Back to the Jan-Feb 2022 issue

How to Engage Legislators and Advocate for Your City

By Ted Bengtson

The work of the state Legislature can have a big impact on your city, so it’s important for you to communicate with your legislators and build relationships with them. Get in touch with your legislators and share your city needs before the 2022 session begins on Jan. 31. Also, be sure to stay informed on all things legislative with updates from the League of Minnesota Cities at www.lmc.org/legupdates.

When it comes to working with your legislators, just remember L.E.G.:A woman advocating about her city using a powerpoint presentation

  • Let them know who you are.
  • Explain the issue.
  • Give them updates.

Let them know who you are

Legislators, like mayors and council members, want to know who they serve and how to serve them.

As a city official, you are in the unique position of serving your community firsthand and being a part of it. You have a valuable perspective that legislators want to hear. That’s why it’s important to let your legislators know who you are and what you do, and establish yourself as a resource for understanding the needs and wants of constituents.

Before the session starts, send your legislators an email to introduce (or reintroduce) yourself and your city. Once you have made an introduction, you can also set a time to meet with your legislators and talk about the work you do and the issues your city is facing.

Explain the issue

Once your legislators know who you are, explain your issues. If your city has a specific issue that needs legislative attention, show your legislators what the problem or opportunity is in person, if possible.

For example, invite them for a tour of the wastewater treatment plant that’s in need of upgrades, or invite them to the council meeting where you approve the budget. If your legislators can’t see the problem in person, provide pictures or videos.

As you show the problem, tell stories that illustrate how the issue affects your residents. Legislators rely on stories to gain support from fellow lawmakers and convince them to meet the needs of Minnesota residents.

Once you have told the story, provide information. If your city is looking for a bonding project, provide the specifics on costs and other solutions you have explored — qualify and quantify the significance of the project. The same goes for street funding, housing, tax issues, and so on.

Also, have city experts available to answer legislators’ questions and testify on the city’s behalf. Make sure everyone in city hall understands the priorities of your city and is communicating the right information to your legislators. You can also pass a resolution to formally express your city’s needs. For sample resolutions, check out the League’s advocacy toolkits at www.lmc.org/advocacy.

Give them updates

Regular legislative sessions generally begin in January or February and run until late May, with special sessions often occurring in the summer and fall. Thousands of bills are introduced, and legislators’ attention is heavily divided.

It is important to continue to check in with your legislators and give them updates on the needs of your city. This will ensure they continue to consider your city’s needs as legislation advances, support measures that benefit your city, and oppose measures that don’t.

You can keep legislators updated by doing the following:

  • Check in every month. Share news about important events in your city, ask them about the status of a bill, or schedule a quick phone meeting to discuss a pressing issue. Be sure to ask your legislators the best way to keep in contact — phone, email, or remote/in-person meeting?
  • If your legislators have e-newsletters, be sure to read them and then send comments or questions to them about the information. They will appreciate the time you spent to thoughtfully consider their messages.
  • Invite your legislators to attend a council meeting in your city.

Each legislative session, many bills are introduced that impact cities. Be sure to encourage your legislators to contact you about any legislation that may impact your city.

The League is here to help

If you need help contacting legislators, setting up your city day at the Capitol, finding the status of a bill, or anything else related to the legislative session, contact any member of the League’s intergovernmental relations (IGR) staff. For contact information, visit www.lmc.org/igr-staff. Stay up to date on legislative news by subscribing to the League’s free Cities Bulletin e-newsletter at www.lmc.org/bulletin.

Ted Bengtson is IGR coordinator with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: tbengtson@lmc.org or (651) 281-1252.