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Get to Know the New Members of Congress

November 18, 2010
by Chris Campbell
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The 112th Congress will convene in January 2011 and with it will come at least 16 new Senators and at least 93 new members of the House of Representatives. These new “faces” also bring new opportunities for the addiction treatment profession. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with these new members of the 112th Congress. One or more of them could be the next “champion” for addiction treatment!

Whether they are new to Washington or have been here for 20 years, it never hurts to build rapport with your legislators. You can enhance your effectiveness as an advocate for the addiction profession by establishing a relationship with a legislator - or a member of his or her staff – that is based on more than simply asking them to do something (or not do something) once or twice a year. If you get to the point where your name is recognized, so that when an addiction-related issue comes up the legislator or staffer thinks of you, you’ve accomplished your goal. Getting to this point does not guarantee that a legislator will do what you want them to do, but it means they’ll likely check in with you before acting on addiction-related issues. There are several ways you can foster a relationship with legislators: Invite a legislator to address a meeting of your organization. Be flexible about the topic of the talk, suggesting general issues like health, or even how addiction counselors can work more effectively with their legislators. A legislator may not be comfortable addressing issues that are highly specific to the addiction counseling profession because they do not have enough information to make a good presentation. This is fine. Just get them there. You can educate them later. Invite your legislators to visit a program that you administer or work in. Legislators like to learn about what’s going on in their district. If it is appropriate and would not be disruptive or invasive of the privacy of other participants, invite legislators to visit and learn more about a program or service you provide to the community. If a legislator has done something noteworthy for the addiction counseling profession or on issues that are important to the profession, recognize what they have done by presenting an award. But only recognize real accomplishments and effort. Don’t present an unearned award just to try to gain access and favor. It won’t work and will only embarrass you and the legislator. Attend “town meetings” and other forums sponsored by your legislators. If you get the chance, introduce yourself and let him or her know what you do. If there is no “burning issue” you need his or her help with at the moment, that’s fine; just say hello, thank them for coming out to speak, and ask for the name of the staff member you should contact if you want to talk about an addiction-related issue in the future. You’re building a relationship so that when you do need help you’ll be more likely to get it.

[Excerpted from How to Advocate: A Call to Action, Copyright NAADAC 2010]

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Chris Campbell

Christopher Campbell is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...