Being engaged in the legislative process can be intimidating. Knowing where to begin, who to contact, and what to say can overwhelm most citizens, causing them to sit on the sidelines while others make decisions for them. The “Truth in Lobbying” session during our Richmond seminar provided excellent advice for our cohort on how to become more involved and effective in interactions with our elected officials.
This session was presented by Andrew Smith, Senior Assistant Director of Governmental Relations at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Andrew is an alumnus of the VALOR program as a member of the inaugural class. It was a pleasure to introduce Andrew for his presentation because of our FFA and Dairy Science connections.
Andrew shared information about the history of lobbying, which originally referred to talking in a lobby with the purpose of wheeling and dealing for legislative favors. Lobbyists are educators and their work consists of building relationships and trust, telling their story, and lobbying and testifying. Building relationships and trust is a long term process that requires presence – letters, email, phone calls, face to face visits, and attendance at town halls. When telling our story, Andrew reminded us to be ourselves, to not be afraid to use emotion, and weave our personal stories throughout the message.
Andrew also shared tips concerning visits with elected officials. To be most effective, know what you want, be knowledgeable, be brief, follow up as promised, be positive, and always say thank you. He also reminded us that we don’t have to go it alone. Coalitions and partnerships can be effective in obtaining results.
Andrew’s presentation reminded us that we need to be involved in the legislative process and that it is not as intimidating as many fear.