Election Wrap-Up: The Votes Are All In … Now Your Job Begins!

2020-12-09 | AKC Government Relations Department

Now is one of the most important times of the year for you as responsible dog owners, breeders, and exhibitors to reach out to newly elected and reelected federal, state and local lawmakers.  The election campaigns have concluded and the preparations for the upcoming legislative sessions are underway. Many new lawmakers –and even returning lawmakers—likely  know little about canine legislation or policy.  More importantly, it’s likely they know even less about how passionate you are about such issues.

Most state legislatures will be reconvening in January and have already started the process of pre-filling bills and finding cosponsors for those bills.  As such, now is the time for you as a member of a local club or state federation, or as a responsible breeder and dog owner to take the next several weeks to educate your lawmaker about the importance of promoting and protecting responsible dog ownership and how important it is to you and many of their constituents.

Given the current pandemic, public in-person access to legislative hearings, local council and commissioners meetings, and voting sessions will likely continue to be limited.  To overcome these obstacles, developing a relationship with your elect official now will make it easier for you to communicate with them later.  

There are many simple and effective actions you can take now and over the next weeks and months that will help you in make a big difference for dog owners in your state and assist you in developing a positive relationship with your elected official(s).

  • Send a congratulatory/introductory letter – Before the next session begins, take the time to send notes to those who won the election and will represent you in the coming term (including, if applicable, members of congress, governor, state legislators, county commissioner, mayor, city council, or township supervisor/commissioner).  Along with your expression of congratulations, let the elected official know you are one of their many constituents who is a responsible dog owner/breeder/dog club or member, etc.  Offer to serve as a resource to them on dog issues.  If your club or federation has a well-designed website, an email with links to your website may prove very informative, helpful, and appreciated.

    To assist you, you can view a sample introduction letter from you and for your club in the AKC Legislative Action Center (www.akcgr.org).  A handwritten note is always appropriate and allows for an extra touch of personalization. In a time when many communications are electronic, handwritten/mailed notes do stand out.  

  • Request a meeting – Reaching out to your elected official early in the session for a brief introductory meeting may make it easier to meet with them later.  It could also result in being contacted by them later as legislation moves, or hearings are scheduled.  Even if the legislator has a track record of supporting anti-dog owner legislation, it is important to reach out to them and present the other side of the issue in a friendly, non-confrontational manner.

    The initial meeting should be brief with the goal of introducing yourself and/or your club.  Given the current pandemic, the meeting may need to be by telephone, or you may be able to use Zoom or a similar virtual meeting program. If you can, include a couple of your fellow dog enthusiasts in the meeting. This underscores that you represent multiple constituents.  

    During the meeting, be sure to make them aware of the positive things your club is doing in the community.  While more difficult to do without an in person meeting, you could also share some of the information from the AKC Government Relations Toolbox like the economic impact of purebred dog ownership in your state.  The inability to meet in person can be turned into a positive by providing hard copies of the information you shared over the phone or virtually in a follow up thank you note, letter, or email. 

    Remember these introduction opportunities should be brief, friendly and informational – help them get to know you, your club, and why canine legislation matters to you.
  • Be a resource for canine legislation information – While you do not want to overwhelm the elected official in your initial contact, you do want to provide them with a brief introduction to responsible dog ownership issues.  By doing so, you will establish yourself as a knowledgeable source when legislation is introduced. This credibility will make it easier for you to reach out and have more specific and in-depth discussions on dog-related legislation when it arises.  Handled correctly, the relationship you build with your elected official could also open the door for you to testify at hearings on dog legislation.  It could also help you work with your elected official in addressing problematic legislation in hopes of either improving it or defeating it completely.

    Check out the AKC Legislative Action Center (www.akcgr.org) for resources to help you educate lawmakers.  In particular, the “Key Issues” tab includes printable documents designed to provide talking points and information on a broad variety of topics.
  • Invite lawmakers to shows/field trials, kennels, and meetings – In addition to sending a congratulatory/introductory note, consider inviting lawmakers to one of your local dog shows, competitions, or field trials, depending on gathering restrictions in your area.  This is a great way to provide lawmakers with a first-hand look at the world of dog shows and responsible dog ownership. If you own and operate kennels, invite them to your facility so they can actually see what responsible breeders really do, rather than letting them rely on the misinformation about breeders that is constantly fed to them by uninformed or deceitful sources. 

    We recognize that face-to-face meetings will likely not be possible early in the year due to pandemic restrictions in many communities. However, we encourage you to at least provide the lawmakers with information. Like the rest of us, lawmakers too are facing unprecedented informational and outreach challenges. This will make your outreach efforts all the more appreciated.  Let them know about the history of your show, number of attendees, and how long it’s been held in the community.  With your kennel, let them know how long you’ve been breeding dogs and the steps you take to ensure your dogs get the care they need. 

Finally, consider inviting your lawmaker to one of your club or federation meetings.Given the current circumstances and the need to find alternatives to in person meetings, it may actually be easier for a lawmaker to attend because the limited time commitment involved – especially if your meetings are virtual.

  • Don’t overlook the staff – Given the time demands placed on lawmakers, they depend on their staff for assistance and input on a number of matters.  This could include who gets a meeting with the lawmaker, speaks on the telephone with the lawmaker, exchanges emails with the lawmaker, or in some cases whose information gets in front of the lawmaker.  When making your contact, always be sure to treat the staff with the utmost respect.  If offered the opportunity to speak with staff instead of the lawmaker, take it and let them know how thankful you are for their time.  You can provide them with the same information you planned to share with their boss. If you develop a good relationship with them, it will give you a key contact with the legislator, making it easier to share information and have future communications with the office.    
  • Follow up is crucial – Once session begins, one of the most important things you can do is follow up with the lawmakers you have contacted.  A pending legislative issue should not be the driving force of follow up.  Remember, you are trying to establish a positive relationship with the lawmaker, so reach out to them when your club plans to hold a community event or is planning to or seeking to do something that benefits the community (such as donations for a police K-9 or other notable activity).  Make them aware of it and, if appropriate, ask them to participate. 

    Avoid overwhelming them with your phone calls and letters but do touch base with them and let them know what you are doing to help promote responsible dog ownership. Doing this increases the impact of your contact when a legislative issue does arise, because they will already know and respect the work you are doing.

Over the course of a session, lawmakers deal with hundreds, and sometimes thousands of legislative proposals on a broad range of issues.Neither they nor their staff can be knowledgeable on every issue that comes before them.To better understand issues, they rely on others who are experts in a particular area.By establishing yourself early on as a credible expert and helpful constituent, the next time they seek information or input on a canine issue, instead of seeking outside advice, they will know they can rely on you to be their “go to” expert(s) on canine legislation and issues.

AKC Government Relations is happy to help you reach out to your elected officials.  Visit our online Legislative Action Center or contact us at doglaw@akc.org if you need assistance in helping educate lawmakers about canine legislative issues in your state or community.

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