The Texas Legislature is a curious creature for a variety of reasons: It has a regularly scheduled session just once every two years. And when legislators do convene, it’s only for 140 days. And then there’s this: They aren’t allowed to pass a piece of legislation during the first 60 days of the session unless it is an emergency item of the Governor!
That leaves a mere 80 days out of two years (730 days!) that the Texas Legislature has the opportunity to pass non-emergency bills on the Chamber floor.
If you have any hope of your issue capturing attention at the Texas Legislature, the window is exceedingly narrow. But with proper preparation and a partner who understands the intricacies of the peculiar Texas political calendar, you can give your initiative a fighting chance.
Let’s look at how you can avoid making mistakes in planning your Texas Legislative Session communications and some steps you can take to increase your chance of success. The clock is already ticking: The next session begins Jan. 10, 2023.
Work Smarter and Earlier to Make Inroads in Texas Legislature
Let’s be perfectly clear: we aren’t lobbyists at The Monument Group. That’s a totally different ballgame.
But we work with you and your lobby team to make their activities as effective as possible. The goal is to give your initiative a higher profile by putting actionable context around it, both for policymakers and their constituents. This is commonly referred to as providing “surround sound.”
When a lobbyist approaches a policy maker or legislative staff, the job is far easier when it’s not their first exposure to an issue. If they’ve seen, read or heard about the issue before, especially in their district, the lobbyist’s efforts to educate them will have an important head start. The more obscure an issue seems, the less chance it will be prioritized. You’re competing against LOTS of other issues and legislation, and only the most important and timely will earn their attention.
Veterans of the legislature will tell you the system is designed to make it nearly impossible to get anything done.
This means you cannot start from a dead stop and expect results. Drafting a quick communications strategy in the weeks before the session begins won’t put a lot of punch behind your lobbying efforts.
You need to be formulating a comprehensive plan months — or even years — ahead of time to truly capitalize on your investment in the Capitol.
That’s why it’s even more critical to have a partner who knows how important advanced planning and strategic communications are to gaining any traction within the red granite walls of the Texas Capitol.
Your Issue Should Resonate With People First, Politicians Second
Politicians who make decisions without considering the opinions of their constituents aren’t bound to stay in office for long. If you can put your issue in front of voters ahead of the next legislative session, they will begin to understand its relevance, form opinions and take positions.
And if your message gains enough support, those voters’ positions start showing up in polling data and outreach to their state senators and house members.
Success in the Texas Legislature is about building momentum for your initiative early and cultivating familiarity among voters along the way. When the session finally begins, you have already distributed information, defined the issues, driven the conversation and given lawmakers some exposure to its importance. This makes it far more difficult for them to ignore and exposes the political risk of not addressing it.
Do they understand where their constituents stand? Do they know the key players? Are they familiar with the impacts of your issue? Do they understand how the issue aligns with their own positions and promises? Can they speak to their fellow legislators with some level of intelligence and competence?
Policy is never deliberated or decided in a vacuum. Policymakers always have constituencies to consider. A communications plan that targets and persuades those constituents paves the way to getting your issue heard in the Texas Capitol.
A Communications Plan Helps Lawmakers Connect the Dots
Elected officials represent the interests of their constituents. And if there is not a relevant connection between your issue and the people they represent, it will not be a priority.
At the same time, your communications plan should make it clear to lawmakers that there is a political risk to them if they ignore your issue. They need to know that there are enough of their constituents who care enough about this that — if they go in one direction or another — it’s going to attract attention.
They’re making a political calculation. You’re just helping them do the math. That means defining your story, crafting your message, and making sure that it’s in front of them and that they’re aware of it.
Give them the ammunition they need to explain and defend their position. They’ve got a LOT of issues to consider, so yours must be easy to understand and succinct. Your messages and materials must get to the heart of the matter quickly, and the high points should fit on a single page. Long-winded explanations make for long odds that a legislator will engage.
Make Your Issue Stand Out in the Texas Legislature
The number of distractions and sideshows that occur during the legislative session is mind-boggling.
Every corporation and non-profit organization throws a party or hosts a special day, luring lawmakers with cheery photo opps and tempting treats. Constituents stream into their elected officials office daily: county days, city days, school visits, lunches – you name it, they’re coming. As soon as one ends, another begins.
But as we are fond of saying, you should make friends before you need them when doing business in Texas. Tapping into your networks, generating local media and building coalitions lets you connect your issue to what’s happening back in a lawmaker’s home district.
Demonstrating local relevance is critical. The clearer your messages are, the better they will be understood and appreciated by lawmakers. And it has to happen well before they’re scarfing down a sleeve of Thin Mints on Girl Scout Day at the Capitol or the Sweetwater Jaycees roundup rattlesnakes in the Capitol Extension.
If you’re trying to explain your issue when they’re in session and that’s their first exposure to it, chances are you’ve already lost them.
Competition at the Texas Capitol is Fierce, So Get a Head Start
Whether you’re pushing legislation or preventing it from being passed, you are competing to be more persuasive. There are countless companies and causes competing for attention from lawmakers, but few of them make a strong connection between their issue and the public. Keep in mind a Texas Senator represents more people than most U.S. Congressmen.
Making use of all the tools available – media outreach, ally development, coalition building and grassroots mobilization — can increase your chance of success in the next legislative session.
If you’d like to discuss your legislative agenda and hear The Monument Group’s ideas for elevating your issue in the Pink Dome, let’s talk.