Making Contact

Step 1: Who to contact?

Oklahomans are able to contact any legislator, whether they live in their district or not. However, legislators will often give more weight to residents of their districts. It is not uncommon for Oklahomans statewide to contact legislators who sit on committees–even if not their own–and provide feedback for a bill the committee may see. Knowing who to contact is crucial. 

Step 2: What to say?

Legislators are best accessible by calling their office, sending a letter, or sending an email. Although you may be friends with your legislator on social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, it is not an effective tool to contact them. Your input is likely to get lost since most constituent content is recorded by legislative aides.

Fill-in-the-blank emails and online petitions are also not effective ways to contact lawmakers. Those emails are often sent to spam and seen as impersonal. Crafting personalized correspondence is key when trying to convey your thoughts to lawmakers. Although your communications need to be unique, they can still follow a basic outline. See the script and email outlines and explainers below.

Keep in mind that your letter or call should be limited to one issue, brief, and easy to understand. A legislative aide will likely be reviewing your correspondence, and you want to make an impact. A long-winded letter or phone call will likely turn into a blur and get lost in the pile.  Frankly, it may even annoy them.

Second, keep it simple to read. Think of yourself as the expert in the matter, and you’re contacting your legislator to advise them. Experts know the field and the jargon; outsiders like a legislator do not. Reduce the literacy level to something easily understandable to most people. When contacting a legislator, it is also extremely important to have the most up to date facts and figures by your side. 

Sample Email

The greeting: Even if you know the legislator, open the letter with their complete contact and name. It is a sign of respect for the office.

Dear Councilor Leslie Knope,

Opening: Immediately state who you are and where you live. Lawmakers place a lot of weight on whether or not you live in their district, so it is important they are made aware. However, don’t be dissuaded if you are not one of their constituents. Representatives recognize their role on committees and welcome input when they are set to hear bills.

In the opening, you should also include your topic and position, and it is imperative you be as specific as possible. Again, aides will be reading through constituent letters, so you want them to know precisely your stance.

My name is Tommy Yap, and I am writing to express my support for a new library on Lot 48. I am a resident of Pawnee and live in District 5.

Argument: You should list no more than three arguments. You do not want to overwhelm the reader, plus this limit helps keep the letter brief. Choose the strongest points you have and flesh them out with easy to understand language. Again, you are advising an outsider of your expertise.

It is in the best interest of Pawnee to not build a park on Lot 48 and build a library instead for three reasons:

    1. Cats treat sandboxes at parks like litterboxes, and it is not sanitary for children to be playing around cat feces.
    2. Playground equipment is often painted ugly, and a bright red slide would clash with my prize-winning crabgrass.
    3. Living across the street from a library would motivate me to return my checked-out books on time and not incur massive late fees. Last year alone, I paid $0.80 in overdue fines. 

Personalize: Legislators are human. The personal touch is what makes chain letters and online petitions ineffective. Like most people, a personal story is one of the most effective ways to illustrate and persuade someone towards a particular side. If you don’t have a personal story, give an impassioned plea to why you care about the issue. You spent 20 minutes crafting your correspondence; there has to be a reason why.

I am passionate about this issue as an uncle, and my niece was everything to me. Until recently, I would take her to Gergich Park after school every Tuesday, but then I saw her lick what appeared to be cat poo she found the sandbox. Although I had her rinse her mouth out with an XL Sweetums Cola, the mental image has been imprinted on my mind. I will never be able to look at her the same. Unfortunately, Councilor Knope, parks ruin families, while libraries don’t. 

Closing: Establish a connection between the two of you. Again, legislators are human, and humans respond to even the slightest person-to-person connection. Whether you donated, saw them at a rally, voted for them, etc., an established relationship will give your letter just a little bit more.

It was my pleasure to have attended your kick-off event at the ice rink. “Get on your Feet” is, in fact, my favorite song! You had my vote from day one, and I look forward to voting against the recall campaign.

Salutation: Be respectful and thank them for their service and time.

Thank you for your service and the time to read this letter. I look forward to hearing back from you. 

Sincerely,
Tommy Yap

Sample Phone Call

Talking on the phone is terrible and scary to a lot of people. However, would it reduce your anxiety if you knew it was mostly reading off a script? Imagine reading your letter to someone but half the length.

The best way to be concise is to prepare what you’re going to say, plus it takes away some of the jitters since you won’t be trying to find your words.

Intro: First, you need to get to the correct person to take your call. Often, a secretary or legislative aide will answer the phone, either taking your message or redirecting you to someone who will. Who knows, you may even get the legislator herself! Introduce yourself and let them know why you’re calling. You don’t need to dive into your script yet.

Hello, my name is Popeye the Sailor Man. I’d like to make a comment on HB117.

[Redirect to who will take your call]

Opening: This is where you can jump into your prepared remarks. Like with the letter, make it clear who you are, where you live, and your topic. Be as straightforward as possible, pointing out exactly what you are advocating for and your stance on it.

Hi, my name is Popeye the Sailor Man, and I live at 1929 Steamboat Rd in Ocean City. I am calling to ask Senator Oyl to pass HB117, the Universal Free Spinach Act.

Argument: Provide no more than arguments in brief statements. Delving into more may become a blur to the person on the other end of the call, and you want your correspondence to stick. Also, we’ve all been annoyed by your aunt who just won’t hang up the phone–don’t be that aunt when calling a representative’s office.

Spinach is the most nutritious food in the world, and it would be of great benefit to the health of all Americans if everyone could access it freely. Universal free spinach would also be a boom for spinach farmers, many in your district. Spinach has also been shown to provide super strength, and areas with high spinach consumption have lower crime.

Conclusion: Remind them why you called by restating your topic and then thank them for your time.

Please vote YES on HB117 and bring spinach to the diet of every American. Thank you for your time. 

Step 3: Grab a brownie!

It can be really intimidating to contact a legislator, and you just did it! Treat yourself to a brownie to celebrate the fact that you just advocated for yourself.