The Joys of Lobbying: A Student Narrative of Library Legislative Day
By Cadi Russell-Sauve
I learned something new on the SALA sponsored trip to Olympia for WLA’s Legislative Day on Friday, February 15. I learned how to talk to my representatives and senator about library issues. WLA was kind enough to provide the iSchoolers in attendance with wonderfully talented, knowledgeable, and fantastic mentors for the day. Half of us trailed Bill Ptacek, Director of the King County Library System, and the rest of us followed Mike Wirt, Director of the Spokane County Library.
After a continental breakfast and some inspirational and educational speeches about approaching lawmakers, we dashed off to the capitol to meet with Mike’s senator, Chris Marr. The Senate was in recess for lunch when we stopped by, but we peered from the gallery down into the pit where we keep our senators in comfy looking leather chairs and large cherry desks equipped with computers, phones, and lots of flowers (vestiges from Valentines’ Day, we assumed). We waited, and waited, and looked at picture of Senators past that flanked the hallway where the senator’s offices resided.
When Senator Marr appeared, Mike had about 3 and half minutes to give his spiel. The senate had already passed the bill on school library funding, which Mike thanked his senator for, so he focused on enlightening the Senator on the merits of the Talking Book and Braille Library, which also needs funding and support. The interview was short and sweet, and the Senator looked like he had about 10 million other things running through his head at the time. We left Marr with some information and brochures about library issues before we parted ways.
Next, our group dashed over to the House, which was in session. We spent a few minutes watching the chaos on the floor – they were voting on measures rather rapidly – which was very different from the Senate side. The chairs were less lush, the desks smaller and shared, and the noise level a lot higher. I was mesmerized. Multi-tasking was the norm: checking emails, chatting up neighboring representatives in last ditch attempts to change votes, and running back and forth across the floor. Mike finally pulled us away to go deliver informational packets to the representatives.
We walked out of the capitol to an adjacent building that contained the House members’ offices. Nothing like the high life of the senators! The offices were in a less than beautiful building and the offices were much more communal in feel. We gave the information to the secretaries since the reps were over in the capitol, chatted a bit, and then went back to the House.
Outside the door of the House, Mike wrote a brief note on a small piece of paper calling out one of his representatives, Joel Kretz, from the Pend Oreille area. A page took the note and disappeared behind the imposing doors. As we waited, Mike explained how it’s intimidating to call out your legislators the first time, but that a well-rehearsed elevator speech goes a long way. Our lawmakers want to hear from constituents, and coming to Olympia proves to them the issues at hand are important. And they are then more likely to vote for funding.
He also told us how to build relationships with lawmakers. After speaking with them, Mike sends out emails thanking them for their time and attention, thanking them when initiatives pass, and then thanking them again when they respond to his email. He’ll continue to email them throughout the year alerting them to library initiatives and legislation, and asking them to support the library system. This way, when he sends in the little slip of paper, the lawmaker will recognize the name and be a little more prompt in coming out to speak with him.
Soon enough, Kretz came out to speak to Mike. This interview was much shorter than that with Senator Marr. Mike thanked him for past support and asked him to approve the library measures coming before the House in the coming days and weeks. Kretz and Mike exchanged a couple of private words, away from the prying ears of us students, and then it was over. The entire interview didn’t last more than a minute.
We thanked Mike for allowing us to tag along all day and were then set free to either try talking to our lawmakers, or go eat cookies at the State Library Office. We opted for cookies. Before we left, we took a group photo on the steps of the Capitol, which was published in the latest volume of Alki, the Washington Library Association Journal (p. 23). Next year I will be confident enough, and informed enough, to talk to my lawmakers and urge them to support libraries.
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