Cover Story
Reaching out to lawmakers
Tips from an insider

By Ryan S. Bowley, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs

We at OOIDA talk about the importance of contacting lawmakers on issues of importance to truckers. From emails, phone calls, Facebook posts, and even a hand-written letter, there are lots of ways to reach out – but how can you make sure your concerns are heard by the right people?

During my more than seven years on Capitol Hill, I learned quickly that truckers aren’t shy about sharing their views. Having been the staffer responsible for all constituent communications and then a chief legislative adviser, there are some tips that can improve your ability to get your message heard.

First, it’s important to realize how many other folks are contacting Washington. Most congressional offices are seeing 200 to 1,000 percent more communications from constituents than they were 10 years ago. Offices get thousands of contacts a day – everything from automatic form emails to phone calls (including some from folks concerned about space aliens). Breaking through is the biggest challenge.

So what can you do? I think the most important tip is finding the right time to call. Unless it is directly in response to an OOIDA Call to Action, try to call on a Friday afternoon. Why? Generally, members of Congress are gone for the week, so you will have a better chance of talking to the right staffers because they won’t be in meetings or hearings with their boss.

And who should you talk to? Here you can use some Capitol Hill lingo and not get stuck talking to the intern answering the phone. Ask to speak to the Legislative Assistant or “LA” for transportation issues (make sure to take down the name). You should say that you are a constituent and a small-business trucker, and that you wanted a few minutes of their time to talk about how trucking issues affect your business.

It is important to recognize that this staffer doesn’t handle just transportation issues. When I was on the Hill, for example, I handled transportation, environment, education, tax, health care, telecommunications and judiciary issues. Other than some exceptions in the Senate, every transportation “LA” is also going to be the “LA” for a bunch of other issues – many of which may be getting more of their attention than transportation.

Because this staffer may be overly burdened and may not have a great deal of background in transportation, the first time you call you should focus on telling him or her about your background. Say that you know there are a lot of trucking issues going on right now (hours of service, the highway bill, detention time, etc.) and that, as a trucker and as a constituent, you wanted to reach out and offer to be a resource for the office.

Talk about the fact that you are an OOIDA member and try to get into a conversation about your business. Always give your contact information and let staffers know they can reach out with any questions they or their boss may have.

Also let them know that you will reach out to them on issues. And when you do call or email back, focus on one issue and talk about how it specifically affects your business. Real-world examples, not just complaints, are what matter.

The idea is to become the constituent resource for the office on trucking issues. The staffers’ goal is to provide the best information to their bosses about issues they may have to take a position on. It is one thing to get information from someone in Washington, but it is especially powerful to hear it directly from a constituent.

By taking this approach and building a relationship with the staffer, your credibility goes up, as do the chances that truckers’ concerns will be heard by the office. There is a lot of competition for the attention of Congress these days, yet with a little savvy truckers can make their views known loud and clear. LL