Advocacy How To
 

Are you intimidated to talk to others about our cause? Do you feel you need more support and information?
Then this page is for you!

Why? Legislators and educators need your input! 

As a parent, you are the best advocate for your child.  Use your personal experiences when talking to others about Great Start.  Talk about the changes you would like to see happen and how you are a  part of the group that is making it happen. 

Below is a document to understanding the Michigan legislature.  Also included is how to talk to legislators. 

Using these tools, we can make a difference!


Understanding the Michigan Legislature
 
Purpose and Background of the Michigan Legislature
Like all States in the US, Michigan has a legislative structure that is responsible for creating and passing suitable laws and balancing the State’s annual budget. There are specific processes that are followed to ensure that each representative is an active participant in decision making, and the expectation is that elected officials will consult with their constituents in order to properly represent the state’s citizens as a whole. 
 
The House of Representatives and Senate
There are 148 members in the Michigan Legislature, consisting of 110 State Representatives and 38 Senators. Everyone who lives in Michigan is represented in Lansing by both a Senator and a State Representative. State Representatives serve 2 year terms, and may serve up to three terms (six years). Senators serve 4 year terms, and may serve no more than 2 terms (8 years) per our Constitution. In 2010, the State of Michigan will be holding elections for the Senate, the House of Representatives and for the Governor with the primary election taking place on August 3, 2010 and the final election on November 2, 2010.
 
Determining District Representation
Every ten years, the United States conducts a census, which is a formal count of the population throughout the country. The data that is collected in a census is used to determine each area’s representation at the State and National level, so that each district has as close to equal representation as possible.   Based on the 2000 census, each of the 110 State Representative districts in Michigan covers approximately 90,000 residents and each Senate district represents 262,000 residents. In addition, the number of Congressional and House of Representative members for the State of Michigan at the Federal level (in Washington, DC) are also determined by the census. This coming year, (beginning in February 2010) a census will be taken and our current numbers of representatives could change due to the number of people who have moved out of Michigan.
 
Contacting your Legislators
If you are interested in meeting with your Legislator, the best way to do so is to contact their office to make an appointment to meet them in your district. To find out how to contact them or to learn more information about your legislators, go to: www.michigan.gov or look in the front of your phone book under the Government Listings. You are also welcome meet your legislators in Lansing and to visit the Capitol where you can view the sessions of the House and Senate as they are taking place. The House sessions are normally held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 12:00 noon. Senate sessions normally begin at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. However, either house may designate a different hour for convening. For more specific information about meeting with your legislators, please refer to the handout entitled “Tips for Communicating with Legislators”.
 
Further Resources about Michigan Legislature
For a detailed guide that explains how the Michigan Legislature works and a full listing of the Legislators (including photos), request a copy of the “Citizen’s Guide to State Government” from your local legislative office or look on line at: www.michigan.gov.
 
 Content adapted from the Citizen’s Guide to State Government 2009-2010, Revised and Updated 2009, prepared by the Michigan Legislature www.legislature.mi.gov.
 

                                
Tips for communicating with Legislators
 
Meeting in Person
If you are interested in having a meeting with your legislator, the best times to find them in their office in Lansing are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which are the days that the House and Senate meet. Occasionally, legislators will be able to see you if you simply walk into their office, but it is more efficient to call ahead and make an appointment. If you live near their home town, it is often easier to meet with them there on Monday or Friday instead of traveling to Lansing.  If you are interested in speaking with your Senator, it is not uncommon for them to suggest that you meet with their field representative who aides them in their work. Quite often it is very productive to meet with these people, because the Senators count on them to help them make decisions – getting to know the field representative is always a good idea. 
 
When you contact your legislator (or their Aide who may schedule their appointments) let them know what you wish to discuss when you make your appointment so that they are given a chance to prepare for a productive conversation as well. You can locate all of your legislator’s contact information through a search at www.michigan.gov or look in the front of your telephone book under Government Listings.  
 
