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Communicating with your elected officials

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Hello All:

I posted an earlier version of this in another thread, but it really belongs here. I've added some new info, so its not exactly the same post as earlier. I hope it helps and we all stay involved. (http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/ to find contact info and names of your local reps.)

1) All emails are read. Almost.

Anything that resembles a "form" or "chain" email will likely not be individually read, although the number that come in to the office will be noted. If you use a "form letter" email that is provided by some advocacy websites (TN Firearms Association has one, for example), be sure to "customize" it so it seems you are not just reciting party line. Make it sound from you, because it is from you.

2) Phone calls are better. Usually. Call the office-holders office phone during normal business hours. Likely your rep/senator will not be in. Leave a detailed but CONCISE message -including bill numbers if calling about specific legislation. Provide day and evening call back info. Many reps return calls at night, on the way home from Nashville, on session breaks, etc. Be courteous and polite. Annoying a staffer is as bad -or worse- as annoying your elected official, who will favorably remember pleasant conversations with informed citizens. State Representatives have districts with 1/3 the population of State Senators, so your Rep will probably call back more quickly since he/she has only 1/3 the constituients as your Senator. Expect the staffer to get some info from you -address, etc. You will most likely be added to any mailing lists they maintain. This is a good thing -you will be more in touch with what's going on than most people, since much local media ignores local politics and people are generally apathetic.

3) In person can work. Sometimes. Many state reps and senators hold community meetings, listening sessions, etc. If you go to such a meeting, follow these guidelines:

a) Attend the meeting, dont just ambush your rep in the hallway afterwards. Chances are he/she has another meeting or is dying to go home and get some sleep.

:( If possible, dont just stand up and ask your question/make your point. Talk to the rep before or after the formal part of the meeting (if there is one.) A handshake and a 1 minute conversation make a lasting impression as compared to some random hand raised from a crowd in back of the room during Q&A.

c) Dont try to "hog" the person's time. If you seem over-bearing, that will come across poorly. Shake their hand, make your pitch, and let them go.

d) If you live in a county with more than one rep and/or senator (most of us in urban/suburban parts of the state do), there is no law that says you cant approach other reps in your home town or county. They dont ask to see your voter ID when you ask them a question. If you show up, you are a constituient.

4) Have a consistent message for all your reps -we each have one Senator and one Representative. Make sure you contact BOTH. They talk to each other. ALOT. Even if they are from different parties. VERY LITTLE IF ANYTHING CAN PASS BOTH HOUSES AND REACH THE GOV'S DESK WITHOUT AT LEAST SOME BI-PARTISAN COOPERATION.

5) Have the FACTS. Get yourself some talking points from TFA

http://www.tennesseefirearms.com/ or the NRA-ILA http://www.nraila.org/ or whatever organization is out there concerning your issue. Be educated and passionate about the issue, without being a one-issue voter or overly partisan. If you are seen as "that crazy gun guy," your impact will be less than if you are seen as "a typical voter in district xx."

Also, read the bill. I have seen MANY voters ask their reps to support/oppose the bill without really knowing what the bill does, or only knowing certain parts of it.

6) Use partisanship to your advanage if you can, ignore it if you have to. If an issue is seen as an "R vs D" issue, if you and your rep are on the same side of the aisle, that helps. However, in TN, it is often NOT that simple. MANY more issues are rural/urban or east/west than are R/D -including gun-related legislation. A rural Democrat is definitely more likely to vote pro-gun than an urban Dem, probably more likely than an urban Republican even.

7) Be willing to compromise to a certain extent. VERY LITTLE legislation goes through the process un-amended in some way. Its part of the process and see it as a partial victory, living to fight another day, etc. It might also be necessary to amend to appease other groups, to match federal law or pre-existing state law, etc... If Rep "X" files your bill, runs it and it passes in some form, be happy. Be extatic. It is rare.

8) Be politically involved. Vote. Be seen. The better they know you, the more likely they will listen to you. (Assuming you are a nice person...)

9) Follow-up. Get your friends, family and neighbors to make contact as well. Write a letter to the editor. Who reads those? Your local reps do! Get others to write as well.

10) Don't expect miracles. Politicians are pragmatists. They will do what's best for their district most times, unless they think it will get them beat in the next election. They will not beat a dead horse or lead a hopeless charge if the other side will use it against them next election. 90% or more of all bills filed never even get to a floor vote. There are thousands filed every session, and only 4 months (with lots of breaks) to deal with them all.

11) Going to the top. Some have asked me about contacting the Governor. Any citizen can do this. http://www.tennessee.gov/governor for info on how. I'm not sure this will be of much benefit, but nothing to lose. Some thoughts (this applys not just to Bredesen, but Guvs in general:

a) You wont be talking to Phil, that's for sure. You'll get a staffer who will take some info. Dont expect Phil to call you back. If you are lucky, your call will get routed to your local Rep or Senator, and they will call you.

B) The Governor wont get involved in most legislation that is not filed on his behalf. (The Governor can not introduce legislation into either chamber, only legislators can do that. The Governor will ask a legislator to introduce a bill.) This is especially true if the person sponsoring the bill is from the opposite party. Bredesen has a few major priorities each year, he and his staff focus on those issues and leave the rest to the legislature. I have met the governor many times, listened to him speak many more, and my impression is that he does not think gun law reform is a big issue that needs to be dealt with now.

12) Jimmy Naifeh. I think people over-estimate his power, especially lately. He wont risk the Democratic majority in the house, and if that means allowing legislation to pass that he does not like, he will do so. Just my opinion. If enough Reps want something, he wont stand in the way. Again, just my opinion of the man. I've met him once, talked to him on the phone once. So, take this with a big grain of salt.

13) Regime change begins at home. All politics is local. If enough of the people want something and make their voices heard, the people will get what they want or they will vote their elected officials out of office. Be informed, be reasonable, be polite, but BE HEARD! Many have given their lives protecting our form of government, on our soil and abroad. The least we can do to honor them is to pick up the phone or send an email or vote on EVERY election day. If you don't vote, you can't complain. Your elected officials wont hear you unless you open your mouth.

Done speechifying. Hope this helps.

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To the Administrator,

I think Len's post on how to contact officials would make a good sticky.

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I agree with waynesan. This is very valuable information. Thanks, Len.

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Just take the trailing http:// off of speed's link. I just sent all of my elected officials the same basic letter telling them what I think of any gun bans. Hope they actually listen to all of us.

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