My head is brimming with new information – I don’t know when I will ever use this knowledge again. Perhaps I can publish a pamphlet, “A Citizen’s Guide to Lobbying for Legislation in the MS House of Representatives.” I wish I had such a guide a few months ago.
It is worth noting, there are guides for getting legislation passed. There is even a guide specifically for passing legislation to “legalize” Certified Professional Midwives. I read it, but somehow, you just don’t get all the little details until you are in it.
So, if you are interested, here are a few of the tidbits, I picked up on during my 2 visits to the capitol.
1 – The legislators really don’t care much about any bill until it is “in their hands.” Which is likely a very short period of time. You have to focus on the people that have your bill at that time.
2 – You can’t really be upset about #1. Thousands of bills are introduced every year and it doesn’t make any sense for them to try and gain an understanding of those bills since the vast majority will never even go for a full vote.
3 – Finding the Senators and Representatives in offices is a futile effort. The offices are tucked away here and there throughout the building in random locations. Also, I use the term “Office” loosely. Some use what appears to be a former broom closet. Others are tucked under the stairs in the basement.
4 – Once you actually locate the office, it is a shot in the dark if they will be there. They are busy busy busy . And, if you go one day and think you have the schedule figured out, don’t count on it staying the same the next day.
5 – Monday’s get started late because they are driving in from their weekend at home. Things slow down early Friday, so they can drive home. Depending on what deadline is approaching, determines how much time is spent in meetings, hearings, or “in session.”
6 – You can call your Rep out to speak with you when s/he is “in session.” And honestly, this is your best chance of actually finding them and getting their undivided attention.
7 – If you want to give something to a Rep (or to each Rep) the best way to do that is drop it off to the “Senior Page” who has a desk outside the entrance to where they go into “session.” This is infinitely easier than go around trying to leave something at their desk. We learned this after several hours wondering around the capitol.
8 – You are more likely to have meaningful interactions with legislators if you can catch them at the free hotel breakfast. Yesterday, we had 2 useful conversations during our 6 hours at the capitol. Vanessa spoke to 4 Reps at breakfast today. And, they actually engaged in conversation.
9 – No one ever commits to a yes vote (except the sponsor and co-sponsors). They act agreeable and interested, but don’t actually say they will vote yes. (or no, for that matter).
10 – They all look to each other to see how to vote. In the general session, they vote on approx. 50 bills a day. There is no way that can have a full understanding of each and every bill. So, there are “leaders” in different areas. They look to certain people to see how they vote. With our bill, we have heard that our sponsor, although a newbie is “bright” and people are impressed that it even made it out of “Holland’s committee.” They look to Holland and the women to see how they will vote on this bill.
11 – People have power. I am guessing that when a Rep is sitting in session and our bill comes up a few things might go through his head. Holland is for this bill, I got a couple calls on this bill from my constituents, I got a bag of fresh fruit from the organization that support this bill, I met someone down in the rotunda who supports this bill, and ?? is against this bill. Then, they make a quick decision. Those calls from constituents are important. And visits from constituents are even more important.
12 – Speaking of food – the legislators get lots of free treats and meals. Many desks are lined up with goodie bags from special interest groups. But, most of it is candy. They really appreciate something different, like fresh fruit and sandwiches.
13 – You have to have some gumption to get anything accomplished at the capitol. Sometimes you have to say, “Are you a Representative?” Or, you have to ask one of the very few assistants what is happening and what to expect next. Because, they know what is going on. Or, you have to open a closed office door and leave something on a desk. You have to be a little more forward than you are in your daily life.
14 – When you are at the capitol, smile and say “Good Morning” to everyone you pass. You never know who they are. But, you do know one thing, they are involved in politics in some way.
I recommend EVERY ONE goes to the capitol to see how our system works. I have a new respect for the elected officials. They are working hard to do what is best for the state. They hear a lot from special interest groups and very little from the citizens in their district. And, they WANT to hear from you. So, go visit them. Introduce yourself; tell them what you stand for, what your life is like. Then, sit in on a hearing or go to the gallery and watch them discuss and vote on a few bills. (Let them know you are there and they will recognize you on the house floor). Like I said, they are very proud when their constituents actually show up and get involved. So, go.