Legislative Champions can help light the way

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY BASED POLICY, THE HUB

As all seasoned citizen lobbyists will tell you, finding a legislative champion – a legislator who understands the issue you’re working on and who is willing to advocate on behalf of it – is key to being successful. 

Essentially, a legislative champion is someone who can advocate for your desired outcome from inside the legislative process. Citizen lobbyists will often work with a legislative champion who represents the district in which they live. Other times, it can be effective to work with one who simply cares deeply about the issue you’re working on. 

Citizen lobbyists and legislative champions may work together to craft legislation, support or oppose bills, and try to gain support for the issue they care about.

For bills that you’re supporting, a legislative champion may agree to be a sponsor or co-sponsor. You might brief them on any amendments you’d like to see made to the bill, you may ask them to call on you or another expert to testify in a committee, and you can work with them to ask other legislators to support your bill.

Legislative champions are equally important for bills that you would like to see defeated. They can offer amendments to make the bill better or encourage their colleagues to vote no in committee and on the floor. 

Here are a few tips on how to engage legislative champions:

  • Ask them early. No matter what you need your legislative champion to do, it’s important to be in touch with them early – ideally before the session even begins. This allows your champions to be involved in developing the strategy that you’ll be asking them to implement later. Additionally, they have time to have in-depth conversations with their colleagues who may be on the fence about your issue and develop discussion points for committee meetings and floor sessions.
  • Think about who other legislators will listen to. Think critically about who is the best person to deliver your message at the Capitol. If there is someone who is known for their expertise on the issue your bill relates to, they are often the best person to approach as a legislative champion. You might also choose legislative champions who have leadership positions on a key committee or in the House or Senate as a whole. 
  • Check in regularly. Once you’ve worked with your legislative champion to set your goals and outline a strategy, check in about your progress regularly. If you’ve asked someone to advocate on behalf of your bill, it’s a good idea to keep them updated about other support that you’ve gained or challenges you’ve encountered. By checking in regularly, you’re also giving your champion an opportunity to provide you with information about what else you can do to move your bill forward. 

 

A final note: while you may have a legislative champion who helps you lead the charge, citizen lobbyists shouldn’t limit themselves to one legislative champion. The greater the number of legislators who know your issue and who support your goals, the closer you are to success.


Taylor Bennett is The Hub’s Director of Community Based Policy. You can reach her at t.bennett@wvhub.org.

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