Before you know it, it will be time for another session of the Arkansas General Assembly. We don't even know who all will constitute the legislature but already the incumbents are gathering, the lobbyists are a calling, and the grassroots organizations are watering their political lawns. Recently I attended a meeting in which I learned a little about the ins and outs of trying to get a bill made into a law, how to testify in support of your bill, and the best ways to get your voice heard. One of the speakers, a former lobbyist himself, said it revolved around four letter words: GOLF, FOOD, BEER. He had some other great advice as to how things really get done at the capitol. Come early, stay late. Not much really gets decided on the floor of the house and senate – most happens in committee rooms and even more before the session even begins. Now is the time to approach your local Senator, your local representative ( if you know who they will be ) and tell them what you think is important. Do you want to see you local police acting as a Immigration officer and arresting suspected undocumented workers? Tell them that. Email them – they write back – I promise they always have for me. I'm not sure if this is true as much anymore but a handwritten or very personal letter is more effective than a cut and paste job any day. Even more effective – call your representative. I guarantee on most issues that don't involve their committee, they haven't heard of most bills and are open minded still. It always helps to have a house or senate bill number but most issues aren't that far along yet. Some things change but this will always remain true: legislators listen to constituents who can vote them out of office.
There is no doubt that lobbyists and special interests are more easily heard – but don't forget there are often lobbyists on both sides of an issues. There are groups on both sides of an issue and many issues aren't just for or against – multiple groups want diametrically opposed results at times, other times their interests coincide. It is true that money and campaign donations get some people noticed more easily than others – but with 135 legislators, even the hardest working lobbyists can't meet every single member of the General Assembly for very long -
I'm going to throw out some issues I see being debated. These are issues that will be sure to come up and get some attention. Of course school consolidation and the rights of rural school children will be made an issue. The gay foster parent / adoptive parent debate is not over – it was just a agency policy that was overturned – there will probably be multiple bills addressing this issue. From the last gubernatorial debate its pretty clear that the sales tax on food will be an issue. What about this for a smaller issue – declaring that child neglect includes smoking in your car with the windows rolled up? What about smoking in the house. ? What do you think will be the top five issues?
Many of these issues will eventually gain media attention -but now is the time to try to pin down legislators on their opinions on these issues – to draw them into your camp and with the help of others in your community show how you are not the only one who feels the way you do.
When its gets closer to election time – I'll do an extensive blog about how to find a bill you are interested in, how to find who is the sponsor, which committee it has been assigned to, and check the status. Whenever possible, I'd like to discuss issues by bill number so we can discuss what is actually being considered and not just what the supporters or detractors of a certain bill think it means.
On a different note I spent three hours today going door to door campaigning for a candidate in a local race. That is hard work and although it was a nice day to be outside, I was completely worn out at the end. I've worked on many campaigns though – and one thing I've learned is going door-to-door is the way to win. In smaller races many times people don't know much about the candidates or issues but they know a candidate or volunteer took the time to come to their home and ask for their vote – and for more than a small amount of people, that is enough to win their favor at the ballot box.