask that they let you know when that changes.

Follow up. Many capitol visits lack a key ingredient, which is taking the time to determine how someone actually voted on an issue. Regardless of whether they voted "for" or "against" the issue you are interested in, it is critical that your legislators know that your interest extends beyond your time in Atlanta.

Follow up any visit with a note to your legislator after a visit, thanking them for their time and reiterating the points you made. It is always good to have it in writing. After the vote is taken, follow up again, thanking them either for voting with you or expressing your concern if they didn’t. You can track this online at legis.state.ga.us. These two steps alone make you a much better informed constituent than the vast majority that your legislator will come into contact with.

Avoid the herd. Be informed. Follow up. Otherwise the highlight of your visit to the state capitol will be enjoying the two-headed snake on the fourth floor.

 

Jim Tudor lives in Newborn. He can be reached at jtudor@aol.com.

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