In 1982 I was going door to door, asking for votes for my state senate campaign. A guy asked me how I felt about capital punishment, and I said I was for it. Then he asked, “What are you going to do about it?”
I promised to introduce a bill, which I did at the beginning of the 1983 session. It had quite an impact. Alaska’s leading paper at the time, the conservative Anchorage Times, put out a banner headline on page one, publicizing the bill. There was a groundswell of support from across the state. Polls showed it had the support of 60% of the voters
This was the first capital punishment bill since statehood, in 1959. High profile hearings were held, not just in Juneau, but in Anchorage, in the chambers of the Alaska Supreme Court. People on both sides of the issue felt very strongly about it.
The bill never went anywhere, which is what I knew would happen. And some of my new colleagues were upset with me. They didn’t like being forced to take a stand on such a controversial issue, and accused me of showboating.
I explained why I did it. A voter asked me how I felt, and then challenged me to do something about it. It was that simple.
If you want to influence a state legislator, don’t show up at the capital to lobby them once the session starts. Instead, get voters in their district to ask them about your issue when they’re campaigning. Right now there are thousands and thousands of legislative candidates running all across the country, and they’re eager to please their voters. If a voter asks a candidate to support a certain piece of legislation, now is the time to do it, while they’re seeking votes, not after they’ve been elected.
The ideal voter you want for your cause is a supervoter, who votes in every primary, general and local election, going back multiple elections. The longer they’ve voted, the older they are. The older they are the more likely they follow local elections and state legislative districts, and quite possibly be personally acquainted with a candidate.
In many states, with small populations, legislative races are won with a few thousand votes. Every vote counts, and legislative candidates are eager to please. If you can get two or three voters to contact a candidate, and urge him to commit to voting for a piece of legislation, you will probably get a commitment.
This is all relatively easy to do, with volunteers, using inexpensive and the readily available phone numbers of the desired supervoters in key districts.
It’s Politics 101.