By Representative Todd Stephens
Elected officials answer to their constituents, it’s the core of the job.
All day long we, and our staff, field phone calls, letters, emails, social media posts, and even the occasional fax; filled with issues large and small which matter to our community. We respond as quickly as we can and I personally make it an office policy that no matter what the issue, whether its state, federal, local, or personal, I or my staff will not only do our best to find the answer, we advise the constituent on how to proceed.
It’s a tough job, but a fulfilling one. Every day (if we’re lucky) we get to make a difference in someone’s life, and every once in a while, we get to do something great.
That’s how I feel about Act 10 – (Libre’s Law). With a lot of hard work, we actually managed to do something great. Advocates, stakeholders, law enforcement, legislators, veterinarians, and animal lovers from all over the commonwealth spoke with one voice and accomplished something amazing, a badly needed overhaul of an outdated and confusing animal cruelty law.
The sheer volume of queries and messages of support from constituents and animal advocates as the bill moved through was astounding, and frankly, without them, I don’t know that this legislation would have moved through as quickly as it did. However, it raised an issue for me that I feel compelled to share with you to increase your effectiveness in the future.
The vast majority of those contacting legislators were polite, professional, thankful, and ultimately, extremely helpful.
But there were also some who were nasty, rude, abrasive, unkind, and condemning.
We and our staff love that we can help people through difficult times and we expect that not everyone is going to be happy when they call, but we do not, and should not, expect to be yelled at or insulted, including on social media. Very few people engage in this kind of behavior, and many more were exactly the gracious and professional advocates that we all enjoy working with, which is why the legislation was so successful.
I want to impart to you, as someone who cares as deeply for animals as you do, that one negative experience with an advocate on an issue can taint a legislator’s opinion of that issue and the people who work on it. Reversing this damage often falls upon the legislator or the hard-working lobbyists who are trying to pass the bill, which is never an easy task.
If I could impress anything upon all of us as a lesson after working on this bill, and in hopes of partnering together on many more, it would be this:
We accomplish great things together when we are aware of the bite in our bark.
Todd Stephens was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2010, and is currently serving his third term. Since he was first elected, Todd has established himself as an effective, independent voice in Harrisburg working with members of both parties on critical issues affecting the Commonwealth and our community. In Harrisburg, he has a perfect record on animal bills and has prime-sponsored and led the effort to pass two important anti-cruelty bills: Act 10 (Libre’s Law ) and Act 24 – a bill to prohibit possessing equipment or implements if they are used for animal fighting.
For more tips on effectively communicating with your legislators check out Humane PA’s factsheet: Citizen Lobbying Tips to Give Animals a Voice in Harrisburg.