Advancing Education: A guide to lobbying in the Legislature
Lobbying is Defined by Webster’s Third New Collegiate Dictionary as:
- to conduct activities aimed at influencing public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation.
- to promote or secure the passage of legislation by influencing public officials.
- to attempt to influence or sway a public official toward a desired action.
There are Different Types of Lobbying:
- in person usually at the legislator’s office back home in the district or at the Capitol.
- by mail including letter, fax or telegram, or in some cases, email.
- by phone.
The most effective lobbyist is one who is knowledgeable about the individual legislator and the issues to be addressed. To be knowledgeable about the issues, read the TSTA Advocate, sign up for the Briefing or frequently check our website. If you have questions, call one of the staff in the Center for Public Affairs at TSTA Headquarters (877-ASK-TSTA).
To be knowledgeable about the legislator, compile a data file on the member as soon as possible. A good source is “A Guide to the Texas Legislator” which includes profiles of all legislators. You can call TSTA and ask for your legislator’s individual profile.
Include in Your File:
- Address and phone number
- Interests, hobbies, etc. (this will help in conversations later)
- Committees and appointments
- Attitude toward public education and TSTA
- People who influence the member
- Staff name and address, both in the home office and in Austin. If the legislator has an education aide, note the person’s name, phone number and title.
- Always contact the TSTA legislative staff to receive the most up to date information on an issue, or the current organizational strategy, before contacting the legislator.
General Rules for Effective Lobbying
- Contact the TSTA legislative staff for the latest information on issues, or the current organizational strategy, before contacting the legislator.
- Always introduce yourself as a member of the Association. A simple “May I have a few minutes of your time?” will set the stage if you have not scheduled an appointment.
- Be gracious to the legislator’s receptionist and/or aide. A rude tone will affect your relationship with all in the office, including the legislator. Treat all staff with respect.
- Listen carefully to what the member is saying and write notes after the conversation so you do not forget important points.
- Get down to business quickly. Be brief, be direct, be simple and, above all, be accurate. Do not philosophize. Know your topic and be prepared for questions. Remember that your legislator hears many viewpoints. You want him/her to remember yours, so be factual.
- Be friendly, be persuasive, be professional, and be courteous. Do not argue or belabor the point. Your role is to explain, inform and persuade. Do not threaten or attack.
- Never make up a position for the Association or give an answer to a question that you are not familiar with. The appropriate response is “I’ll get back to you with the answer.” Remember, the legislator is depending on you to give accurate information, not guess.
- Think of the hard questions beforehand and be prepared.
- Try to get a commitment if you can. If the legislator refuses to give it to you, ask that he/she get back with you before taking a position against you or say that you will check back before a position or vote is taken.
- Keep in mind that the legislator may try to lobby you. This is especially true if the legislator senses that there is not a firm commitment on the part of our members to our issues. This will hurt our lobby effort.
- When finishing the conversation, always thank the legislator for his/her time. If he/she has asked for follow-up information, quickly send it with a note offering further assistance. Include your name and your local association/TSTA.
- Don’t give up if you are not successful the first time. In fact, many times success is in just making the initial contact. Communications established through discussion can aid future lobbying efforts.
- Keep in mind that many or most of the legislators have little or no direct knowledge or experience with the public schools, except that they may have attended public school or their children are in, or have gone through, the public school system. A large part of your job is to help them understand what it is really like to be an educator in the classroom of today.
- Though your appointment is with the legislator, due to his/her busy schedule, last minute changes may result in meeting with the legislator’s aide. Do not be discouraged but cordially accommodate the change and make your presentation to the aide. Legislators’ aides are very knowledgeable about the issues as it is their job to keep the legislator informed. They are very influential with their legislator and can advocate our point of view.
- Report your progress to TSTA legislative staff by mailing a reporting form, letter or brief note, or through a phone conversation.
Lobbying “Back Home”—Conducting a Back Home Lobby Visit:
- Contact the legislator’s office to set up an appointment. Identify yourself and tell the member you are with the local association/TSTA. Tell him/her you will need no more than 20-30 minutes.
- Contact the TSTA legislative staff for the latest information on TSTA issues and current organizational strategies before you actually meet with the legislator.
- If you are going as a group, choose one person to be the spokesperson. This does not mean that no one else should speak but that one person should take the lead. You may decide to have individuals speak to specific issues.
- Introduce everyone in the group and identify them as local association/TSTA members. Wearing a name tag can be helpful to the legislator.
- Quickly get to the point. Have your facts ready. A good idea is to have your issues and arguments reduced to writing that you can leave.
- Be prepared for the hard questions. If you don’t know the answer, do not make it up. Tell the legislator that you will get back to him/her with the answer. Legislators will respect you for giving them accurate information they can depend on when taking positions. Contact the TSTA staff for the answer and then relay it to the legislator.
- Read over “General Rules for Effective Lobbying” prior to the meeting and use the lobbying techniques.
- Ask for the legislator’s commitment if appropriate.
- Keep in mind that the legislator may try to lobby you, or members of your group, if he/she senses there is a lack of commitment to our issues.
- Thank the legislator for his/her time. Leave your card and/or phone number in case the member has additional questions. You may choose to have cards printed or make your own on the computer.
- Follow up with a thank you note.
General Lobbying Tips for the Back Home Visit
- When contacting the legislator back home, call during business hours.
- Don’t call the legislator at home unless he/she asks you to do so.
- If contacting by phone is unsuccessful after several attempts, write the legislator a letter stating our concerns, positions, etc.
- Offer to meet the legislator at a place of his/her choosing.
Lobbying at the Legislature—Conducting a Lobby Visit to the Legislature:
- Prior to coming to Austin, call the legislator’s office and make an appointment. Inform staff in the TSTA legislative division that you, and others in your group, will be coming to Austin to meet with your legislator. Ask staff to provide a legislative briefing for your group. The briefings usually take place at the TSTA Headquarters, a block west of the Capitol.
- Prior to your visit read over “General Rules for Effective Lobbying.”
- Attend a briefing provided by the TSTA legislative staff. The briefing will include the latest information on TSTA issues and organizational strategies.
- Introduce yourself to the legislator’s receptionist and tell him/her you are there for an appointment. Remember, because of the legislator’s busy schedule, you may meet with the legislative aide instead.
- After pleasantries, get down to business. Talk about the issues, present facts, and answer questions.
- Leave information, with your name and phone number, for the legislator to read.
- As the session progresses, the level of activity picks up. Therefore, it may be necessary to meet your legislator outside of the House or Senate Chamber. This is a very effective place to lobby if you are trying to get the legislator to commit to your position and vote a certain way.
- All legislators are assigned to committees. This is another place that is convenient to lobby legislators. It is also a place to watch your legislator in action. If you are attending a committee meeting of your legislator, be polite and listen to the proceedings. If you need to carry on a lengthy conversation with another TSTA member or member of the audience, step outside.
- Take notes on issues of interest to TSTA and what the legislator says during public discussions in committee meetings.
- When the meeting adjourns, if you need to speak again with the legislator, do so quickly.
- If your legislator voted correctly on a TSTA issue, or spoke favorably on an issue, thank the member when the meeting adjourns. Follow up with a note of thanks.
- While at the Legislature, you may wish to watch your legislator during meetings of the House or Senate. You may do so by sitting in the House and Senate Gallery. Rules of the Gallery demand that you not engage in loud conversations.
- Debrief with the TSTA legislative staff, if possible, or report necessary information to them.