Advocates: Contacting Your Elected Officials
The most effective thing you can do as a citizen is to “SPEAK UP”. It is the job of any elected individual to represent the interests of their constituency as they make governing decisions. However, to do that, they must hear from us. Establishing an effective relationship with your elected official helps educate them and ensures that votes aren’t cast without your input. Phone calls, letters, face-to-face meetings, the delivery of testimony and personal notes are all effective ways to reach out to elected officials and decision makers.
To find your district's NJ State legislators, click here.
To contact your U.S. State Senator, click here.
To contact your U.S. congressperson, click here.
Here are some hints to get you started:
Do your Homework
- Most legislators and elected officials have biographies on their website detailing their background and political philosophy. Learn from it.
- You probably won’t speak directly with your elected official, but you can ask to speak with a staff assigned to early education or child care issues.
- Identify yourself with a reference to your hometown and to your affiliating organization. Leave a phone number and address.
- Explain why you are calling and cite specific legislation, if appropriate.
- Offer 1 or 2 brief and concise examples that support your position using local and personal examples.
- Send a personal note thanking the person for his or her concern.
- Public hearings are one way that decision makers and legislators take the public’s “pulse” on issues. You should call the hosting office to discuss your intention to testify and follow-up with a letter confirming your request to appear. Sometimes spots are limited and community groups and organizations can work together to be strategic about what testimony should be provided.
- Use proper form and snail mail the letter. (See website references for help)
- Type letters on your organization’s stationary when you represent a community agency or handwrite a note if you are speaking from personal experience.
- Keep letters to one page, addressing one issue per letter.
- State the purpose of the letter in the first paragraph. Cite legislation, if appropriate.
- Personal stories work best! Explain how the issue affects you or families in the voting community.
- Be constructive. Explain why the legislator should care. Suggest a solution if you disagree with his or her stance.
- Request a reply and consider responding to the reply to remind them that you will follow their action on the issue.
- Face-to-face meetings are one of the most effective ways to develop a relationship with your elected official and they are easier to set-up then one might think. Call the elected official’s office with a flexible attitude.
- Include his or her staff in your visit, specifically those who are assigned to early care issues. Don’t be disappointed if you get an appointment with staff. They follow issues most closely and regularly brief decision-makers.
- Be concise – spend no more than fifteen or twenty minutes in the meeting.
- Prepare a one-page background sheet to leave at the office.
- Bring photos, when possible, and share stories about how children in their constituency are personally affected by their decisions.
- Ask for some commitment to an action that will help your stance – even a site visit to witness how the issue affects families.
- Follow-up with a thank you letter.
There are many helpful resources on the web make it easy to identify and communicate with your elected official. Check out these Web sites for more information:
www.njleg.state.nj.us - The official Web site of the NJ Legislature will allow you find your legislator, research his or her voting history, research bills and statues, view calendars of upcoming events in the legislature, get public hearing transcripts, identify committee groups, watch live proceedings through a webcast, and listen to archived proceedings on file.
www.votesmart.org - As a national library of factual information, Project Vote Smart covers your candidates and elected officials in five basic categories: biographical information, issue positions, voting records, campaign finances, and interest group ratings. A great resource to learn about those seeking office as well as those already serving.
www.congress.org – Visitors can use the site’s ZIP code search engine to sort through pages of biographical information on national and local elected officials or candidates for office. Similar functionality is available for locating local media, bills and legislation, rules and regulations open for public comment, and much more.
NJACCRRA partners with a variety of advocacy groups in New Jersey and nationwide. The following agencies offer valuable advocacy information regarding current public policy in the area of early care and education: