It occurred to me recently that meeting your legislator isn’t much different than a first date. You aren’t getting married … you’re just checking the chemistry, looking for red flags, finding out what makes him/her tick, deciding if there should be a second date. It’s not a life and death event and the world won’t stop turning if it doesn’t go well. So, would you consider a date with your legislator?
Step One: Check out the profile. We’re all familiar with online profiles. Even if you don’t have Facebook, chances are you at least have a LinkedIn profile and a bio on your company website. It provides a little window into who you are and what you do. And gives others an opportunity to stalk you without having to know you yet, which means you can use profiles to stalk others. And of course, don’t forget to Google them.
Legislators have a profile on the General Assembly’s website and they usually have an email newsletter I’d suggest you sign up for. (I know, another email! Who needs that? You can always delete or unsubscribe). These little updates provide valuable nuggets about your legislator’s interests and position on issues. Nuggets that can serve as conversation starters if you get brave enough to have your first date.
Step Two. Introduce yourself. When we ask you to introduce yourself to your state representative and senator, start by simply putting out a feeler. Drop him or her an email and say “Hello, my name is …”
If you are so inclined, you might include a couple of facts about yourself. For example, “I’m a CPA in your district, own a small firm, employ 10, two are CPAs. My practice specializes in small business start-ups, representing 15 local business entrepreneurs and employers, etc.”
Step Three. Set up a date. No not dinner and a movie. It can (and should be) a 15-minute coffee conversation. Either a face-to-face meeting at their office in the State House during session, or at the coffee shop on Main when not in session. Or, a phone call you set up with the simple goal of introducing yourself and saying, “I speak accountancy, the language of business. I’m happy to share my accounting and business expertise with you at any time. For example, if you are considering a tax bill that may affect small businesses disproportionately, I could provide background and outline pros and cons to help you weigh the issue.”
Step Four. Call your friends. If you need a little moral support, you can always use a life line by calling the Society to discuss the upcoming date, get information on bills important to the profession or timely issues to discuss.
Step Five. Follow dating etiquette. Let’s assume you had your date. Whether you liked him/her, disagreed with their position (remember opposites attract), or thought it was the best date ever, be sure to thank your legislator for his/her time, both in person and by email (or sometimes even an old school thank you note works best), Be sure to include your contact information. There may never be a second date, but you know you put your best foot forward, left the door open and could at least get his/her attention again if you called.
Step Six. Are there really rules? Yes, there are, but they’re relatively simple. Act like your mother’s watching. Avoid talking about partisan positions or supporting him/her with contributions or PAC money, keep the conversation civil, and don’t talk with your mouth full (or in this case, don’t use acronyms and jargon the legislator may not recognize). Many people have to be reminded what CPA stands for!
And finally, keep these points in mind. Like any first date, let them do the talking. Keep it short. End early. Don’t go crazy even if you are the most interesting person in the world, and don’t tell your whole life story. And most importantly, always leave them wanting more.