The first year of a two-year session begins January 8, when legislators return to Columbia to do the people's business: funding state government and passing laws that govern the state. The 2018 elections in South Carolina brought little change to state constitutional officers but did bring some new faces in the House of Representatives. There are 17 new House members for the 2019 – 2020 session and one new senator. Since the election, two vacancies have occurred: one in the House and one in the Senate.
With both the old and new faces at the State House, the need for local elected officials to keep open lines of communication with House and Senate members does not change.
The Association's advocacy handbook, Raising Hometown Voices to a New Level of Influence, outlines the basics of communicating with a legislator in easy-to-read bullets and tips for success. The biggest takeaway is the importance of establishing a relationship with the local legislative delegation before asking for something.
"Establish the relationship and keep in touch even when you don't need anything," said Casey Fields, the Municipal Association's manager for municipal advocacy.
"Involve your legislative delegation in events in your hometown. Invite them to attend council meetings, ribbon cuttings and other special events," she said.
The advocacy handbook outlines the basics of successful communication with a legislative delegation. Review the free handbook online for details on each basic step to making contact with legislators.
- Don't be a stranger.
- Remember you serve the same people.
- Know both sides of your issue.
- Understand the legislative process.
- Express your opinion.
- Stay on message.
- All politics is local.
- Timing is everything.
So how should local officials make contact and make it effectively? "Do it early and often," Fields said. "Make it personal. Be accurate and make your point. Don't exaggerate and be sure of your facts. Always give the local angle and include examples of how a particular issue helps or hurts your city or town."
Form letters don't work, and in-person meetings and phone calls are always best. If you can't make it to Columbia, write a letter. Social media gives you another valuable platform for saying thank you to your legislators.
Fields also reminds local officials that hundreds of other people are also contacting this same legislator.
"Always follow up with your legislator," Fields said. "If you meet at the legislator's home or local office, write a follow-up letter. If your legislator requested additional information, provide that information as quickly as possible. We follow the motto of being 'honest brokers of accurate information,' and always seek to provide information quickly and efficiently."
The Association's advocacy team is always interested in hearing what local officials are learning from conversations with their local legislative delegations. "It helps us tremendously to get the intel local officials are hearing at home," said Fields.
Finally, Fields said never be afraid to ask for action. "If you are talking about a specific bill, ask if your legislator will vote no or yes. Be honest, be accurate and be efficient. These tips and your winning personality will always prove effective in communicating with your legislative delegation on behalf of your city or town." Fields said.
Top 10 keys for corresponding with your legislators
- Spell the name correctly.
- Do not send a form letter — personalize it, and preferably write it by hand.
- Make sure you have the correct addresses:
– Office in Senate (Gressette Building) or House of Representatives (Blatt Building).
– Office in the legislator's district.
- Address the legislator as Senator or Representative _______, not by the first name. If you are on a first name basis with your legislator, add a P.S. with a personal note using the first name.
- Identify where you live. This will let the legislator know you live in his district.
- In a very clear, concise manner, explain what you are requesting.
- Briefly describe why you want your legislator to support your issue or budget request.
- Ask how your legislator will vote on your request.
- Thank your legislator for considering your request and the work your legislator is doing for the district.
- Indicate that you look forward to seeing your legislator in the near future.