One thing you need to remember is that most elected officials want to be re-elected. When they do not hear concerns from constituents, they understandably assume they are on the right track to re-election. But when you communicate another picture, it is possible that your influence can produce a different result, one you believe in and one that would help Kansas.
Here are some basics that, if followed, can also increase your chances for success. As important as anything is having your research done and making sure that you understand what it is you want to see happen and know the context of where the issue is at this point of the session. Medicaid expansion is an excellent example. It will take more than 21 votes in the Senate to get it out of committee and have it brought up on the floor. Do you know where your Senator stands on this issue?
One resource I would point to for learning more about the "nuts and bolts" of specific legislation in Kansas would be the State Library. They can be contacted by phone (through their toll-free legislative hot line, 1-800-432-3924, or via text message at 785-256-0733), email, or even a live chat with a librarian through their website. Reference and research librarians are available to answer questions on legislation, legislative procedure, state government, or policy issues, and your calls are confidential. It's a great way to learn more about the state of the issues that matter most to you.
Just as important as research is showing the elected official respect, even when you have very strong differences. After all, they were elected by your fellow citizens and are much more likely to listen if you respect them for performing public service. That doesn’t mean you share compliments that you really don’t believe. Almost all elected officials understand that many of their constituents differ with them and often strongly. But giving them their due, just might make a difference.
How you carry out this task can be done in a variety of ways. Direct conversation, scheduled or at a public meeting, is probably most effective. You know then that at least your message was heard. Most legislators have opportunities coming up, it will likely take a bit of research on your part to see when public meetings may be scheduled in your area or look up contact information to reach out to them directly and set one up.
But in person meetings may not always be possible, so a well-written letter, email, or leaving a voice message can be worth the effort. And it's very hard to ignore a strong personal story, supported by facts, with a direct call to action. What is usually least effective is signatures on a petition, unless the appeal has accepted credibility and numbers that simply blow one away. But often it takes a more sustained engagement over time to truly demonstrate strong support, the kind that could impact future elections.
Keep in mind that any elected official that is seldom-if-ever challenged with a differing opinion is one who not only will maintain his or her position but will likely run again and most often be re-elected. Potentially, a very valuable result of openly sharing your concerns could be to motivate yourself or a fellow citizen to seek public office. We need more citizens to run for office—more competition and a wider diversity of experience around the table can bring better ideas and results.