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Are You a Model Constituent?

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Grassroots advocacy is an essential and integral part of the legislative process. Oftentimes, individuals believe that their voice alone cannot make a difference. While it is true that there is power in numbers, it is also true that good relationships and expert advice make good constituents. You hold the power to develop relationships with your legislators and their staff.

Federal and state legislators cast many votes on hundreds of bills each year. It is impossible for them to be “experts” on every major issue that comes to a vote. You, as a businessperson and their constituent, automatically are an authority and a resource for them. Federal and state legislators deal with the big picture, but you can help them understand how their vote will affect your business. If you do not become involved in the political decision-making process, you may not like the decisions being made without your input.

All elected officials are concerned about the views and interests of all their constituents because their support equals votes during elections. If legislators ignore any voters, they won’t be in office for long. You may think that you are only one voice, but legislators understand that you represent the interests of the business and manufacturing community in their districts.

It is easy to ask if our legislators are doing a good job. We make checklists and check voting records of important legislation. We read newspaper articles and watch the news to get updates on the issues that the legislators are working on. We are easily upset if our legislator votes in such a way that hurts our industry. But then we must ask ourselves: Did we inform them of our views? Did we give them the most up-to-date information that we have? Did we meet with them and discuss the issue? Did we invite them to our business for a tour so they could see the operations first hand? If the answer to these questions is “no,” then we have some work to do.

It is our job, the industry leaders and business owners, to advise our legislators on industry trends, needs, problems and solutions. We are the experts in our own field, and we can’t expect our legislators to be experts in all areas and issues that they must cast votes. We need to arm them with the necessary information, statistics, views and ideas so that they can go to Harrisburg ready to fight for their constituents. The only way they can do that is if we take the time to meet with them, provide information to them and their staff, build solid relationships and support their efforts.

There are many ways to build a relationship with your legislators. First, visit their websites frequently, as they provide many updates from issues they are working on, important information on things happening in the district, to events that they are holding — from town hall meetings to fundraising events. Legislators hold events in their district to get to know their constituents. Attending one of their events is a great way to get to know them.

If you don’t already have a relationship with your legislator, make an appointment to meet with them. Tell them about yourself and your business. Let them know that they can contact you when they have questions on business issues. Having you as a resource and knowing they can count on you for your expert opinion is important to them and helps them make informed decisions on issues that affect your business. You wouldn’t send your child to school without their pencils; don’t send your legislator to Harrisburg without your views.