Making Your Legislator Your Friend

by Karen Maine, President, MEA Board of Directors

Jeff Johnson bested Tim Pawlenty in the primaries, but will Johnson have the sheer underdog power to beat Tim Walz on Election Day in November? If not, we may have a similar political climate to last year. It has been difficult to make the political movement we need under the eight years of Dayton administration, which makes it all the more important to know your Senators and Representatives and educate them regarding the challenges facing businesses like yours.

It starts with campaign season, which is right now! Pick your favorite candidate based on their ideals and support them. Support them through donations to their campaign, and meet and speak to them regarding the issues that are important to you. Volunteer for them. Volunteering could look like door knocking, or for the shyer of us—literature dropping. You could walk a parade for them and hand out stickers and candy to the crowd, host a fundraiser and invite the neighborhood to meet your candidate, or allow them to place a sign in your yard. You could do any one or all of these things depending upon how involved you wish to become. Your legislator will be very grateful.

For the individuals that come knocking on your door, instead of avoiding the doorbell, use the intrusion as an opportunity to let them know what is important to you. Discuss the key issues that you would like addressed over the next couple years. Get your frustrations with the system off your chest, but do it in a way that the visitor can relay to decision makers. Sometimes the decision makers will be making the visit in person. Always be kind and respectful. This person’s legislative help may be necessary in the future.

Let your legislators know you are interested in any Town Hall meetings they may hold, and subscribe to their newsletters. Throughout the year, you can make appointments with your legislator at any time. Many will welcome a meeting at your local coffee shop or might even like a tour of your shop. Legislators will be most generous with their time in between legislative sessions. During session, they may only have time for a 15-minute appointment in their Capitol office, and even that can be delayed or cancelled due to what is happening during session. If you are meeting during session, keep the meeting to one issue only.

Items we discussed at our recent government action committee included the sharing of electricians between contractors, prevailing wage reform, Conservation Investment Program, permitting changes, and prompt payment regulation. There are a lot of changes we would like to bring to the table. That starts with you making a friend of your legislator so they can advocate fiercely on your behalf.