General Assembly Journal 2004, Vol. 7
February 17, 2004
I've spent so much time the last two weeks reading email from around Maryland that I thought I'd talk about legislative advocacy both in person and long distance.
You heard about the Thornton rally—six thousand people converging on the Capitol, carrying placards, flashlights, and full of energy.
The reality was almost as compelling. I can't possibly verify the crowd estimates, but there were a BUNCH of protestors. Sitting in my office, looking westward down Rowe Boulevard, you could see four TV news helicopters hovering over the Naval Academy football stadium.
At the start of the rally, these choppers started drifting down Rowe, leading the marchers. The rally was allowed to march from the Stadium to Lawyers Mall, using the eastbound lanes of Rowe Boulevard. It could easily have been 6,000, possibly more.
The next morning news accounts focused on the rally participants, their speeches, and the sheer volume of the participation.
Since then, we've started to hear about rally participants who were bullied or harassed because they didn't accept all of the arguments offered by rally organizers. You've also heard about PG County giving students and teachers part of a school day off to encourage rally attendance, and Montgomery County offering student community volunteerism credits for participating in the rally.
Back to my point about effective advocacy. Thousands came to Annapolis. They were scripted, practiced, and not so spontaneous. Nonetheless, the sheer number of participants required the attention of the major media. The real question is how much attention did the rally garner with delegates and senators.
On the Friday preceding the rally, we were advised by the state troopers to use the underground tunnel to travel to the State House. Using the tunnel, as I described last year, allows a member of the General Assembly to get from his or her office to the Capitol building without ever interacting with someone outside.
I'm not a big one for avoiding a confrontation, so I chose the outside route. It took me a long time to get from the House Office Building to the Capitol. That delay allowed me to hear two of the rally speakers exhorting the crowd to consider a recount of the votes in the last gubernatorial race. I didn't see any Frederick County folks, but there were so many people, its no wonder!
As an interesting aside, the next day a lobbyist for the Maryland State Teachers Association couldn't understand why the Governor's office was upset by the rally. Guess they missed the recount speech!
So the methods of communicating with your General Assembly representatives are as varied as the opinions we all have on the issues that affect us. You can gather thousands, rent buses, purchase boxed dinners, and converge on Annapolis. Chances are, you won't get to see your representatives, 'cause they'll be walking through the tunnel to avoid you.
You can flood our offices with faxes, as was done by the animal rights crowd recently. Problem with that is that most fax machines got clogged or ran out of toner (some even got unplugged), so that entire "issue advocacy" effort was lost on the intended targets.
Another option is the big wheel lobbyist approach. Rent a nice restaurant, send out an invitation to the whole General Assembly (or at least a full committee), pay for a nice dinner, and then you can advocate until dessert comes. Sort of like the old Florida land deal thing, bring 'em in, feed 'em, and trap 'em for the sales pitch.
One big problem here, though. While many of my colleagues appear to have big appetites, they also have no problem eating your food, drinking your booze, then voting against your bill! Talk about bad investments. Imagine spending several hundred dollars to wine and dine a Committee only to have them turn on you. If you want to know what that feels like, just ask Bill Jews of CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield about last year!
So save your fax/phone bill and save your money on lavish dinners. Your best bet to communicate directly with your legislators is to send an email. I receive 30-40 a day, and I answer every single one from back home. I'll admit that I show favoritism to email from District 3B, but everyone gets an answer.
Keep it as short as you can, but make sure you make it personal. We receive a lot of mail that just gets forwarded from some lobbying interest. Making it a personal contact with your legislator is powerful tool to both get their attention and possibly their vote!
Here are the links to email your legislators: