When I first started The Advocates Corner, I spent a lot of time talking about building or strengthening your relationship with lawmakers. Why? Because it is at the very heart of being a successful advocate.
And when we started a dialogue about bridging the gap between state and local government, that relationship status is once again at the very heart of the conversation.
So this week, I’m going to share the advice of state and local leaders in Florida. During our recent interviews, we posed the question about building/strengthening and/or rebuilding a damaged relationship during the summer. Below are their comments:
“The best opportunities I’ve ever had for building relationships is joining organizations such as Tiger Bay. I belong to that for one reason…I can see a lot of local and state lawmakers every month. You can have lunch with these individuals and really build that relationship. During an election year, always attend local Hob Knobs, go to the debates and let them know you’re watching. There’s so many opportunities to see your fellow elected officials, so take advantage of these opportunities. It’s really important to attend these events, so when someone says, “Wow! I see you everywhere”, that’s good! They know you’re everywhere! And never give up the opportunity to speak at local civic meetings. Anytime you can share information, educate residents or interact with lawmakers…you need to do so.” – Mayor Gary Bruhn, Town of Windermere, Florida
(Mayor Bruhn is also the President of the Florida League of Mayors, Orange County Council of Mayors and multiple-year recipient of the Florida League of Cities Home Rule Hero Award. He’s recognized as one of the leading advocates for cities in Florida).
“There’s no reason to make an enemy with anyone in the process. And even though you may not have agreed with somebody or supported them in a campaign, they still represent you. We’re all human and we all make mistakes, so give them the respect and benefit of the doubt. Strive to work together, building towards the future. The result will be a long-term positive relationship which ultimately benefits the people you serve.” – Representative Bobby Olszewski, Florida House of Representatives, District 44
(Representative Olszewski is a former Commissioner in the City of Winter Garden, Florida and a 2018 recipient of the Florida League of Cities Legislative Appreciation Award).
“Put yourself in my shoes. Think about what you would do if you were me. Think about what we have to go through and some of the unpopular votes we may have to make. We’re not voting a certain way to hurt anybody, but at the end of the day we have to decide if it’s the right thing to do. And while you might not agree with the vote, understand we’re doing what we believe is the best thing for the people we serve. And the good thing is we can always come back and fix it next year if needed.
The key is to communicate and do so in a cordial, cooperative manner. If you’re antagonistic, you’re going to put me on the defensive, which is NEVER going to benefit anyone. I always have an open door policy and I’m always willing to talk with people about how legislation will affect them, and see if we can work something out.
Direct interaction with your officials is the most effective and meaningful way to communicate and build that relationship. Call me for coffee, or invite me to a meeting to talk about your concerns. I don’t think there is a single legislator in Florida that would say, “no” to that invitation.” – Representative Bob Cortes, Florida House of Representatives District 30.
(Representative Cortes is a former Commissioner and Mayor in the City of Longwood and a small business owner.)
Understanding what lawmakers believe are the key to strong relationships puts you on the right path towards successful advocacy! So we would like to thank Mayor Bruhn, Representative Olszewski and Representative Cortes for participating in our interview series. I look forward to sharing more of their advice throughout the summer.
Your Partner in Advocacy…Kathy