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Legislators - Who are They?

Contrary to popular perception, legislators do not make a lot of money (as legislators at least) and do not have legions of staff at their disposal. The base salary is $28,000 a year. By and large, they are committed public servants who make significant personal and financial sacrifices with long hours, hard work, and lots of angry feedback. Most legislators spend far more in the course of representing their district and running for office than they ever make as legislators. It's not as glamorous as it looks.

No man undertakes a trade he has not learned... yet everyone thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades, that of government.

-- Socrates

  • Theoretically, the job is part time. But most spend at least 40 hours a week on the work -- between late hours at the Capitol, meetings with staff, colleagues and constituents, running for office, travel, paperwork, and other duties.
  • The most important thing for advocates to remember about legislators is that they work for their voters. You are unlikely to receive support if you ask a legislator to vote against the interests of a major employer or institution in their district. They don't get re-elected for their policy expertise but by their constituents; their job is to represent those concerns.
  • They represent a broad range of interests, backgrounds, experiences, biases, and networks. They are as varied as Connecticut is.
  • Legislators are, by and large, a friendly and gregarious group of people (it helps in getting elected). They welcome input from advocates. Some will seek you out for information. I've spoken to many potential advocates who are intimidated about approaching a legislator. There is no reason to be anxious.
  • Do not make assumptions about legislators and their views. Some of the best child advocates in the legislature do not have children. Some Democrats are far more conservative than some Republicans. You never know.
  • They are not experts on every policy area the legislature considers. No one could be.
  • According to our surveys of policymakers, legislators rely most heavily on state agencies, legislative staff, advocacy organizations, provider groups, community groups, journals and publications, and the media for information about health policy, in that order.
  • They trust legislative staff, consultants, state agencies, journals and publications, national policy organizations, advocacy organizations, and academic sources, in that order. They do not trust the media.

Overall, legislators are just like us - all of us. As a group, they are approachable and genuinely appreciate input from advocates. They would much rather get a friendly call before a vote than an angry one afterwards.

RELATED ARTICLES

In Separated by Velvet Ropes published 5/25/03 in the Hartford Courant's Northeast magazine, Kevin Rennie describes the culture and frenzy at the end of the legislative session. A former Senator, his description is vivid and accurate.

Navigating the Legislative Process

How to work with campaigns

Administrative Advocacy

Rules and customs for navigating within the Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol

Directions to the Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol

Calling a Policymaker

Writing to Policymakers

Visiting with a Policymaker

The Importance of Legislative Staff

The Proper Care and Feeding of a Champion

Tips No Advocate should forget

How to testify at a Public Hearing

Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor

Classic Advocate Mistakes

Connecticut's Budget Process

Effective Communications

If you only have 5 minutes to make a difference

How a Bill Becomes a Law

How to work with a lobbyist

How to Create Fact Sheets and Action Alerts

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