The Illinois General Assembly will be back in session Oct. 22-24 and again in November. When was the last time your contacted your legislator to let him or her know how you feel about legislation affecting your or your community? It is not necessary to go to the state Capitol in Springfield while the General Assembly is in session to get your message across. Legislators also have offices in their home districts. They welcome communication from their constituents at either location. You may contact them in writing by sending an email or letter, or verbally by scheduling an office visit or making a phone call.
If you do not know what district you are in, go to:
www.elections.il.gov and click on the box near the bottom of the page that says "District/Official Search." When you type in your address, you'll find contact information for state and federal elected officials.
Tips for communicating with your legislators
The same principles apply no matter how you contact your government official:
• Identify yourself and give your home address when calling and writing.
• Describe the issue or bill that concerns you.
• Refer to the exact bill number if possible. Go to www.ilga.gov.
• Tell the legislator what action you would like taken.
• Mention any relevant credentials or background you have.
• State key reasons for your views and be brief, clear and concise.
• Make it personal; explain how you, your family or community will be affected.
• Stick to the facts; don't stretch the truth.
• Limit each communication to one issue or bill so you have more impact.
• Be courteous and respectful; keep the door open for future communication.
• Listen to the office holder's views and stay open to compromise. The issue may not be as clear cut as you believe, and some progress toward your goal can be better than none.
• Ask for a reply.
• Be patient but persistent. Don't expect an immediate commitment, but follow up after your initial contact.
• Send a thank-you or follow-up letter when appropriate.
• Know the rules: Never promise campaign contributions or give gifts to officials.
More suggestions for successful calls or visits:
• Legislators are often in their home offices on Mondays and Fridays during session.
• If they are not available, ask to speak to their legislative aide. Leave your name, address and message with that aide.
• Make an appointment or ask for a return call if you wish to have a direct discussion.
• Have your talking points ready and focus on the issue.
• Cultivate cordial relationships with the staff as well as with the legislator.
• Missey Wilhelm is president of the League of Women Voters of Wheaton.