BY: KATELYN CAMPBELL, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY VISTA, THE HUB
So, there’s an issue that’s getting you fired up and you’re ready to do something about it. What now?
While the idea of becoming a lobbyist might be a little off-putting to some, don’t be alarmed. Citizen lobbyists play one of the most important roles in the legislative process.
The popular understanding of the term “lobbyists” describes those who lobby as less than scrupulous characters. However, the true origin story of the term “lobbyist” is somewhat cloudy.
In reality, a lobbyist is simply someone who meets with an elected representative to educate or persuade them as to why they ought to take a particular action on an issue. This means that regular, everyday people can and should be lobbyists as well, especially if there is an issue that they care strongly about.
Here in West Virginia, we have a part time Legislature made up of 134 legislators representing the state’s 1.8 million citizens. While we provide regularly-scheduled input to these representatives through elections, it is the diligent work of citizen lobbyists that ensures that all West Virginians’ voices are heard year-round.
What does a citizen lobbyist do?
During the Legislative Session, citizen lobbyists:
- Visit the Capitol to meet with their representatives on their own time or during issue-centered lobby days. (You can find a list of scheduled lobby days on the General Services website.)
- Call, write, tweet, or Facebook representatives. All legislators have their district and basic contact information listed on the Legislature’s website, but an increasing number have active Facebook and Twitter presences where constituents can engage.
- Track bills they care about and contact members of the committees they’re referred to. It’s relatively easy for a bill to be introduced. Getting a bill passed is a much larger feat. Representatives need to hear your priorities throughout the process, particularly early on when bills can get trapped in committee.
Outside of Session, citizen lobbyists:
- Do their research. One of the important roles all lobbyists play is bringing information to legislators. Whether that’s a research report or a pile of letters detailing constituent experiences, the data points legislators receive will influence what they care about and how they vote.
- Meet with their representatives closer to home. Legislators are often willing to take individual or group meetings with constituents outside of Session to listen to their concerns. These opportunities are particularly useful for citizen lobbyists who know they cannot make it to Charleston during Session.
- Keep calling, writing, tweeting, and Facebooking. Session is often such a race to the finish that it’s hard for new ideas to make it onto the floor. The months in between Sessions are a great time to plant new ideas in a representative’s head and make sure that they are as much of an expert on your issue as you are.
Being a citizen lobbyist is hard but necessary work, and even though you probably won’t get paid, you can be sure that the work citizen lobbyists do creates a better West Virginia for current and future generations.
Stay tuned in the following weeks as we bring you tips on how to make lobby visits most effective, how to decide what to say when calling your representative, and more ways you can make sure your voice and voices of other West Virginians are heard at the Capitol.
Want support scheduling a meeting or finding where to start? Get in touch with our Policy Coordinator, Taylor Bennett.
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