NMA E-Newsletter #215: Connecting with Lawmakers—Tips from an Insider

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from the February 2013 issue of Land Line, a publication of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). The NMA has worked closely with OOIDA on driving issues since the days of the 55 mph NMSL. While the content is geared toward OOIDA members, the information applies equally to NMA members wishing to reach out to their elected officials. The original article can be viewed here.

Connecting with Lawmakers—Tips from an Insider
By Ryan S. Bowley, Director of Legislative Affairs

Washington is filled with newly elected lawmakers and bright-eyed staffers. In addition to figuring out where to get lunch and trying not to get lost inside the Capitol, they are hearing from their constituents about issues large and small. From emails to phone calls, Facebook posts and even handwritten letters, there are a lot of ways to reach out – but how can you make sure your concerns are heard by the right people?

During my more than seven years on Capitol Hill, I learned quickly that truckers aren’t shy about sharing their views. Having been the staffer responsible for all constituent communications and then a chief legislative adviser, I have some tips that can improve your ability to get your message heard.

First, it’s important to realize how many other folks are contacting Washington. Most congressional offices are seeing 200 to 1,000 percent more communications from constituents than they were a decade ago. Offices get thousands of contacts a day – everything from automatic form emails to phone calls (including some from folks concerned about space aliens). A new House or Senate lawmaker may not have enough staff on hand yet to handle these volumes. Breaking through is the biggest challenge.

So what can you do? I think the most important tip is finding the right time to call. Unless it is directly in response to an OOIDA Call to Action, try to call on a Friday afternoon. Why? Generally, members of Congress are gone for the week, so you will have a better chance of talking to the right staffers because they won’t be in meetings or hearings with their boss.

And who should you talk to? Ask to speak to the Legislative Assistant, or “LA”, for transportation issues (make sure to take down the name). You should say that you are a constituent and a small-business trucker, and that you want a few minutes of their time to talk about how trucking issues affect your business.

It’s important to recognize that this staffer doesn’t handle just transportation issues. When I was on the Hill, for example, I handled transportation, environment, education, tax, health care, telecommunications and judiciary issues.

Because this staffer may be overly burdened and may not have a great deal of background in transportation, the first time you call you should focus on telling him or her about your background. Say that you know there are a lot of trucking issues going on right now (hours of service, CSA, detention time, etc.) and that, as a trucker and as a constituent, you wanted to reach out and offer to be a resource for the office.

Talk about the fact that you are an OOIDA member and try to get into a conversation about your business. Always give your contact information and let staffers know they can reach out with any questions they or their boss may have.

Also let them know that you will reach out to them on issues. And when you do call or email back, focus on one issue and talk about how it specifically affects your business. Real-world examples, not just complaints, are what matter.

The idea is to become the constituent resource for the office on trucking issues. The staffers’ goal is to provide the best information to their bosses about issues they may have to take a position on. It’s one thing to get information from someone in Washington, but it’s especially powerful to hear it directly from a constituent.

By taking this approach and building a relationship with the staffer, your credibility goes up, as do the chances that truckers’ concerns will be heard by the office. There is a lot of competition for the attention of Congress, yet with a little savvy truckers can make their views known loud and clear.

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