One of the most important actions you can take to further the cause of the secular community in Texas is to visit your Legislators in their home offices. These kinds of visits are what let Legislators know how their constituents feel and what they want to see accomplished in the Legislature. The best time to visit your Legislator in their home office is in the off-season, even numbered years, especially toward the end of the year as they turn their attentions to the upcoming legislative session.
Visiting your Legislator may seem a bit intimidating, especially for those that are new to taking part in the political process, but once you have accomplished it you will not only be proud of your accomplishment, you will likely end up doing it many times. In order to take some of the apprehension out of the visit, we provide you with the following guide to visiting your Legislator. Don't be intimidate by the length, we want to be thorough now so that you will be comfortable during your visit later.
- Find out Who Represents You: The best resource for learning about your Legislators is probably the Texas Tribune, which keeps a database of all Legislators along with news related to them. Visit the Texas Tribune Directory to find your Legislator. Type in your zip code at the top. From there you will be taken to a State of Texas page displaying all of your representatives. Look for Texas State Representative and Texas State Senator. Once you have this information, you can return to the Texas Tribune Directory where you can find, among many other things, the home office locations of your Legislators.
- Locate Legislators' Offices: The office addresses of your Legislators will be in the right-side column of their Texas Tribune Directory listing. This column also includes their email address, Capitol office address and other contact information, as available.
- Get Comfortable with the Location: The most intimidating part of visiting an elected official is often the unknowns of the process, which is what this guide is for. Unless you visit your Legislators often, you probably have never been to their office, or even know where it is. We recommend looking up their office with the mapping service of your choice. For a bit of added comfort, we also recommend taking a look at the office with Google Street View so you will recognize the building you are looking for. Take this time to see what the parking situation is, as well. If there is not an obvious place to park, or if you have other questions about directions, feel free to call your Legislator's office and get directions.
- Make an Appointment: Texas Legislators are part time, which means they usually have another job besides their duties as a Legislator. In addition, they are often in Austin on official business, even during the off-season. Call your Legislator's home office to make an appointment. You may not be able to meet with your Legislators themselves, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Legislators have a team of assistants to help them in their duties. Legislators cannot be experts on all things at all times. Their assistants research topics, listen to their constituents and report their findings to the Legislator. Inform the office of the topic or topics you would like to discuss, as the assistants might specialize in certain topics.
- Get to Know your Legislator: Before you visit, make sure to get to know your Legislator a bit. The Texas Tribune and their Directory are good resources for this. You can look up news stories about your Legislator, as well as see what committees your Legislator sits on. Most Legislators have certain topics they specialize in. While you can, and should, talk to your legislator about any topic that is of concern to you, you need to understand that your legislator may not be very active with this topic. You may even be asked to contact allied Legislators that have more specialties in a certain topic if you want to get deep into a issue.
- Plan your Visit: In addition to all the other planning, have a plan of what you want to say. Keep it concise and just hit the high points of your topics. If you have relevant expertise connected to your issues, let your Legislator know this. If your Legislator has further questions, they will ask you. If you feel that you are not being listened to it is better to make multiple visits, showing your dedication on an issue, rather than rambling on, demanding attention on your first visit. The truth is that most Texans are represented by religious idealogs that have no patience for the secular perspective on topics. Of course, you will never be told this in person, but there is a good likelihood you will feel like you are being ignored. If you find this is the case, it is better to plan additional visits and to get your friends and colleagues to make visits as well. There is also the possibility that your Legislator may be very interested in what you have to say. Be prepared to back up your talking points with research. We recommend taking notes with you, which leads into our next point.
- Leave a Flyer: Lastly, after you have concisely made your points, leave a flyer with additional information and research, along with your contact information. Secular Texas provides many flyers for this purpose, or you can use the information we provide to make one of your own. If you are speaking with your legislator, this will give them a resource to hand off to an assistant for more research. If you are talking to an assistant, they will be able to show the flyer to your Legislator for their own research and use. If your Legislator sits on or even heads a committee that covers an issue you want to speak about, feel free to leave a bundle of research, as this will be even more useful for them.
Good luck with your visit! Let us know if you make a visit to your Legislator, what you talked about and how the visit went!