How to influence lawmakers


Congress is unpopular, including at the state level, but though people complain, too many of us don’t try to do anything to get them to listen.  Many people may feel like they can’t compete with big campaign donors.

Political consultant Bill Miller comments on several ways you can get your representative to pay attention.  Joining an activist organization can help.  “They track what’s happening on a more detailed basis than probably most individuals have an interest in doing so,” Miller says.  “So they can track things and tell you when you need to be active and when you can stand down.”

Lobbying seems to have become a dirty word to a lot of people, but Miller points out that petitioning the government is a right under both the state and federal constitutions.  “It’s an ability to go talk to your elected officials and ask them to do something,” he explains.  “That’s what petitioning means.  It’s been a part of the process from the very beginning.”

You can visit a lawmaker's office, though Miller says that best done locally, in the district.  “If you want to impact a lawmaker, catch him at home,” he suggests.  “On the weekend during the session, on Friday or Monday or whenever they’re around, try and grab him and tell him what your point of view is.”  In Austin, he says, the lawmaker is likely to be too busy.

You can provide public testimony at a committee hearing in Congress.  “They’re going through witnesses pretty fast,” Miller notes.  “If you really feel strongly [about an issue], go ahead and sit up there and give your two- or three-minute statement.”

Miller says threatening not to vote for a representative won’t win you any sympathy. “The most effective means [of communicating with a member of Congress],” he says, “is a handwritten note. Not three pages long, but a couple or three paragraphs” identifying yourself and stating your point of view. “Stay in touch,” he advises, but “don’t wear out your welcome.”


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