Here are a few easy guidelines for you to follow when talking with your local elected officials. Although interacting with your legislators may seem intimidating at first, it is important to remember that your legislators are just regular people who have the job of being your voice in government. Treat them with the respect that you would like to be treated with yourself. Be courteous of their time and of the other constituents waiting to speak with them.
Attend a Town Hall Meeting
In recent years there has been a resurgence of these open forums where an official or candidate will take questions from an audience in a public venue.
- Look in local papers or call your representatives office to ask if he or she is holding a town hall during the August Recess.
- If you have a question or concern for the candidate or representative, arrive at the event early and ask the organizer how you may submit a question. Many times you will need to locate the microphones set up in the room and form a line.
- Arriving early will ensure that you have plenty of time to learn how the organizers will run the Q&A. Often you will need to write your question down on paper and submit it to a staff member, so you should think about your question ahead of time.
- When asking a question, state your name and the area or neighborhood where you live. Use decorum, be polite and clearly and concisely state your concerns. Don't lecture, or wander off subject. Remember that many officials may not be as familiar with certain boating and water issues as you are.
- Offer to be a resource to the legislator and his staff. Provide follow-up information if asked to.
Schedule a Meeting with Your Congressman or Senator
During the August Recess, most members of Congress will return to their home districts to campaign. This is the perfect time to make an appointment to meet with your representatives.
- When calling, ask to speak with the District Scheduler. Tell them who you are, where you live and why you would like to meet with the Representative. If he is unavailable, ask to meet with the member of his/her staff who is responsible for boating issues.
- Before the meeting, prepare any background materials you feel will help you make your point or support your argument and be prepared to give your representative or their staff a paper copy, with your business card or name and contact information. Try to locate a biography of your member on their website to see what the two of you may have in common. This can serve as a great ice-breaker.
- Dress appropriately. You don't have to bring out the Sunday best but you do want to be taken seriously.
- Offer to be a resource to the legislator and his staff by following up on the issue and keeping his/her office abreast of what is happening.
- Always say thank you and compliment the representative on a specific piece of their good work.
Call, Email or Write your Congressman or Senator
For those of you who may not be comfortable or able to speak in person, this may be the best option. Whether calling, emailing or drafting a letter, be sure to prepare yourself with any information, facts or reports that support your concerns.
- When calling, state your name, where you live and why you would like to speak with the Representative. If he/she is unavailable, ask to speak with the member of his/her staff responsible for boating issues.
- Make a list of the points you want to make and refer to it if you get flustered.
- If you are asked a question that you do not know the answer to, simply tell them you don't know but will try to find out. This can be a great excuse to follow up with an office and gives you time to find the answer as well as make your case stronger.
- Say thank you.
When drafting an email or a letter:
- Include your name, where you live with address and who (if any) you are representing. (i.e. the Oklahoma City Boat Club). Hearing the concerns of one constituent is important, but if a number of people or your boat club for example, thinks an issue is important it will carry more weight with your representative.
- Provide as many details as you can and don't be scared to include real-life scenarios. For example, if you were on a day trip with your family and arrived at your destination only to realize that the pier or mooring field had been removed. Real life applications are easy for others to understand, and to share later.
- Thank the member for looking into the issue and let them know you will be following up with them.
- Follow-up with the office if you have not received a reply or response within 10 days.
Being an advocate is not only easy, but can build a bridge for you with other boaters and those who enjoy the water in your area!