Download this citizen’s guide (Updated March 2018; 20 pages; pdf)
Link to the Citizen’s Guide to the New Mexico State Budget
Link to the Advocate’s Guide to the New Mexico State Budget
Link to the Citizen’s Guide to New Mexico’s Tax System
by Bill Jordan, MA
Advocacy is a form of civic participation — much like voting. When you vote, you send a message about which candidates you want in office. Advocacy is taking your vote a step further. It’s telling your elected officials what issues you’d like them to act on and how. Advocacy can be as quick and easy as voting—sending a brief email, for example. Or it can be more involved, encompassing anything from chatting over coffee with your city councilor to meeting with your congressional representative on Capitol Hill.
While some people like to complain and be cynical about the political world, others are advocating for change, making life better, and bringing hope to their communities. If you’re one of the latter, this guide will give you some tools for working with your elected officials so that they work better for you.
Some Tips for Using This Guide
Words that appear in boldface are defined in the yellow Technical Terms and Advocacy Etiquette boxes. All of the acronyms used in this guide are written out below.
How Our State Government Works
Elections and Terms of Service
Like the U.S. president, New Mexico’s governor and lieutenant governor are elected every four years and may serve no more than two consecutive four–year terms. Unlike the president, the governor and lieutenant governor may serve more than two terms, as long as no more than two of their terms are consecutive.
Like the U.S. Congress, New Mexico’s Legislature is made up of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. In Congress, each House member represents a specific district within a state, while senators represent the whole state. In New Mexico’s Legislature, House and Senate members both represent districts within the state.
The 70 members of the state House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms, while the 42 members of the state Senate serve four-year terms. Like in Congress, the entire House is up for re-election every other year. Unlike in Congress, state Senate terms are not staggered, so every four years both the House and Senate come up for re–election. However, elections for the governor and the Senate are staggered—meaning they never occur in the same year.
Each senator represents about 40,000 people (or about 22,000 voters); each representative about 24,000 people (or about 13,000 voters). We have a “citizen legislature,” meaning state senators and representatives receive no salary for serving, only a per diem to cover their travel, accommodation and food expenses during the legislative session. They also work in between sessions (the “interim”) when the committees to which they belong hold hearings. You can find out who your senator and representative are by going to the Legislature’s website (the address is listed in the Resources section of this book).
The State Legislature
The New Mexico state Legislature meets for a 60-day regular session in odd-numbered years and for a 30-day regular session in even-numbered years. Regardless of the length of the session, it always begins on the third Tuesday of January. Sixty-day sessions consider any and all legislative matters, while 30-day sessions are limited to budgetary matters and those items placed on the governor’s agenda, or “call.”
The governor can call a special session to deal with emergency legislation that needs attention before the next regular session. The governor controls the agenda for special sessions. The Legislature may also call itself into an extraordinary session to consider their own attempt to override a governor’s veto. Extraordinary sessions require approval of two-thirds of the Legislature.
As with the U.S. Congress, each chamber of the state Legislature has a leader who is elected from the majority party (the political party that holds the most seats) by the members of that chamber. The leader of the Senate is called the Senate President Pro Tempore. In the house, the leader is the Speaker of the House. The leadership sets the agenda and appoints the chairs of committees. Under the Speaker and the President Pro Tem are the Majority Leader and the Majority Whip. The minority party is represented by the Minority Leader and the Minority Whip. The job of the Whip is to round up members for important votes. Just as the vice president presides over the U.S. Senate, the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, casting tie–breaking votes when necessary.
All legislators serve on committees both during the session and during the interim. Each committee is run by its chair or co–chairs and has a vice chair. Senate committees also have ranking members and some House committees have deputy chairs. Senate committee members are appointed by the Committee’s Committee, while House members are appointed by the Speaker. The committees that meet during the regular session are called standing committees, and each is comprised of either senators or representatives. Committees are very powerful bodies because they hear legislation before it is considered by the full House or Senate. (See the Appendix for a list of the committees.)
Interim committees of the Legislature meet between sessions (generally beginning in June) to hear reports on past actions, provide oversight to state agencies, discuss important issues, and prepare legislation for the regular session. Interim committees are comprised of members of both the House and Senate.
The Legislature is supported by full-time staff members and several agencies. The main agency is the Legislative Council Service (LCS), which drafts bills and supplies legal information, research, and technical support. The LCS also produces a variety of publications including the Daily Bill Finder and operates the legislative library, which is open for public use.
