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As an attorney/lobbyist practicing for over two decades at the California State Capitol, Jack Molodanof is frequently asked: “Can one person really make a difference?” And his response is always an emphatic “Yes!”
“Not only can one person make a difference, but one person can also make others change their perception of an issue,” Molodanof explained. “You have the power in that you have first-hand experience as it relates to issues that are most important to you. Let the lawmakers know how you feel about these issues. You must be heard to make a change.”
To open every CAA Legislative Day, Molodanof briefs the members in attendance about the best ways to get results from their local legislators and here are some of these:
Do Your Homework First
First off, do you know the names of your local legislators? If not, it’s very easy to find out by going to www.legalifno.ca.gov. Learn about their backgrounds and maybe more importantly, learn how to pronounce their names. If you live in Santa Cruz and your assemblyman’s name is Mark Stone that’s no problem, but what about if you’re from San Luis Obispo and your assemblyman’s name is Katcho Achadjian? If and when you’re able to meet your legislator, mispronouncing their name is definitely not a great way to start any conversation.
In addition, try to learn some other interesting things about your local legislators—including their political affiliations and the names of their key assistants, for example. It’s also very easy to sign up for their e-newsletters and get on their mailing lists to keep updated about what they’re doing.
By doing your research and due diligence, you’ll be ready to make a favorable impression when you meet your local legislator, whether it’s at an organization-sponsored Legislative Day, a meet and greet event or a local fundraiser.
Open the Dialogue & Keep it Open
After your initial interaction with your legislator, don’t back off or disappear into the mist. Write a thank you letter for that first meeting and keep the lines of communication open. Check in but don’t call weekly. If you don’t get a timely response, don’t be dissuaded, because these are busy people and just because they did not respond doesn’t mean they aren’t hearing your voice.
By becoming a resource for your legislator on topics you’re familiar with, you can help your legislator on issues that impact the automotive repair industry and the collision repair industry specifically.
When talking to your legislators, obviously threatening them or suggesting a bribe is strictly taboo. Just as importantly, never mislead a legislator and don’t be pushy, even if you’re passionate about the issue. And don’t waste their valuable time—get in there, make your point and get out. Your legislator will respect your professional behavior and more likely remember you the next time.
Also, it’s important to know each member of your legislator’s staff, because in many cases those are the people you’ll be meeting with, at least initially.
They gather information and brief their legislator about issues and rely on their judgment, which means they can influence a decision with new information.
Know the staff members’ titles (Chief of Staff, Committee Staff, Legislative Aide, etc.) and ask them questions, such as what they’re hearing from the opposition; do they have enough information to advise their legislator on the issue and/or does the legislator need to listen to more of their constituents before making a decision? And never talk down to a staff member or underestimate his/her power. If you get an aide or your side about an issue, you can get a lot done without walking the hallways of the Capitol or sending countless letters.
Focus, Focus, Focus
When interacting with any legislator or its staff, stay on point and talk only about things that are directly related to the issues at hand. He or she doesn’t need to know your life story, so get to the facts quickly and make your case without dallying. If you can get past the first initial meeting, maybe you can get chummy with your legislator down the road. But never lose sight of the fact that your #1 deliverable is getting your voice heard, clearly and succinctly on the issues that concern you.
Do It the 'Write' Way
It’s great to contact your legislators via phone or in person, but writing to them is just as effective. When you write a personal letter or email to your legislator, they’re first off obligated to respond in a timely fashion. Secondly, it creates a record and documents your actions, so that later you can use them possibly as leverage. Make copies of your letters and send them to other body shops. By cc’ing them to your legislators, your message will have more impact and get more attention.
Get the Word Out
Once you have your legislator’s ear, tell other body shops what you’re doing and what you’ve achieved. There are always a handful of shop owners out there who want to be heard and if your efforts will spark their desire to join in, it can only help.
If you can get other legislators to listen to shop owners throughout the state, now you’ve taken it past your backyard and right to the steps of the Capitol. This is when real change can take place, when business owners work as a team for a better industry.
Jack Molodanof is a California attorney and lobbyist who has distinguished himself in areas of automotive legislative and regulatory law over the past 30 years. He’s the go-to lawyer/lobbyist in California for the automotive repair industry and represents several statewide automotive associations, including the California Autobody Association (CAA) and Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA). Molodanof also serves on the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Advisory Group, which provides input on BAR programs.
For questions, contact Jack Molodanof at email@example.com.