Executing a Day on the Hill
First, be prepared to walk...a lot. Second, realize that your day will be quite hectic. Your schedule should be tight but manageable, and you should be moving briskly from meeting to meeting. You should begin your day on the hill in the meeting room you’ve previously scheduled. Have some coffee and a light breakfast available if possible (this can be done on the bus if you’ve chartered one). Your legislative briefing during this time is critical to getting everybody on the same page so that your message to legislators is perfectly consistent. It also helps to prepare a one pager on all of your issues that you can leave with legislators (this also helps keep your members on message). Be sure to include the bill number, sponsor and brief background on the pros and cons of the proposed legislation.
After your legislative briefing, you’re ready to go meet with elected officials. If your group is larger than ten people, you should break into multiple groups containing no more than ten members each. This allows you to cover more ground and meet with more legislators. It also prevents legislators from feeling bombarded or overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can take a picture of your group with the legislator – you can use these to advertise your next day on the hill. The bottom line is this: treat the legislator as you would a client or business partner, and you’ll do well.
Other do’s and don’ts when meeting with legislators:
- DO keep your comments brief and on point
- DO try to answer legislators’ questions honestly
- DO ask a legislator for their vote on your issue
- DO thank them if they support you or have in the past
- DO leave them with a brief (one page) overview of your issue(s)
- DON’T be combative with a legislator who disagrees with you
In some larger Assemblies, you may not have the opportunity to meet with your legislator. You may have to meet with staff. They are an integral part of the Legislator’s office. Since they often do much of the research and preparation on legislation they can be quite helpful.
Another option is to invite the legislators to meet your group in an area set aside for group meetings. This can be quite effective in giving many of your members a chance to see legislators, when their offices are too small to host a large group. It also can have a positive impact on legislators when they see a large group gathered to talk to them.
Other Activities for Your Day on the Hill
It may not be practical or desirable to spend the entire day meeting with legislators. Your members will want a break, and you might consider planning a fun event during the day. Tours of the capitol building and evening legislative receptions are both popular and fun events.
- Make sure that every office is covered and that at least one member from that congressional district is present on each team.
- Make sure any member of Congress, the Legislature, or City Council from your area that holds a key committee or leadership will be covered by an effective team. If you have access to a lobbyist, ask them to brief the group or come along with you.
- Designate one person on the team to fill out a debriefing form and one person to maintain follow up contact with the office and send a thank-you note after your visit.
- Be sure you know what members of the team are going to say. Beware of distractions from the message and keep all members on point.