Before your meeting, take the time to read some available background material or have a conversation with an advocate (like a Parent Liaison in your county) that is knowledgeable about the issue which concerns you. You do not need to know everything - the primary goal of your visit is to express your concern or to educate your legislator about early childhood. Make notes about the points that you would like to get across to refer to so that you cover everything that you want to in your meeting. If you have first-hand or expert knowledge, share it with the legislator. Do not expect that they are an expert on everything! Bring a copy of any data that you present for them to refer back to later. If you understand the issues involved as a result of personal knowledge or research, you will be of great assistance to the legislator. Most legislators have busy schedules, so a well-prepared meeting that stays focused will be appreciated (and they will be more likely to meet with you again in the future).
 
It is easy to get frustrated if your legislator does not mirror your passion for early childhood or outright disagrees with something that you say. Remaining calm and respectful is imperative – remember that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar! If you disagree, keeping a calm, reasonable attitude and having a set of well-prepared reasons for your position may change their minds on the issue. It is generally advisable not to get into arguments which may trigger prejudices. Keep in mind that you may not have all the facts on an issue or financial decision. Let legislators explain their views—listen without interrupting—they often have input from many resources to which you may not have access, such as fiscal agencies, state departments, other groups with expertise on the issue, and legislation from other states. Take a few notes about their comments, noting any questions they have. Give the answers you know, and offer to get answers to the other questions, if possible. Understanding their views of the facts and where they come from will help your organization develop counterarguments.
 
Follow up your meeting with an email or note thanking them for their time and briefly touch on points that you discussed for emphasis.
 
Letter Writing and E-Mail
While meeting face to face with your legislator is highly effective, time constraints and personal comfort level may make a letter or email message a more effective means of communication. Refer to your Legislator’s web page at www.michigan.gov for their specific address or call the district office in your area to inquire about his or her preferred method for receiving communication from their constituents. 
 
The following are some suggestions to keep in mind when you communicate in writing with your Legislators:
 
1. Address your letter correctly, including the formal titles and prefixes used when addressing elected officials. Use your legislator’s full name and make sure that you have the correct spelling of their name.
 
 
For example:                        STATE SENATOR:                                STATE REPRESENTATIVE:
The Honorable (full name)                 The Honorable (full name)
State Senator                                       State Representative
State Capitol                                         State Capitol
P.O. Box 12345                                     P.O. Box 23456
Lansing, MI 48909-7536                     Lansing, MI 48909-7514   
 
Dear Senator (last name):                   Dear Representative (last name):
 
2. Always include your full name and address in your letter or email so that they can verify that you are a constituent in their district and they can easily reply to you.
 
3. Write a letter in your own words, not a form letter. Using a template is helpful, but adding your own thoughts or experiences gives your letter more credibility. Proof-read your letter or have someone else read it before you send it to make sure that your points are clear and direct. You want to ensure that your legislator understands the purpose of your letter and your desired outcome.
 
4. Keep it brief. A letter that stays around one page is easy to read and does not take a lot of time to read. With the volume of mail that Legislators receive, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to read your letter and identify the reason for your correspondence without losing their attention because it was too long.
 
5. Make it personal. Explain how funding cuts or program cuts are going to affect your family, community, profession or the future of children that you know. Letters that give personal stories about the impact of specific programs are what the Legislators remember and refer to when they are speaking to their colleagues and voting for or against budget cuts.
 
6.    Follow up! Pay attention to how your Legislator voted or acknowledge quotes in the newspaper that were supportive (or not supportive) to Early Childhood. Legislators like to be thanked, so remember to write when you are pleased as well as disappointed! It is important for them to know that you are monitoring how they vote and what they say publically.
 
 
Content adapted from the Citizen’s Guide to State Government 2009-2010, Revised and Updated 2009, prepared by the Michigan Legislature www.legislature.mi.gov.
 

Copyright 2013 Delta Schoolcraft Great Start Collaborative | info@great-start.org