Many people with disabilities and people working for disability-related organizations actively lobby their state legislators. Recently, I asked my own state representative, Tony Cornish, about ways peopleincluding people with disabilitiescan get their message across more effectively to legislators in order to benefit their particular causes.
‘First, I was a lobbyist for ten years before serving in the state legislature,’ said 57-year-old Cornish in a telephone interview. He was referring to his time as president of a state conservation officer’s union. So he has experience lobbying, too.
Here was his advice:
‘When I was lobbying, one legislator said if he had at least four signed, unique letters from different constituents on a particular issue, then that might be enough for him to change his mind,’ he said. ‘The worst way to lobby is to send a legislator a signed photocopied letter.’
Cornish said petitions usually don’t carry much weight with legislators unless they arrive hand-carried from the legislator’s district. As for email, he personally tends to pay more attention to email from people in his district than to bulk email with identical text from people outside the district.
‘And women tend to be better lobbyists because they often have more patience and are less pushy,’ he said. ‘Men tend to be more competitive and have the bad habit of talking over your last word. Some are just waiting to jump in to make their point and really aren’t listening.’
Other turn-offs for Cornish can include people dressed inappropriately and those having personal hygiene challenges.
‘Then there are people that come in and make demands,’ he said. ‘They don’t know the pressure cooker legislators are under. They don’t realize we’re getting similar (financial) requests from dozens of other people for increased funding.’
He said people that demandrather than askcan hurt their cause. People can also hurt their cause by lying to their legislator, not knowing their subject matter or abusing appointment time limits.
In the 1970s, Cornish’s brother Greg, now 59, became a wheelchair-using quadriplegic after acquiring a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident. Though a quadriplegic, Greg has some muscle function, can drive, and is an accomplished painter.
‘He has an amazingly good attitude,’ said Cornish. ‘It was tough for him at first, but he has adjusted, and is heavily involved in various programs for people with disabilities.’