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How You Become An Effective Advocate

The most effective advocates are not the ones who suddenly become interested in an issue. They are the ones who are consistently interested in and demonstrate an expertise about a topic. Here are tips for building a long-term relationship with a legislator. 

Learn about your legislator
It is extremely important that you learn some background information about your legislator. Politicians are just as susceptible to the same types of influences as other people. The best way to win someone over is to understand that person’s problems and interests. You will be much more powerful as an advocate if you start a conversation by asking about a legislator’s child who just went to college, or mention that you saw the legislator’s picture at a ribbon cutting in the local newspaper. Prior to meeting, learn about your legislator’s personal background, position on the issues, and professional accomplishments.

Master the “no-ask” visit
One of the most important duties of an advocate is communicating effectively with your elected officials. Seek them out and offer your assistance to keep them informed on dental issues. Do not ask for anything! Volunteer to help during the legislator’s next campaign. Offer to work in the campaign office, participate in block walks, stuff envelopes, or host an event at your home. Even if it is only for a few hours, these contacts will have a much greater impact if a personal relationship exists between you and your lawmaker. In addition, these visits will give you the opportunity to develop relationships with your legislator’s staff. Remember these young “staffers” are the gatekeepers to your legislative official. Establishing a positive rapport with these legislative aides is the key to getting your foot in the door.

Establish yourself as a helpful expert
The reason that lobbyists are so successful at their job isn’t because they take people to lunch; it’s because they know the issues. The most valuable gift a lobbyist gives a legislator isn’t a campaign contribution—it’s a detailed analysis of how a particular issue affects that lawmaker’s district. The TDA publishes issues briefs every legislative session with detailed information for our members. Get informed on the issues facing Texas dentistry and establish yourself as an expert with your legislator.

Maintain frequent communication
Your goal should be to develop an ongoing personal relationship with your lawmakers to facilitate communications on legislative concerns of practicing dentists. Every legislative office knows those advocates who stay on top of issues and those who don’t hesitate to offer help or advice on how a legislator should vote. Keep up with what the lawmaker is doing and how that legislator is voting on issues concerning the dental profession. Don’t hesitate to let the lawmaker know when you are pleased or displeased with his or her vote on issues of special concern. Regular contact with your legislators provides a valuable service to them and their staff while keeping them accountable to voters.

Visit your legislator
Personal meetings are the most effective means of political communication. Contact can be with the lawmaker directly or through key legislative aides. When requesting an appointment or planning a special event, you should first contact the scheduler in your legislator’s office. If your legislator is unavailable, do not overlook the opportunity to meet with a staff aide, particularly if he or she is working closely with the lawmaker on an issue of concern to you. If the meeting is to discuss a specific issue, it is important to be familiar with all aspects of the issue before the meeting. Try to be concise and well-organized. State your views firmly, but be attentive to the lawmaker’s position as well. The meeting should be an exchange of ideas, not a lecture. After the meeting follow up with a thank you letter and reemphasize key points discussed during the meeting. Don’t forget to include a note of thanks to those staff people who helped arrange the visit or who participated in the meeting. It is important that you report all feedback to the DENPAC coordinator including significant items that were discussed during the visit.