Saturday, January 10, 2015

Senate 101: Step One, Introduce Yourself to Your Senators

After an election, at least for a year, a Senator will focus primarily on two things -- constituents and his or her status related to a few issues. Fundraising is an activity a Senator always must devote time to, but after an election there's a window of opportunity for constituents to take up more political space. 

In terms of standing (status) on issues there are three types of Senators -- (1) A new Senator discovering "who's in charge of particular issues" and deciding how to enter the issues arena. (2) A seasoned Senator, who has secured recognized expertise on issues that are important to him or her. This has probably come about because of the Senator's position on a committee. Even so, the Senator must protect his or her territory or status relative to an issue. (3) A Senator, who is planning to retire at the end of 2016, exploring legacy issues -- his or her standing on issues from the perspective of historians.

The first question you should ask yourself is - in what category do my senators likely fit? If one of your Senators falls into the first category your chances of getting to know him or her and making your issue a priority for the Senator is higher. Moreover, new Senators have fewer gatekeepers. So your chances of direct access are higher as well.

For those of you who have a senator who is a seasoned member of the Senate, perhaps a chairman or ranking member or someone with senior status within a committee, your ability to influence the Senator's issue preferences or to have direct access to the Senator are more constrained.

If your Senator is in his or her late 70s or 80s, viewing retirement, you have a good chance of helping him or her embrace one of your issues.

Regardless of the category in which one of your Senators falls, now is the time to proceed to introduce yourself to them, not six months from now. How do you do that? You have many options. Your chances of standing out and getting access or attention will be higher if you offer to do something for the Senator first, rather than asking the Senator for something. Here are three.

(1) Consider inviting the Senator to see your program, interviewing the Senator for a newsletter, and/or offering to arrange a photo op. These simple steps will give you the opportunity to begin a dialogue with the Senator and really reflect what you care about.

(2) Perhaps you want to try something less direct, like sending a letter. Here too it's smart to offer what you would be willing to do for the Senator -- do research, collect good news stories about constituents around a theme, set up a feedback loop among your colleagues and friends on key issues, or prepare fact sheets. A letter would obviously include information on your background, which would reflect your expertise.

(3) You could attend a town hall meeting, raise questions, and introduce yourself to the Senator and staff. As in the other examples I've given, you would want to offer what you can do for the Senator rather than ask the Senator to do something for you.

The underlying premise and objective overtime is you want the Senator and his or her staff to connect you to an issue and see you as a resource to which they can turn to over and over with confidence. Introduction is but the First Step in building a long term relationship.

We all have the same 24 hour period in which to function. Senators and their staff face many demands that consume their time. If they can find people from their home state on which they can rely, they are likely to include the issues of those people among the Senator's priorities and use the facts and perspectives provided by those constituents when speaking and writing legislation on those issues of mutual interest.

So please get started. There is no time to waste.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

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