Citizens can contact the offices of their legislators and governor at any time of the year and ask to speak with him or her personally about their concerns. For the most part they make themselves very accessible to their constituents, and are pleased that citizens take an active interest in issues. You can contact legislators about issues by phone, fax, email or by visiting with them in person.
Interim committee meetings and committee hearings during a regular session also provide good opportunities for citizens to express their views on specific proposed legislation. How to provide this input is discussed in more detail later in this guide.
Bills, Memorials and Resolutions
Legislation can be introduced in the form of a bill, memorial or resolution.
A bill is a change in law or an appropriation of funds for a specific purpose. Bills require passage in both chambers and the signature of the governor.
A memorial is a way of honoring or acknowledging a group or individual, petitioning Congress or other government agencies, or, most commonly, asking a state agency to study an issue. Memorials require passage in both chambers but do not require the governor’s signature.
A resolution is a proposal to amend the state constitution by taking the proposed amendment to the voters. Amending the state constitution requires passage of the resolution in both chambers and then approval by a majority of voters in the next general election. A resolution does not require action by the governor.
How a Bill Becomes Law
The idea for a bill can come from anyone. Often it is a citizen who identifies a need and makes a request of their legislator. If the legislator chooses to introduce the bill to the Legislature, he or she asks the LCS to draft the language for the bill.
A bill can be introduced in either the House or the Senate or both, but it must pass both chambers to become law. It can also have more than one sponsor or can be joint legislation, meaning identical bills with different sponsors are introduced in both the House and the Senate. No matter how many sponsors a bill has, only the first sponsor is credited as the bill’s sponsor.
Every bill must have a fiscal impact report (FIR) to determine how much its implementation will cost the state. These are created by the staff of the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) and are posted on the Legislature’s website.
Generally, a bill is introduced by the sponsor or sponsors and then assigned to one, two or three committee hearings. The committee hearings provide an opportunity for the supporters and opponents of the bill to speak for or against it. The committee can choose to pass the bill with or without amendments, defeat it, or table it. Tabling a bill can either mean setting it aside for later consideration (to be added as an amendment onto a larger bill, such as an appropriation bill), or it can be a way of defeating a bill without taking a vote. The committee chair determines whether or not the committee votes, sets aside or tables a bill.
When a bill passes the first committee, it goes to the next committee assignment or to the full House or Senate for a vote. Once it passes the House or Senate, the bill is reported (sent) to the other chamber for their action. That chamber will then assign it to one, two or three committees where the bill will have to pass before coming to the full chamber for a vote. A bill must pass both chambers in exactly the same form in order to go to the governor for his or her signature. If it is amended by one chamber it must go back to the other chamber for their concurrence.
A bill must have three readings in both the House and the Senate. A bill’s first reading is its introduction. Acceptance of a committee report is considered the second reading, and the floor debate and vote on the bill is considered the third reading. If a bill is favorably voted on by the full Senate and House, then it goes to the governor for his or her signature.
If the bill is passed before the last three days of the session, the governor has 72 hours to either sign or veto the bill. If the governor takes no action, then the bill is automatically enacted. If the bill is vetoed, the Legislature may override the veto with a vote of at least two-thirds of both chambers. If the bill is passed during the last three days of the session (which is usually the case), the governor has 20 days to sign or veto a bill. If the governor takes no action, then the bill is killed by what is called a “pocket veto.”
Elected officials do pay attention to their constituents. They want to know what matters to you and they want to serve the interests of the voters in their district. Because our state has a relatively small population, our senators and representatives each serve a relatively small number of voters. That makes them more accessible to you, the constituent.
When you contact your elected officials, they know you care. Most will appreciate the knowledge that you bring to the subject and your interest in making life better for New Mexicans. Because our elected officials are ordinary citizens, most of whom work full-time jobs just like you, they need the input and expertise of others. They can’t be experts on every issue. Remember that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Since they are going to rely on the expertise of others, you want to make sure that your voice is being heard.
When to Advocate
Perhaps the best time to begin to advocate is during the election campaign when you can help influence a candidate’s position on an issue or even influence the agenda of a campaign. After the campaign, you can try to influence the priorities of your newly elected (or re-elected) senators and representatives. Certainly, you’ll want to meet with legislators as early as possible before the legislative session begins. Once they get to Santa Fe, they are busy with hundreds of bills and cannot be expected to give you the time and attention you might like. Oftentimes, the most you can hope for during a busy session is to remind them of your prior conversations and their commitment to the cause.
After the legislative session, be sure to thank them for their support. It’s also a good idea to write to those who voted against the bill to express your disappointment. This should be done carefully and courteously, with an invitation to discuss the issue further. You never want to be too critical of a lawmaker whose vote you may need next time. Understand that they deal with numerous competing priorities and often must make compromises.
