Meeting with Your Virginia General Assembly Members
Visiting your Virginia General Assembly member, or their staff, face-to-face is the most effective way to actually influence them. Individuals and groups can arrange personal meetings with Senators and Delegates either in their Richmond offices when they are in session in January or February, or in their local offices the remainder of the year. The best time to coordinate a visit with your Senator or Delegate will be in their local office when they are out of session between mid-March and December. Members have very little time to sit down and discuss important issues during Session. You can call their local office, email, or check their website to plan a visit. Whether you arrange to meet with your elected officials in Richmond or their local offices, here are some rules to follow:
Make an Appointment
All General Assembly local district offices require an appointment. However, most Members do offer “walk-in” meetings in their Richmond offices during session, but an appointment request is still highly recommended. Appointment requests can be emailed or you may call your Member’s office. Members’ contact information, including email and phone numbers can be found at: http://lis.virginia.gov/201/mbr/MBR.HTM or you can download the VA Govt Directory App for your phone.
The appointment request should be short and simple. Consider using the following template:
[Your Address] [Date]
Dear Senator (or Delegate) [last name]:
I am writing to request an appointment with you on [date]. I am a member of the [your group, if any] in [your city], and I’m concerned about [issue]. I realize that your schedule is difficult to project at this point, but it would be ideal if we could meet between [time] and [time].
I believe [issue] is important because [1-2 sentences].
My home address is [address]. I can be reached by phone at [phone number] or email at [email address]. I will contact your office during the week of [1-2 weeks before the visit] to confirm the details of the appointment.
Thank you for considering my request to meet with you.
Prepare for the Meeting
- Plan to discuss no more than two issues. Meetings are scheduled to last from 15- to 45-minutes.
- If you have any reliable supporting handouts, charts or graphics, bring them with you. Take extra copies in case staff members request them, but don’t overdo it. The more material you leave, the less likely it is that any of it will be read by the legislator or his staff.
- Find out where your legislator stands and has voted on your issue. Virginia groups such as the Virginia Catholic Conference, Virginia Society for Human Life, and the Family Foundation can help point you to resources that provide your legislator’s voting history. These groups may also have handouts/talking points available on specific bills and policies available for you. You should also consider joining their advocacy networks which will keep you up to date on bills and other policy issues facing the Commonwealth during Session and throughout the year.
At the Meeting
- Arrive about 10 minutes before the appointment time. At least, be on time. Dress neatly and conservatively. Be courteous and respectful. Relax.
- Do not be upset if you end up meeting with the legislator’s staff. They are also very knowledgeable of individual issues since it is a very small staff (most legislators only have one fulltime legislative assistant or chief of staff), and they WILL inform the legislator of your views and requests.
- Introduce yourself to the legislator or their staff members: tell them who you are and where you live. Warm them up: Try to start by complimenting something the legislator has done recently; their vote on an issue, a bill they sponsored, etc. After a minute or two of such “small talk,” state your standpoint on the issue(s) you came to discuss. No matter how passionately you feel about the issue, do not “rant-and-rave.” Nothing diminishes your credibility more than an “in your face” demeanor. Tip: They know you pay their salary.
- Be ready to answer questions and discuss your points.
- If the legislator disagrees with you, stand up for yourself, debate the issues, but do not become over-argumentative. Keep trying to emphasize the positives of your standpoint. Always try to end the conversation on a positive note.
- If the legislator or staff asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t guess. If you give a legislator or staff misinformation, it can erode your credibility and that of other pro-life lobbyists. Tell him you’ll provide that information later – and do so.
- Many legislators like to keep their options open. Don’t mistake vague expressions of sympathy for real commitments. Politely press for specific commitments, with questions such as, “Will you vote for this measure?” You will not always obtain a firm answer, but you should try.
Do Not Be Intimidated
Your Virginia Senator or Delegate is there to serve you, their constituent. You will find that the “Virginia Way” still rings true even in times of disagreement. Do not underestimate the vital importance of having your legislator hear from you, whether they agree with you or not.
After the Meeting
Always send a follow-up letter or fax thanking your legislator or staff members. Also include any additional information you may have offered to provide in support of your issue. The follow-up message is important, because it confirms your commitment to your cause and helps build a valuable relationship between you and your representative.
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