Silent Alarm: Who do I vote for in November? (Part 1)
BY MIKE MCFADZEN
This political season is one of the wackiest ever. You’ve got Manafort, Pelosi, Trump, Reince, Bernie, the Mooch and the Mueller investigation. Throw in Brexit, Russia and North Korea and you have a giant cluster fest. I’m not going to tell you how to vote in November, but I will share strategies on how to determine the right candidate for you and how to personally influence the political process.
This is part one of a two-part series on how to push for changes that can positively affect recreation and natural resources. Many of us follow the natural resource scene and have concerns on how recent legislation affects parks, clean air and water and other aspects of our daily lives. Sending an email or calling a legislator is helpful, but face-to-face meetings are the most effective. So how do I do this?
For many people, this will be the first time meeting with your legislator. Call or email to schedule the meeting and describe the issues you want to discuss. Many legislators will meet in the district, but some prefer meeting at your state’s capital. Capital cities are exciting places to visit. Don’t be intimidated – most legislators relish the chance to meet with regular citizens versus some smarmy lobbyist. Expect the meeting to last 15-30 minutes.
Introduce yourself with context: Reference any affiliations you might have in your community – as a member of a State Parks Friends Chapter, president of a hunting club, on the library board, etc. Example: Thanks Senator Smith for taking the time to meet with me (us). I’m a member of the Friends of the ………. natural resources are very important to our economy and health. I would like to talk to about a few key areas ……. This is a good time to complement your legislator on a particular vote; maybe a veterans’ or educational issue that they’ve taken a position on. Find out how your legislator votes via the Legislative Reference Bureau (legis.wisconsin.gov/lrb/library-and-reference/voting-records/).
Lead with issues: Practice beforehand and have your notes ready. Speak slowly and give examples. Be considerate – this isn’t the time to blame your legislator for particular votes. There are several current issues that affect parks and natural resources which I will tackle in part 2 of this series.
Share your stories: You don’t need to be a policy expert. Help the legislator attach a human face to the issues being raised. Explain why you are concerned and what impacts your family and community. Bring a photo to illustrate your point (a favorite state park or a lake overrun with invasive species). Legislators often want to hear the economic side of an issue. Example: Senator Smith, Wisconsin State Parks and Trails have a huge impact on tourism and the economy. Total visitor expenditures account for roughly $650 million annually. Cite a specific study if you have good information.
The Ask: The most important part of the discussion is asking your legislator for their support. Example: Senator Smith, all tax support for state park operations was cut in the 2016 state budget. Wisconsin is now one of the only state park systems in the country that doesn’t have tax support for its operations. Will you support resuming funding for parks and trails? They may not give you an immediate answer. Tell them what’s happening at your park or in your community. A little small talk to connect your legislator with your community or park is an important step.
Follow up: Thank your legislator for the opportunity to meet with them. Ask for follow-up with specific time frames. This can be done by phone or arrange an in-district meeting. They may ask for you to follow up with a particular staffer and that’s okay. Consider meeting at a local business or park. Give them a tour and show them around. It’s good to introduce them to colleagues or organization members.
You’ve done it! You’ve just had your first legislative meeting. Always remember legislators want your vote. You are in the driver’s seat. There’s a tremendous satisfaction engaging your elected officials on important issues.