Whom to Target
Certainly, you will have the most sway with your own Senate and House representatives—they rely on voters like you to put and keep them in office. But you’ll also want to talk to legislators who sit on committees that will likely hear the legislation, the chairs of those committees, and the legislative leadership. An aggressive advocate would also meet with legislative staff and analysts, as well as officials from the department that will be affected by the legislation.
Before meeting with elected officials, find out what their particular interests and passions are. Most seek office because they care deeply about something and want to make a difference. Members of Congress all have websites that generally include this kind of information. Past issues of the local newspaper may be your best resource to find out more about your state officials—reporters usually seek out the bill’s sponsor (or big supporter) as well as the main opponent for comment when covering the session.
Don’t be afraid to meet with legislators who may not agree with you on the issue, because you still may find common ground. You need to educate your supporters as well as opponents about the issue if you’re to sway their actions and votes on it.
How to Advocate
The best way to educate or influence a lawmaker is to meet with them personally. You can do this individually or with a group. Simply call or write to them and ask them to meet with you about a particular issue. This provides the best format for educating them and gaining their support.
You may also use a personal meeting as an opportunity to invite the lawmaker to visit a site—a school, community centers, etc.—that is relative to legislation you’re supporting. If they accept, you’ll want to work to make sure the site visit will be an experience that supports your position. Consider what you want the visitor to see, whom you want them to meet, and what message you want them to take away. Having someone there who can share a personal story can be very effective. Also find out how much time the lawmaker has to devote to the visit so you can plan accordingly.
You may also call their home or work before or after the legislative session. Phone calls during the session are usually taken by staff members who will relay your message. When legislators get phone calls by a large number of constituents during the legislative session they know that the issue is important to voters back home.
Letters and Email
Personal letters to lawmakers are also effective, but they should always be brief, to the point, and courteous. Because a mailed letter may take a few days to reach your legislator, it is probably best to avoid sending them during the session, unless you personally deliver it to your legislator’s office at the Capitol. Email communication with legislators can be effective because many use it as a way to communicate frequently with advocates and constituents. However, be warned: not all of New Mexico’s legislators use email even though the service is provided.
Making Your Case
You want to be prepared when you meet with, call or write your legislator. Be clear about which issue you want to discuss, and whether you are representing yourself, an organization or a group.
Research your issue thoroughly and make sure that your proposal is based on the evidence. An effective case combines both data or evidence and personal stories from real life. Any proposal that is argued solely on an emotional basis will have trouble passing legislative scrutiny. Any proposal that is rooted in accurate data, but lacks a connection to real life could be considered irrelevant. Choose only two or three main points and always include a statement about what action you want the legislator to take.
Develop one-page position papers or fact sheets to leave with legislators after your meeting. This strengthens your argument and gives them something to refer back to for more information. Always include contact information for you or the group you are representing, and cite your data sources.
If you are working in opposition to specific legislation, always offer an alternative when possible, such as a program that has worked well in another state. This way you’re working to solve the problem, not just block the legislation.
Some Simple But Important Do’s and Don’ts
Do make an appointment whenever possible and call if you are running late to a meeting.
Do be flexible and understanding if your meeting is cancelled, delayed, or ends up being with a staff member instead of your legislator.
Do identify yourself and which organization you are with, if applicable, each time you call or meet with your legislator.
Do be courteous, respectful, quick with gratitude, and slow to criticize.
Do be well organized, prepared, and if you’re working in coalition, be united.
Do refer to specific legislation by the bill number and know the status of the bill.
Do use both data and personal stories but be concise and to the point.
Do give them short, easy–to–read literature like fact sheets.
Do ask for what you want.
Do allow the legislator to ask questions or express their opinion (do follow–up with the answer if you don’t know it off hand).
Do understand and be able to address the other side of the argument.
Do keep the door open for further discussion.
Do report back to the lead person or organization if you’re working in coalition.
Don’t be late.
Don’t be argumentative, arrogant, condescending or threatening.
Don’t exaggerate the case.
Don’t overwhelm them with too much data.
Don’t make up answers. Say you don’t know and get back later with the correct information.
Don’t take more time than you were offered.
Don’t burn bridges. Leave the door open for further discussion, on this or other issues.
Committee Meetings and Hearings
Speaking during committee meetings and hearings can also be a very effective way of educating and lobbying legislators. All committee hearings are open to the public for observation. Some meetings allow time for public comment, in which case you simply show up. Some require that you ask the chair of the committee if you may make a formal presentation to the committee about a specific issue.
