Interacting with lawmakers while keeping your social distance

Before COVID-19, Missouri lawmakers were a busy group with committee meetings, debating, voting, answering demands and calls from constituents, and, of course, campaigning. Now life for everyone is changing with the requirements of social distancing and keeping the virus at bay.

Urgent work needs to continue, and as an expert in your field, you have valuable information that needs to get in front of Missouri’s decision-makers. But, how do you reach out if no one is meeting in person? And what is the best way to contact an elected official during an election year, especially now that the legislature is no longer in session?

Here are five quick tips for effectively engaging with lawmakers during this challenging year.

Don’t shy away from virtual meetings.

Sarah Schlemeier, the owner of the public engagement firm, Advocacy360, says everything is going virtual now. “We are all attempting to adjust to this new type of meeting with legislators. Our team has been attending a few fundraisers, but most of them are virtual. Also, for some clients who are wanting to host informational meetings, we hold a statewide legislator briefing on zoom as well.”

The best way to set up a virtual meeting is to call your Representative or Senator’s Jefferson City office. The legislative staff work in Jefferson City year-round and can quickly get your message or meeting request to the elected official.

Know if your elected official is up for reelection.

It’s important to remember, the House member from your district or your Senator may up for reelection this Fall. “The Senators with even number districts are not up for reelection so they could potentially be a good first group engage,” says Sarah.

However, even if your member is up for reelection, they are still serving you as a constituent until December 31, regardless of the election outcomes. If they are running for reelection, they are likely spending more time back in the district, which allows you to reach out for a local coffee shop meeting when it’s safe, of course.

Establish yourself as an expert (and constituent).

Schlemeier explains you need to set yourself apart from a constituent with a run of the mill concern. “It could be a good idea for (scientists) to introduce themselves and offer their expertise.” When reaching out to your representative, position yourself as an expert in your area of expertise who’s willing to help. Positioning yourself as a reliable and trusted resource may be the best way to maintaining an ongoing relationship with your representative.

Being a constituent is an added bonus – be sure to mention that you live in the district if that is, in fact, the case.

Be concise and direct.

Representatives have a demanding schedule and may not have the time to seek out experts to help them understand the science behind any particular piece of legislation. When you make your “ask,” be direct and concise. Be prepared to get straight to the point and describe the science with clarity. Explain the impacts of your ask on the elected official’s district to help them understand why this is important.

Extend courtesy and consideration for our current challenges.

Legislators are dealing with unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 and the subsequent impacts of the pandemic. While you likely can’t know all of an elected official’s competing priorities this year, you can still show courtesy and consideration. Starting or ending your email or conversation noting that you understand the elected official has a lot to think about right now is a simple way to acknowledge the current situation and help your message fall on receptive ears.

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