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You need to be involved in the legislative process — A 'How to' Guide

Last week, State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) participated in an in-studio interview with Rightside Radio. His comments became a trending story on 1819 News thereafter, especially with regard to his feelings on school choice. In doing so, Senator Marsh expressed his wish that every listener calls their state senators and representatives and relay their desires to see true school choice in Alabama.

The next day, I also did a monologue to open the show and directed my comments to the very real need for conservatives to "Stand Up and Speak Out." I followed with a segment in which I discussed that concept in more detail, but it was pointed out to me (by my wife!) that many folks don't know how or where to speak out. In that same vein, many likely don't know how best to "speak out" to their elected officials.

So, while it's crucial to remind citizens of their civic duty and to embolden individuals to contact their representatives and join other initiatives to enact change, it is also imperative to equip them to do so and to do it well.

The fact of the matter is the absolute best lobbyist in the world is a well-informed constituent.

When I served in the State Senate, there were a number of times when a piece of legislation did not fall squarely into my wheelhouse or hit one of my key principles. When that happened, I had to have input to help the matter gel for me. If you put a pro-life bill or tax increase effort in front of me, I knew exactly what I felt. But other matters are more in the gray, and I needed to hear from my constituents.

Lobbyists, associations and activist groups all contact legislators regularly. But often, the most effective means of helping dispel the fog on a piece of complicated legislation was for me to hear from a well-informed constituent, business person or local leader who would call or make time to come see me and let me know their thoughts, concerns and the impact of the bill. I was not alone. Hearing from folks back home was often the best force for change in the State House.

With that said, many folks don't realize how accessible their elected officials are.

Every member of the state legislature is still bi-vocational. They all have jobs and homes back in their districts. They eat in the same restaurants and go to the same churches as anyone else. Nearly every legislator has an office in Montgomery with staff to answer the phone, take messages and set meetings. But almost all of them also have local offices, often with local staff to do the same. More often than not, I would get a call or text on my cell phone and respond personally. My secretary in Gadsden coordinated directly with my secretary in Montgomery to set meetings. I set aside time between non-legislative business to meet locally. It's also very common for folks from the district to come to Montgomery to meet when the Legislature is in session. The State House is open to the public, and appointments are made daily with constituents when the Legislature is convened.

Moreover, if you're really passionate about an issue, something many folks don't realize is anyone can ask for a public hearing on a bill that is in committee. They can then appear before the committee on the designated day and speak their minds on the pros and cons of the bill.

Ultimately, the key to success in all of this is to be well-informed and respectful. I've had great dialogue with folks I disagreed with. We would discuss, debate and sometimes they would truly change my mind, and a few times, I changed theirs. I've also had people chew me out, call me at 4 a.m. to scream, write threatening letters, slander me on social media, and then, when asked what their concerns are, it turns out they never read the bill and don't know the issue is moot. Legislators are no different than anyone else. If you try to shout them down and tell them they are crooked and you're going to see them thrown out of office, you're wasting time. No one listens to that rhetoric, and no one responds well to threats.

I encourage everyone to get the contact info for their State Senators and Representatives. At the very least, use their official contact info and talk with their staff. Show up at the hearings. Let them get to know who you are and what your concerns are.

It really does matter.

Don't know where to start?

Find out who your representatives are:

Type in your home address to the Alabama Secretary of State's "Find My Elected Official Map," which will then give you a list of elected officials representing your district. The "State Senate District" and "State House District" (toward the bottom of the list) will contain your state-level representative and senator.

Need resources on your legislators? The Alabama Legislature Website is a great place to start.

Official contact information for House members: Simply scroll until you find your representative.

Official contact information for Senate members: Simply scroll until you find your senator.

Stay informed: Two starting points in keeping up with Alabama politics and staying informed on the policies are right at your fingertips. Follow 1819 News for daily news coverage, and check out the Alabama Policy Institute for policy analysis and research.

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