What is Washington really all about?
- Our Iowa Congress, Senators and Representatives work to get the most for their district or state and keep it!
- That means moving up in committees and in leadership
- Same as the Money
- Banking favors
- Trying to avoid political suicide
- Getting re-elected
Doing the right thing
- For their constituents
- But does that mean “ALL” their constituents?
- Less than 4% of the districts’ voting population write or call their legislators
- The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Being persistent is the key. You must work harder and smarter and make people on the Hill believe that you will never go away. Only then will they take you seriously and work to make your issue “go away.”
Why County Medical Societies Should Advocate in Washington
Elected officials rely on constituent input to be effective legislators. Ongoing communication is the only way public representatives will know and understand how doctors feel about particular issues.
As a member of the medical community, your responsibility in communicating with members of Congress is especially important. No one can better explain the complex nature of health care policy decisions than those involved on a day-to-day basis in the medical profession.
Sending letters and emails, making phone calls and paying personal visits are typical ways in which constituents get their message to legislators. While an individualized letter or email is an influential means of communicating, a postal letter may be delayed because of heightened security measures. If the issue is urgent, the letter can be faxed or emailed. A phone call is more personal than an electronic message and usually has more impact.
You can be most effective in conveying a message by relating issues of your own personal experience or professional expertise, or to the likely effects on a member’s constituents.
Remember all politics is local
But what about MY ISSUE?
A Congressman’s busy schedule keeps them going from early morning thruogh the evening Monday through Thursday. How to get your member’s attention?
- Be early.
- Keep it short.
- Have your message prepared.
- Introduce yourself and others in your group, stating where you’re from and which organization you represent.
- Be polite.
- Give them written materials and examples.
- Explain how it will positively affect them.
- Be concise when presenting.
- Mention your key contacts that they might know.
- Offer to serve as a resource to the legislator and staff in responding to health care questions.
- Don’t have a large group.
- Decide who will lead the discussion and who will make what points.
- Leave behind a one-page position paper on your issues and include your name and telephone number.
- Thank them personally for their time.
- Continue to build your relationship!
Don’t forget the staff!
The staff is very important.
- Be polite and courteous.
- Smile and be friendly and genuine.
- Make sure they are aware of the impact your issue will have on the district.
- Keep your message short but to the point.
- Try to build a relationship with the staff.
- Have your message down.
- Give them back up material.
- Show them the need.
- Find your commonality – look around the office and make note of the personal items.
- Thank them for their time.
- Follow up with a phone call.
- Keep a dialogue going with the staff.
Your relationship with the staff will determine your success since staff does the leg work for the member.
Pyramid of Influence for Congressional Office
- AA or Chief of Staff
- Legislative Director
- Legislative Assistant
- Legislative Correspondent
Roles of Congressional Staff
Administrative Assistant (AA) or Chief of Staff (CoS) – He/she usually has overall responsibility for evaluating political outcomes of various legislative proposals and constituent requests. This person is also usually in charge of overall office operations. He/she is the boss of the office under the member.
Legislative Director (LD) – The LD is usually the staff person who monitors the legislative schedule and makes recommendations regarding the pros and cons of particular issues.
Legislative Assistant (LA) – The LA handles specific legislative issue areas that they concentrate on in particular. They advise the member on the legislative issue and closely monitor any legislation in that area.
Press Secretary or Communications Director – The Press Secretary’s responsibility is to build and maintain open and effective lines of communication between the member, his/her constituency, and the general public.
Scheduler or Appointment Secretary – The scheduler is responsible for keeping the schedule for the congressperson. Every minute of the congressperson’s day is planned out by the scheduler. Various other tasks fall on this position as the member’s personal assistant.
Legislative Correspondent – Legislative Correspondents answer almost all of the constituent mail that comes into the office. They must have a wide range of knowledge on a great many issues.
Office Manager – The Office Manager runs the administrative side of the office.
Staff Assistant or Receptionist – The staff assistant answers phones, greets visitors, gives tours, and performs a multitude of administrative tasks.
- Profile of a Hill Office
- Average size of a Hill office (Staffing numbers haven’t changed since 1970)
- House 9 staffers (50% of time answering constituent mail)
- Senate 22 staffers (5 of those exclusive for constituent mail)
- Officers receive 3-5 thousand communications a week (visits, mail, email, faxes)
- Sending a letter will take 2-4 weeks for a response
- Send both email and fax
- Overall Congress receives 18 million pieces of mail each year
- AND over 182 million emails!
Things You May Not Know About Congress
Many members never read the bills before they vote on them.
Most members think more about issues that affect their constituencies than they might about “big picture” issues.
Members focus on people that vote.
Members work very hard, often from early am to late into the night.
Congress actually passes very few bills in a year. For example, a couple years ago, 5,514 bills were introduced and only 300 actually became law.
Final Words on Understanding Washington
- Persistence pays off, “no” can just mean “not now!
- Make friends with everyone. You never know when they may be in a position to help you
- Understand that politics are everywhere, you don’t have to like it, but to get what you want you have to play the game.
- Most legislators and their staff really want to help and they need you to assist them in knowing your issues.
Remember Be Flexible!