Iowa Policy Advocacy 101

National policy tends to draw an enormous amount of attention - especially these days. And for good reason. Policies such as the Farm Bill, Clean Power Plan and Affordable Care Act affect the entire country.

But it is important to focus on state policy, as well. State policy decisions often have a more direct impact on our lives and the lives of our neighbors. With more Iowans taking an interest in state politics and asking what they can do to make your voices heard, we thought it was the perfect time to provide an “Iowa Policy Advocacy 101” resource to help rural Iowans weigh in on the issues that affect your communities!

Getting Started

The players

In Iowa, the legislative branch consists of two chambers - the Senate and the House. We have 50 senators and 100 representatives. In 2017 and 2018, the Republican party will have a majority in both chambers. In 2018, 25 of our senators and all of our representatives are up for re-election. The current party “break-down” stands as follows:

  • Senate: 29 Republican, 20 Democrat, 1 Independent.
  • House: 59 Republican, 41 Democrat, 0 Independent.

The Republican party also controls the governor’s office. Terry Branstad was re-elected in 2010. He will likely leave the office soon to serve as the ambassador to China, and Lt. Gov. Kim Richards will step into the role of governor. She will be up for reelection in 2018.

To learn more about the legislative and executive branch of the Iowa government, click here.

Session timeline

The Iowa legislative session begins just after the start of the calendar year and lasts through the 110th calendar day. The 2017 session began Jan. 9. The session is scheduled to end on April 28, and on that date, legislators will no longer receive per diem compensation. In past years, a contentious budget process has extended the session past the scheduled end date. For more details on the session timetable, click here.

Learning about your legislators

Find your legislators here.

Once you know who your legislators are, it is useful to learn more about them before engaging in any of the advocacy actions described below. For example, you might want to know:

  • What party are they affiliated with?
  • Where are they from?
  • What is their “day job,” and what kind of organizations have they been involved with in the past?
  • Which Senate or House committees do they serve on? This is important because legislators have more power over bills assigned to their committees.
  • What kinds of positions have they taken on issues you care about?

This kind of information will help you understand more about what your legislators might care about and find areas of common interest when you are talking about specific issues. For example, if you want to talk about renewable energy, some legislators might be interested in economic benefits, others will be interested in environmental benefits, and still others might want to know about public health benefits.

Learning about an issue

In 2017, the Center is focusing on energy and water quality policy. We also will take positions on bills that we believe could hurt economic opportunity, health care access, or other issues important to rural residents - especially vulnerable rural residents. 

If we do not list your issue, sources such as the Des Moines Register provide timely and well-researched articles on many of the bills moving through the state legislature. Beware of internet news sources that present primarily opinion-based policy analysis - these rarely provide all of the information you need to understand a particular issue.

If you would like to track a bill or number of bills as they move through the legislative process, you can set up an account to do so here. The website contains information on how to track a particular issue or bill, and will send automatic e-mail updates so you know when something important happens.

Taking Action

You’re ready to take action - you know who your legislators are and you researched an issue or bill that you would like to talk about. Here are some of the most effective actions you can take to make your voice heard.

Attend a legislative forum in your area

The most effective way to make change is to build a relationship with your legislator - which means finding opportunities to meet with them in person. Throughout the legislative session and campaign season, legislators hold local forums where they answer questions from their constituents. Here is a good resource to track upcoming forums.

If you are able to attend a forum, come prepared to ask a question or make a comment. Here are some things to consider as you prepare.

  • Be sure to introduce yourself before you ask your question. Tell the legislator your name, where you live, and what you do for a living.
  • Make a brief comment about why an issue matters to you. For example, you might support water quality funding because you want your kids to have access to healthy drinking water and safe swimming locations.
  • Ask your question. Be sure to keep it brief and to the point.
  • Wait for a response, and ask a follow up question if necessary.
  • Thank your legislator(s).

Depending on the forum structure, you will need to either raise your hand or get in line to ask your question. Be sure to do so early so you have a chance to speak. Once it is your turn, try to speak for less than a minute so other attendees also have a chance to speak.

Finally, most legislators will stick around after the formal event to speak one-on-one with their constituents. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Remember, building a relationship with your legislator is important!

Schedule a meeting

Keep building that relationship by scheduling a visit with your legislators or their policy staff. Most policy makers have a place on their website where you can send an e-mail request for a meeting. If you would rather call the legislator’s office, most legislators have a scheduler who can receive and process your request. Be prepared to explain who you are and the reason you are requesting a meeting.

As you prepare for the visit, remember they learn about many issues each day. You will probably have 5 to 20 minutes to meet. You want your conversation to stick out. 

  • Before the meeting: Make sure you have a purpose or intended outcome. If you are making an “ask” such as support for a certain bill, be sure to familiarize yourself/your group with the legislation. Sometimes this can help refine who you’d like to meet with (committee chairs, etc.). Prepare two to three main talking points, and jot down notes about any statistics or facts you think are important to share.
  • During the meeting: Start with a thank you. Even if you haven’t voted for the person you are talking to, it’s likely they have done something you appreciate. Let them know! When getting your talking points across, keep in mind that people remember and care about stories. Tell a story that demonstrates why you care about a certain issue. Keep it short if you can, and make sure it is closely related to the policy issue you want to talk about.
  • Wrapping Up: You’ve told your story, now explain how it relates to the policy you care about. Tell the policymaker your stance on the issue, and ask whether they can support the position you just explained. If you don’t receive an answer, ask for a staff contact.
  • Pro Tip: The legislator will remember no more than three things from the meeting. Keep it simple and respectful, and remember you are building a relationship. Send an e-mail or thank you note after the meeting as a follow-up.

Make a phone call

Calling your legislator is one of the fastest and most effective ways to let them know your opinion on a policy issue. Calls are especially useful during key decision-making moments. You often will end up speaking to the legislator’s staff person, who is well positioned to relay your message.

Here are some tips for making effective and stress-free calls:

  • Start by introducing yourself. Give your name, where you live, and your occupation.
  • Ask to speak with the legislator or with a staff person who is familiar with the issue you want to address.
  • Just like with the meeting, prepare and practice your talking points ahead of time. Lead with a story and with values, but don’t be afraid to throw in an interesting statistic or fact about your issue.
  • Be confident, courteous, brief and passionate. It is great to show passion when you are speaking about an issue, but remember that you are still building a relationship. Even if you disagree with your legislator’s position, don’t resort to calling names, swearing or making threats.

Send an e-mail

While face-to face meetings and phone calls are the most effective ways to make your voice heard, an e-mail or letter is a quick and easy way to register your opinion. Many of the same points from above also apply to sending an e-mail. Remember to introduce yourself, present two to three talking points, make a direct ask, and say thank you.

Work with us to write a media piece

We are always looking for Center supporters who are interested in collaborating on a media piece. If you would like help writing and placing an opinion piece or letter to the editor, we are happy to help. Just get in touch with one of our policy staff and we will work with you to put something together.

We would love to hear from you regarding your policy priorities or advocacy actions you are taking. You can contact Stephanie Enloe at stephaniee@cfra.org or 515.215.1294 to learn more about our work or get involved!