Meeting with Legislators
Through one-on-one meetings, phone calls, and hearings, it is critically important for our members to advocate, or show support for, county conservation.
Here are our tips for meeting with legislators and testifying in front of the Joint Committee on Finance.
Tips for an effective meetings with your legislators
- Be organized. Plan your meeting and stick to your agenda. If it will be more than just you meeting with your legislator, decide among yourselves who will present what; map out the points you want to be sure are discussed, who is tasked with taking the lead on each, and how you would like the point to be addressed. For example, are you asking them to vote on a specific bill, or just looking for them to acknowledge the issue for now? Practicing the meeting can help you feel more prepared.
- Do your research. Nothing is less effective than not knowing what you are talking about. Find out whether your legislator has already taken a position on your issue. The Wisconsin Legislature website provides information on bills and voting records. Scroll down to find the “Law and Legislation” heading and put in the billnumber (e.g. AB 790) in the search box above “find proposal” to get the bill history, including votes. Also, be sure to know the timing of the vote on your issue (if applicable).
- Wisconsin Conservation Voters’ Conservation Scorecard can also provide more information on conservation-related votes. The Conservation Scorecard is designed to provide voters with the information necessary to distinguish true stewards of Wisconsin’s environment from those who just talk about it. It is released at the conclusion of each two-year legislative session (usually in the summer of even numbered years).
- Introduce yourself with some context. First, mention you are a constituent. Then mention where you live and/or own property, and reference your affiliation with WI Land+Water and any other local groups you might have—member of the PTA, president of a hunting club, library board, etc.
- Some chit chat is great, but not too much. Chit chat is how you establish rapport, so it’s definitely a good thing to pursue, but in order to get all your points across while being respectful of the time your legislator has dedicated to talk with you, don’t carry on too long. And remember what things you have in common, for the next meeting.
- Thank them for a past vote, if appropriate. If your research on your legislator’s voting record provides you an opportunity to thank them for a past vote, do so! (It doesn’t have to be a conservation issue.) Where your legislator voted well, be sure to mention your appreciation.
- Tell your story. Tell how the issue at hand affects you, your family, your business, your local community, and your legislator’s district. And tell why you care. Make it personal and real, but be sure not to exaggerate or wander off point. Be clear, concise and resolute.
- Deliver your “ask.” You are meeting with them for a reason—be sure to be explicit about what action you would like to see them take on your specific issue(s). Provide supporting information that underscores what we “get” if your ask is supported. Consider providing a “leave behind” sheet (either ahead of or at your meeting) that highlights your ask, and rationale for it—but keep it concise.
- Request a follow-up meeting. Consider asking for a follow-up visit, or identifying an item that you will follow-up on. Especially if your meeting is intended to be introductory and relationship-building, follow-ups can then get more to the heart of the issue, or provide the opportunity to ask for specific action, or reinforce your issue. Consider inviting them to a future meeting/event, so they can see something in their district.
- No jargon. No acronyms, no fancy science speak.
- Respect the staff/aides. Recognize that aides, not legislators, will often be your official point of contact, and should be treated with the respect you would show a legislator. They are often tasked with learning details about issues, and can be important allies. A good relationship with an aide can open doors to the legislator in the future.
- Be respectful. No matter what happens in your meeting, be respectful. That doesn’t mean you have to reach agreement, but you do want to make build a relationship for the future.
Speaking tips for Joint Committee on Finance Hearings
Talking points specific to county conservation staff funding and Farmland Preservation Program improvements can be found at the links above, but be sure to supplement those with your own words to support the budget asks. Tell your story—provide specific examples and of why your county needs more staff support, and what it would allow your department to do; or what improving participation in the Farmland Preservation Program would mean to your county.
If you cannot attend a hearing, you may also submit written comments on the budget, submitted to email@example.com, which will be emailed to all committee members.
If you are able to arrange one-on-one meetings with your legislators, please consult these legislative meeting advocacy tips.
- All hearings begin at 10 am. If you arrive early, you have a chance at being able to speak earlier, but you should still prepare to spend the day there, in the event your name doesn't get called to speak earlier.
- Be respectful. WI Land+Water has had productive talks in support of our conservation priorities with legislators from both parties. We look forward to continuing to have the respect of our legislators.
- If you are sharing a success story about working with a farmer or landowner, consider bringing them along to offer testimony alongside yours. It's a big ask, but would get attention.
- Bring enough copies of your testimony and handouts for all committee members. There are 16 members of the committee, listed here.
- If your legislator does not sit on the Joint Committee on Finance, they may still be in attendance if the hearing is in their district. They may also hold their own (or have already held) budget listening sessions. You can offer the same testimony there.