In this final session of TNM’s Legislative Action Workshop, Claver Kamau-Imani joins the Texas State Representative for district 15, Steve Toth, to discuss “Getting Through: Effectively Engaging Your Elected Officials.”
Representative Steve Toth is a conservative activist/politician, once and current member of the Texas House. After an unsuccessful run for a U.S. House seat, Toth regained his old state House seat. Now that he’s back, he’s imparting a little wisdom on how to be effective when dealing with your state representative.
“Having been on both sides of the table I can tell what does work and what does not work. What does not work is being a jerk,” said Toth, relating how angry voters seem more interested in venting on social media than achieving real change. Any constituent should understand that Democrats are already there trying to rip their GOP representative “a new one,” and their own complaints are more likely to blend in with the “white-noise” than stand out. “It’s about [having] relationships and developing relationships… If you can’t talk nice, I block you… if you want to have a substantive discussion about the issues, then I’m all about it. And that’s how most people are.”
One of the things Toth covered was the concept of “earning the right to be heard.” If you want to win over your state rep, even if they’re a Democrat, don’t be adversarial, try to show them how your point of view will work for the politician. “Come to Austin and spend time with them in Austin, in their office, and be a pleasant person that they can develop a relationship with. And then start feeding them information.”
Another thing to keep in mind is don’t send the rep that you’re trying to influence a “36-page doctoral thesis.” They’re already up to their nose in that sort of thing, along with many bills that they already have to go through. “I’m going to have a hard time getting through the bill summary! So, if you want to reach these guys, send them executive summaries; learn how to write out an executive summary.”
Additionally, in the course of developing a relationship with a politician, while maintaining your bottom-line with respect, try to find areas of agreement. “Find something in what they’re saying,” said Toth, “that you can agree with, that you can start to agree with, that you can start to build a sense of mutual respect and appreciation for the issue… and build on it…”
One more important piece of wisdom for dealing with your representative that Toth related, “Feed them information in bites; don’t give them a smorgasbord… Coming into the state legislature has made me more liberty minded, it’s made me more conservative over the years because people took time to feed information to me. And, it’s changed my view on criminal justice, it’s changed my [views] on Texas sovereignty, it’s changed my [views] on what it truly means to be a limited government individual. It works, guys! It really does work.”
You can watch the entire session below.