latinopm

Every Latino can be a legislator

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To introduce a bill you only need two things: an idea and a sponsor. Only a member of the legislature can sponsor a bill. The bill’s text can be in draft form, but the good folks at the Legislative Council (yes, its “Council,” not “Counsel”) put the language into the proper legal format. The initial draft is called an “intro set” and is circulated by a legislator among other legislators for their signature as co-sponsors.

phoenix-capitol001The process is much more complicated than this but, suffice it to say, you need four things to pass a bill through either body of the legislature (House of Representatives or Senate): (1) introduction of a bill; (2) successful passage in at least one committee hearing; (3) successful passage in a floor vote (sometimes two); and (4) a vigilant work ethic.

Of course, advocacy means different things to different people, but my advice is that discussion will advance your position much further than protests or picketing. I don’t think protesting is wrong, but it can polarize policy-makers to the point where their position can’t be reclaimed.

As for how to advocate for the issue you care about, remember that perseverance pays. I offer the following recommendations for how to approach a policy-maker:

Identifying yourself as a volunteer, stakeholder or concerned citizen over the issue and then explain why you’re involved (a personal experience, the experience of a loved one or a story you heard). Your personal connection can convey your commitment.

Know what you’re asking for. A little knowledge goes a long way and avoids confusion and delay.

Ask that the legislator make your issue a priority. State the issue and explain why it is important to you. If it isn’t a priority, then it may not be addressed.  

Ask for a return call or an opportunity to meet in order to deliver your points directly.  

If you don’t get a commitment or a response initially, keep calling, e-mailing and writing until you do.

Perseverance pays because elected officials really do worry about what their constituents are going to think, say and do in reaction to their votes and positions.

You can look at bills, bill summaries, find out who your district’s legislators are and even track legislation at azleg.gov. 

There are two other ways to pass laws in Arizona. The state legislature can pass legislation to have voters decide an issue at the ballot box. This process is called a referendum. A ballot initiative is another alternative but requires proponents to gather valid petition signatures from registered voters in the amount of “10 percent of all votes cast for governor in the last preceding election.” If the initiative amends the constitution, the number of required signatures increases to 15 percent!  That’s 172,809 and 259,213 signatures, respectively.

Remember, having an ambivalent attitude towards politics and politicians only forfeits your political power, making those who do engage in the process more powerful.  If your opinion is that your community is being disenfranchised and you’re not doing anything about it, consider this quote from Martin Luther King: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetuate it.”

The next time you hear about a law, ordinance or policy that you disagree with, take the time to voice your opinion. We must overcome the discomfort, the same discomfort I felt as an intern, and become aware and engaged.  

A successful advocacy strategy integrates both your awareness and feedback so that you hold policy-makers accountable to your community – a community with tremendous challenges. According to a local researcher studying Arizona demographics,  “Arizona may not be a red state for long; it could become a blue state; but it certainly will be brown.” 

George Diaz

George Diaz

George Díaz is the founder of West Washington Strategies (westwashingtonstrategies.com), a government and media relations firm. 

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