With the Texas Legislature back in Austin, lobbyists from across the state have descended to advocate for and against the thousands of bills that will be filed.
So what if you’re just a regular Texans with an opinion? Do lawmakers want to hear from you? Do they care what you think?
Every session, Bee Moorhead meets with hundreds of people from across the state who want to help advocate. Moorhead is director of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy. She holds training sessions to make sure constituents know the most affective way to make contact with lawmakers. And every session she hears the same concern.
“Everybody feels like they are nobody special," Moorhead says.
But Moorhead says almost everyone of her trainees has a personal story to tell: a real life experience relating to a bill or topic they want to advocate for, something they have passion for, without being paid to voice it.
“What we try to help them understand is that all of those things are what make them so special,” she says.
But it does take more than a good personal story to make a successful citizen lobbyist. You have to think of approaching a lawmaker the way you might approach a new neighbor.
“What would you do with them first? You’d try to go meet them. You’d maybe take them some brownies. You’d ask them about themselves,” Moorhead says, “before you start saying, ‘and now I demand that you meet all my needs,’ you’d try to find out what your mutual relations and interests are.”
Austin Rep. Dawnna Dukes says office visits can be a powerful influence and a big help, as legislative staffs try to keep up with the six to eight thousand bills that flow through the 140-day session. But not all visits and visitors are equal.
“All members will give a heightened level of credence to the zip code that is within their district," Dukes says.
But be warned, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a face-to-face meeting with your local lawmaker.
“Legislators are typically either on the floor debating bills or in committee fighting for the issues and concerns,” said Dukes. “And if we come out of committee or come off the floor, more likely than not we could miss a critical vote.”
Advocate trainer Moorhead said the most important thing to remember is it really is up to constituents to initiate contact with their lawmaker.
“So it’s not just the legislator who’s not making the first move here,” Moorhead says. “If constituents start with a cynical perspective that they’re not going to care what I think, they’ll never know that that legislator was wondering: ‘How come nobody ever calls me up and asks me for coffee?”
Interested in voicing your concerns? Join Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Larry Gonzales, Texas Impact’s Bee Moorhead and community advocates for a talk on how citizens can hold leaders accountable once they're elected.
“Why Bother? Your State Legislature, Your Voice” is the third event in a public dialogue series in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and KLRU-TV, Austin PBS. This free event is from 7:30-8:30 p.m. tomorrow at KLRU studios and will be hosted by KUT’s Nathan Bernier. Plan on attending? Please RSVP online.