To make your committee testimony most successful, it’s a good idea to both familiarize yourself with the committee membership and to attend a hearing by that committee on a different matter to get an idea of how the committee is run.
Be prepared for questions. Never make up an answer you don’t know. Tell the committee that you don’t have the requested information and will get back to them. And then make sure you do get the relevant information to the committee.
Know the Opposition
There is nothing worse than being blind–sided by the opposition and their arguments. It is critical to know who will oppose your issue and the arguments they will use. It’s good, too, to know if the opposition is organized and likely to present a unified front. Learn as much as you can about them and how they intend to oppose your issue. Writing out your responses to opposition arguments is a worthwhile exercise, so that you are prepared with the right answers. Sometimes you can even derail the opposition arguments by addressing them in advance with your own testimony that includes compelling data. When the opposition is likely to be organized, meet with opponents if possible and get to know the issue from their perspective. You may even find that you have some common ground.
Advocacy and the Media
Press releases, press conferences, op–ed pieces (guest editorials), letters to the editor, blog entries, and appearances on radio talk shows and TV should all be considered as possible means to get your message to legislators and to activate the public around an issue. Your media strategy should be developed as part of an overall campaign to promote the issue. Remember that the news media have limited time/space in which to present the news, and that your issue will be competing with other issues and the events of the day for the media’s attention. The news media has no obligation to cover your story, so the best approach is to let them know why your story is one they will want to cover.
A well-written op-ed is fairly easy to place, especially with smaller newspapers. Before you sit down with your computer, sit down with your local paper and read its editorial pages. This will give you an idea of what sorts of op-eds they run and how their editorial board leans politically. You can call the op-ed editor to pitch an idea before you write it or simply to find out what their word count and submission criteria are.
Staying on Message
When working with the media it is critically important to develop your message and then stay on message. Frame the issue the way that you want it framed. Take control of the debate and define it in your terms. Tell the story the way you want it told. If possible, hook the issue to a story that is current and local, so that news outlets will want to pick it up. When responding to reporter questions, remember to make the point that you think is most important even if it means not necessarily answering the direct question. Always be aware of what you do not want to say to the media, and be disciplined about your message.
Keep the same things about framing in mind when you write an op-ed or letter to the editor. Address the opposition’s issues without restating their message. Your argument is strongest when you use both data and a personal story.
Be particularly cautious about letting your emotions get the best of you when posting on a blog. Because it is an immediate medium, it’s easy to get carried away in the heat of an argument. Take a deep breath before you post anything.
One of the most effective means of promoting an issue is to have many messengers and advocates. Building a large and effective coalition strengthens your message and broadens your reach. Where some messengers can’t reach a legislator, another messenger can. The coalition should be united around the same goals and always carry the same message.
Showing grassroots voter support for an issue is invaluable. Polling data is helpful, but the ability to mobilize supporters is even more important. Having a network of organizations that can get their members to visit, call or write their legislators is perhaps the best way to win key legislative support. Email alerts can be used effectively when the email list is reliable and known to produce results. Otherwise, it’s best to just get on the phone and make calls to allies and get them to call legislators.
Lobbying Rules for Nonprofits
Many organizations have paid lobbyists to do their advocacy work. Most Americans don’t react with enthusiasm to the term ‘lobbyist.’ We think of lobbyists as representatives of big–money special interests groups, who make deals with politicians in smoky, back–room meetings. While there’s some truth to that cliché, it would not be an accurate description for every lobbyist. You may be surprised to know that many churches lobby on behalf of their congregations, non-profits lobby on behalf of their chosen cause, and even governmental departments lobby each other. That’s right—every January when New Mexico’s Legislature is in session you can bet that professional lobbyists are working on behalf of several cities, counties, universities, and other public institutions—even our public school system.
Nonprofit organizations can and should lobby, but it is also important for those organizations to know their lobbying limitations. There are two kinds of lobbying: direct and indirect. Nonprofit organizations are legally able to use a small portion of their budget for both direct and indirect lobbying. Government funds are never to be used for lobbying, and some foundation funders also require that their grants not be used for lobbying purposes. To be safe, most non-profits that lobby use only private donations to pay for their lobbying efforts and are careful not to surpass the amount that the Internal Revenue Service will allow. (See the Resources section.)
Direct lobbying is communication between a lobbyist and a legislator or his/her staff members about specific legislation that expresses a view or makes a specific ask of that legislator. If the visit is to share information about a particular issue, but does not address specific legislation or make a request of that legislator for their support, then it is not lobbying.
