Connecting with your legislators

By Danny Schnautz, OOIDA senior member

Pasadena, Texas

For much of my life I thought that legislators were sort of like royalty: different and distant. But many years back I realized that legislators in the U.S. are people like me. We have in this country a somewhat rare opportunity to not only connect with those who govern us, but also help shape their positions on issues by adding to their knowledge.

You and I both have all that is needed to help shape the future of the trucking industry. We know trucking. So the first step for you to help trucking by lobbying is to know your issues. This is your industry. And whether the topic is ELDs or speed limiters, you know what it takes to drive a truck safely and what electronic assistance you don’t need.

You know your financial limitations for your business; you know what varying scenarios play out differently day after day. If you aren’t informed on a certain area of trucking, don’t wing it. Just say that you do not know that part. If you haul steel in the Midwest, don’t think that you know all about hauling logs in Maine. Give yourself due credit, though, for being the trucking expert that you are.

You may be surprised to know that the legislators actually do want to hear from you. You are a vote. When you speak up, they correctly conclude that you represent many votes. Without your expert opinion, they are more in the dark as they discuss and vote than they will be after they hear from you. Don’t think that they are doing you a favor by talking with you. This is what their position is about – representing you.

Jump on the Internet to easily find out who your legislators are – whether local, state, or federal. Then get outside of your box and meet them on their turf. You do not need to be polished or fancy; just be yourself. Elected officials are people, too – with kids, bills, worries, and a very real fear that they may not be re-elected. In a very real sense, they are interviewing to keep their job every day that they are in office!

Do not expect to meet with your legislator on your first contact. You can start with some short letters focusing on one or two issues. Expect a reply. With time, ask for a meeting.

Depending on the legislator that I am working on, I may meet with only his or her staff for years. This does not mean that I am failing. My message is getting through because it is in fact easier and more constructive to form a relationship with the staff in most cases. The elected official is always casting a wider net to meet more people – so accept that working with the staffers is actually success.

Whether speaking with the staff or the legislator, do not speak down to them or treat them like an enemy. True enough, I can get very frustrated when I read some of the proposed regulations and legislation. The way to win and reverse the tide is to win them over by being genuine, polite and informative. Ask questions to see what they know and what ideas they have. Do not expect to give a speech, but instead have a real conversation. As the saying goes, “Help them help you.”

Stick with your efforts for the long haul and you will break through the barriers that you had in your mind at first. Then don’t be surprised if after time they call you asking for your opinion on a vital trucking issue. LL