Speaking with your legislators face-to-face is the most effective way of communicating with them. In Maine, legislators are usually very willing to meet with their constituents, especially since they are used to hearing from paid lobbyists most of the time. Outside of public hearings, legislators rarely hear from their constituents, so your in-person meeting is likely to have a significant impact. Whether meeting with your legislator in Augusta or in your legislator’s district, the following tips are sure to help you in this process.
Plan your visit: Know what you’d like to achieve out of this meeting. If you plan to meet with your legislator in Augusta, make sure the Legislature will be there that day. Find out when the House and Senate will be in session, and also look to see what committee meetings are scheduled for that day.
Make an appointment: If you’d like to meet with your legislator in your community, call them directly to set up a meeting. Let them know why you’d like to meet and who you are representing. If you’re traveling to Augusta, you do not necessarily have to set up a meeting, but it doesn’t hurt to do so. Chances are that you will have more time to speak with your legislator if you have a scheduled meeting.
Be prompt and patient: Legislators are very busy people, so it’s common that they may be running late or that your meeting will get interrupted at some point. If your meeting gets interrupted, be flexible.
Be prepared: Know what issue you are going to discuss and its bill number. Bring information and materials that support your position and have copies available for your legislator. However, don’t overwhelm your legislator with materials – too many papers will be left unread.
Be brief: Time is precious during the legislative session. Expect to meet with your legislator for 5 to 10 minutes in Augusta. If meeting in your community, 30 to 45 minutes is appropriate.
Be political: Make sure to show the connection between what you’re requesting and the interests of the legislator’s district. If possible, let your legislator know how you or your group can be of assistance. Be sure to ask for a specific commitment (for example, to support or reject a particular bill).
Be responsive: Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information should the legislator express interest. If you do not know the answer to a question, tell them you will get that information to them as soon as possible.
Be respectful: If a legislator doesn’t agree with you, be respectful of their position. Being rude will not help your cause. You can assertively argue your position, and express disappointment in theirs, without being disrespectful.
Be thankful: Make sure you thank your legislator for taking the time to meet with you.
Follow-up: Write a letter to your legislator to thank them for meeting with you. If you said you would provide them with additional information, include it. It is also good to check in on any unfinished business (for example, if your legislator said they needed more time to take a position on a certain issue).
*This information has been adapted with permission from A Citizen’s Guide to the 125th Maine Legislature, a publication by the Maine People’s Resource Center.