building relationships with legislators

Developing ongoing relationships with your state and local elected officials and their aides/staff members is an essential part of being an effective advocate because in policymaking, it’s not who you know, but who knows you. So while you should be able to recognize your legislators and address them by name, in order to have an impact, they should be able to do the same. This is easier to do on the state and local level. Elected officials have fewer constituents and likely handle at least some of their own correspondence.

You can build your relationship with your legislators and staff members in several ways.

  • Every time you see a legislator, introduce yourself and tell him or her you live in his or her district. Do this until they recognize you and greet you by name.

  • Always be respectful of aides. They can be a tremendous help or an immovable obstacle. 

  • Find out more about your legislator’s background so that you can find a common ground and build a relationship on shared interests.

  • Learn about your legislator’s history as a politician. Does he or she have a personal connection to adoption? Do they serve on a committee that could hear a bill you are supporting? Has he or she voted favorably on your issues in the past? Knowing these things will help shape your conversations about policy changes.

  • Follow the tips provided to communicate with your legislators in person and in writing.

  • When your state legislature is in recess, schedule a meeting to discuss issues important to you. During a recess, legislators are usually less busy and more available to meet than when the legislature is in session.

  • Attend local political events and talk with local politicians and leaders in the different political parties. Get to know who people are.

  • If possible, volunteer for a campaign. Candidates need the help and you can use the time to talk a bit about OBC/records access issues.

  • Communicate often, even if it’s just a short email checking in on an issue you’ve discussed.