Group gives tips for talking with legislators (The Norman Transcript)

By Sidney Lee

Voting is the best-known and most basic way to be politically active in the United States, but it isn’t the only way. 

Together Oklahoma encourages Oklahomans to talk with their state legislators about causes that matter to voters. 

Bailey Perkins, the outreach and legislative liaison at OK Policy, talked to Norman residents about how to do just that during a Legislative 101 forum sponsored by Together Oklahoma.

“My primary role is to make sure the information that we’re producing gets into your hands so you’re empowered to talk to your neighbors, your friends but, most importantly, the decision-makers at the state Capitol,” Perkins said. “The other half of my role is talking with legislators.”

She started her talk by reminding attendees that Oklahoma’s legislative session starts Feb. 6.

“They make decisions on your behalf, so it’s really important that you build relationships with your legislators,” Perkins said.

She said voters should remember a few key points when talking with legislators. The first is that legislators are real people with regular jobs and families just like voters, so voters should not be intimidated by their title.

“The second piece is that they do not have all the answers,” Perkins said. “You will be surprised by how much they are willing to learn and want to learn because a business leader may not know everything that goes on in the education system, a lawyer may not know what all is needed in the health care system, but guess what? You all know what you need in the city of Norman.”

Perkins said it is important that voters share their personal experiences and expertise with elected representatives.

“The last thing about legislators that we have to keep in mind is that their time is very limited,” Perkins said.

Legislators go in and out of sessions or meetings, so Perkins said it is important to schedule a meeting, either at their office in Oklahoma City or in their home district.

So she gave attendees tips on how to make the most of their time, as well as their legislator’s time, when representing their causes.

The first thing Perkins told them was to not judge a book by its cover, and they should not make an assumption based on party affiliation.

“So go in with an open mind and be prepared to have a conversation and, even in some cases, to educate the legislator on your concerns,” Perkins said.

But to have that conversation, Perkins said it is important to do some research, both on the legislator and on the cause the voter wants to discuss.

Perkins suggested finding out about where their legislator is from, their organization memberships, even their favorite sports teams.

She said it is easier to start a conversation with common ground or small talk instead of jumping right into the issue at hand.

“It’s important to find out about someone, build a relationship, so that legislator or that senator is ready to hear what you have to say but also respond to your needs,” Perkins said.

She also said it is important to have an elevator speech and to know the facts and figures you want to share.

“They have 8,000 plus constituents in the House and 50,000 plus constituents in the Senate,” Perkins said.

She also said it is important to thank them when they do something the voter supports, not just anger when they do something the voter does not like.

“I shows them you’re not just an angry person who is going to yell at them and tell them they aren’t doing anything, but that you are actually a well-informed person and that you know what is going on and you are watching what they are doing,” Perkins said. “Legislators will say a lot of contentious things and they will say a lot of things you do not agree with, but one thing we say at OK Policy is that there are no permanent friends and not permanent enemies.”

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