By J. Matt Lea, City Lobbyist to the Tennessee General Assembly, Special Assistant to the Mayor, Office of Mayor Ron Littlefield
Sometimes, depending on the issue, legislation/bills become aggressively debated, so try not get angry or overzealous, especially if it affects you directly. Try to explain your case eloquently, and do not read from a prewritten note. This annoys staff because they hear these comments repeatedly on the phone for many other issues. When you call the legislators office, speak clearly, share your experience with them, and ask them if they need more information. Depending on the issue, they might request your name and phone number for future reference.
Plan a Visit
As a lobbyist, I believe the most effective option is to contact the elected officials and try to schedule a meeting with them. Ask the scheduler for no longer than 15 minutes. If you are a member of a club, pick a day as “Parrot Owners Visit Capitol Hill Day” and gather as many members and family to go with you as possible. Call all of your elected officials’ offices at least two weeks before and let them know you are going to be there and you would like to meet with him or her or a member of the staff. If you cannot get an immediate audience, you can still visit their office and have a brief information packet ready to give to the staff for the representative’s later review.
If there are more than three or four members of your club present on Capitol Hill, split the offices up into groups so you can cover more ground. From my own, personal experience, I have seen that most legislators get in their offices early to prepare for the days business.
When requesting time, an effective response is, “Hello, my name is _______ and I am calling on behalf of the _______ in favor of SB-2345. The members of our club and I are in strong support of this bill and would like to have 15 minutes or less to speak to Senator Jones or a member of his staff. We would like to share our excitement over this critical issue.”
Because of time constraints, do not be offended if you are declined from meeting with the elected official. If you can get an audience with a staff member, take it. Remember, most staff members are the gatekeepers for information for any elected representatives, and talking to them can be more beneficial than talking to the representative themselves.
As mentioned, their schedules are very hectic. An old lobbyist trick I have used several times is to find out what the legislator looks like, wait outside their office, hang outside the committee room, or roam the halls until he or she comes out of committee or returns to the office. Don’t be over-bearing and get in the way. If you should get lucky enough to bump into them, quickly introduce yourself, give them the packet, tell them how you feel, and let them go. This whole process should take about 45 seconds at the most.
Exercise Your Right
The key to effective lobbying is to argue your case to both representatives and senators so your opinion is known to both sides of the legislative body. Remember, the most important lobbyist is not the highly paid lawyer representing the big industries of the world, but the average American citizen exercising his or her right to influence their elected representatives.
Always keep this thought, do it for your feathered friends, be brief, be clear, and state your opinion from the heart. You’ll do fine.
Matt Lea holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and currently serves as Special Assistant to Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. Mr. Lea is also the registered city lobbyist to the Tennessee General Assembly.
He is a former aid to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Tennessee Senate Minority Leader David Fowler.
He and his wife Sharon are active avian enthusiasts and members of the Southeast Aviculture Society and are owned by two cockatiels, Butch and Smokey, an Indian Ringneck Parrot, Casper, and rabbit named Bunny.
They reside in Tennessee.