If your association helps recruit workers for a candidate’s campaign, you will get friendly access after the election.
One of my favorite interviews is with an electrical contractor from Texas who lives within a couple of miles of two representatives in Congress. Every year he sponsors a barbecue, charging admission to raise funds for the politicians and inviting a huge crowd. Everyone has fun and-guess what?-the members of Congress returned his phone calls.
One group I worked with helped set up phone banks for a man running for Congress. For two weeks, they mustered between ten and twenty people every night to make calls around the district. He faced a tough fight in the primary and won by 974 votes. His name was Newt Gingrich. Four years later he was Speaker of the House and he publicly stated that no legislation harmful to this group would pass while he was Speaker. He was as loyal to his friends as they were to him.
One easy, productive thing to do is organize a site visit for your elected official. Let them come to the place related to your issue. Could be a food bank, library, factory or other business office. If you put them in front of potential voters, put them in your newsletter or get media coverage for them, they won’t forget.
Once a state senator called and asked me to write a letter to the editor. The newspaper had been covering an issue and he felt he needed to show that his side had some support. It was an issue I cared about, and I was glad to do it. It took me all of thirty minutes to write it and fax it to the newspaper. They published it. Is that senator going to answer my phone call? Will he help me if he can? You bet.
Your elected official needs many things in addition to money and volunteer time. For example, simply knowing what’s going on in the community is very important. Your contacts at work, at church, through your civic club and social relationships put you in touch with people and groups of all kinds. Think of the news you hear about a new company coming to town, a new issue some town council is discussing or something you read in a local newspaper. This may be information that doesn’t make its way to your elected official. Some districts are huge, especially the congressional districts, and it’s difficult for officials to keep up with what’s going on everywhere in their district.
For example, I read in my community newspaper that a small town nearby had formed a task force on education and crowding in the elementary school. Knowing that my county commissioner probably doesn’t get that little paper, I faxed her a copy of the article. I wrote a note that said, “Here’s a meeting you might like to know about. If you can’t make it, I can attend and take notes.” She faxed me back, thanking me and saying she’d be there and hadn’t known about the meeting. It took me five minutes but it was most valuable to her.
This kind of activity is especially helpful in avoiding the “out of sight, out of mind” factor. To build a really good relationship, I recommend you put it on your calendar to make positive contact at least once a quarter. Stay in front of your elected official with something that helps her so she doesn’t forget. It could be as simple as a letter, a phone call, an email or a fax, but whatever it is, do something deliberately. If you see your elected official is speaking to a group, attend the meeting and shake her hand. Stand up and support her publicly.
It doesn’t have to be something that advances your cause-it’s better if it doesn’t. Just do something to help out or show support. Granted, this may seem simple, but it works-perhaps because so few people do it. Most people, if they participate in politics at all beyond complaining, vote and that’s all. When you become personally engaged with your elected officials, you stand out like a warm slice of Mom’s pound cake.
An example of things few people do is a story about the mayor of the town where I used to live. He and I are in different political parties and we frequently disagreed. But he was a reasonable man and a hard worker. He’d been in office about ten years and had done well by our town in a job that is generally thankless. We were standing out in the street one day, arguing about a zoning issue. Finally, I said, “Okay, Russell, I can see we are never going to agree. But I would like to say one thing. I appreciate the fact that you have served in office and I want to thank you for serving. Even when we disagree, I know you have the town’s best interest at heart.”
He was shocked. He got a tear in his eye and said, “Joel, in the ten years I’ve been in office, no one has ever said that to me before.” It didn’t change his mind. But I’m always thinking about the next time-and he will remember what I said. You will stand out if you do nothing but thank your elected official for serving-because so many people never take that simple step.
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