Indirect lobbying is communication with the general public about a specific issue that asks them to contact their elected officials about specific legislation. The rules about mass emails, Listservs, and the use of websites to activate the public about an issue can get very complex. These are important tools, however, so nonprofits are encouraged to use them… just know the legal limits of what you can do. (See the Resources section for more.)
There are many activities that are NOT considered lobbying. Any report that is a nonpartisan analysis, provides a fair discussion of the issue, and includes only an indirect call to action is not lobbying. If the organization is asked in writing by a committee chair to provide technical assistance to that legislative committee, then that is expert testimony, not lobbying.
Any staff time or lobbying activity should be well documented as such and expensed toward either direct or indirect lobbying funds. Any activity that does not cost the organization money is not considered lobbying.
The Role of the Lobbyist
Some organizations have their own lobbyist on staff or will hire a lobbyist on contract. The lobbyist plays an important role in tracking legislation, must know the legislative process and the players, and should constantly be tracking legislation. Even so, getting legislation passed (or defeated) takes a coordinated effort on the part of many people.
The lobbyist enlists legislators to sponsor a bill who will be aggressive, knowledgeable, and willing to make the bill a priority. The lobbyist then checks to make sure the bill is drafted according to the wishes of the backers and the sponsor. He or she then tracks the bill daily—from its being drafted by the Legislative Council Services, to introduction, committee hearings, committee reports, floor votes, and action taken by the governor. The lobbyist visits with legislators to gain support for the bill and activates the media and grassroots campaigns as necessary to assure success. When a bill is scheduled for a committee hearing the lobbyist should know when it is important to call for expert testimony, crowds of supporters, phone calls to legislators and/or media coverage, or when it is better to let the bill move along the process quietly, saving the mobilization efforts for when they are needed.
The IRS: www.irs.gov
The Alliance for Justice: www.afj.org
Tracking Legislation You can track legislation during the session on the Legislature’s website
Bill Finder: www.nmlegis.gov/legislation/bill_finder
My Roundhouse (to sign up for emails regarding specific bills): www.nmlegis.gov/myroundhouse/
New Mexico Government Contact Info
Chief Clerk of the House: 505-986-4751
Chief Clerk of the Senate: 505-986-4714
Governor’s Office: 505-476-2200; www.governor.state.nm.us
Legislative Council Services: 505-986-4600; www.nmlegis.gov/Staff_Directory?Entity=LCS
Legislative Publications: www.nmlegis.gov/publications
Legislature: 505-986-4300; www.nmlegis.gov (To find your legislator: www.nmlegis.gov/Members/Find_My_Legislator)
Lt. Governor’s Office: 505-476-2250; www.ltgov.state.nm.us/
New Mexico state website: www.newmexico.gov/
State Capitol switchboard: 505-986-4300
Congressional Contact Info
U.S. Capitol switchboard 202-224-3121
U.S. House of Representatives: www.house.gov/
U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov/
Standing Legislative Committees Committees that meet during the legislative session
Agriculture & Water Resources (HACG)
Appropriations & Finance (HAFC)
Business & Industry (HBIC)
Consumer & Public Affairs (HCPAC)
Energy, Environment & Natural Resources
Health & Human Services
Labor & Economic Development
Local Government, Elections, Land Grants & Cultural Affairs
Rules & Order Of Business (HRC)
State Government, Indian & Veterans Affairs
Taxation & Revenue (HTRC)
Transportation, Public Works & Capital Improvements
Committees’ Committee (SCC)
Corporations & Transportation (SCORC)
Indian & Cultural Affairs (SIAC)
Public Affairs (SPAC)
Interim Committees Bicameral committees that meet when the Legislature is not in session
Behavioral Health Subcommittee
Capitol Buildings Planning Commission (CBPC)
Courts, Corrections & Justice (CCJC)
Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee
Disabilities Concerns Subcommittee
Economic & Rural Development (ERDC)
Indian Affairs (IAC)
Interim Legislative Ethics (ILEC)
Investments & Pensions Oversight (IPOC)
Land Grant (LGC)
Legislative Council (LC)
Legislative Education Study (LESC)
Legislative Finance (LFC)
Legislative Health & Human Services (LHHSC)
Military & Veterans’ Affairs
Mortgage Finance Authority Act Oversight (MFAAOC)
New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight (NMFAOC)
Public School Capital Outlay Oversight Task Force (PSCOTF)
Radioactive & Hazardous Materials (RHMC)
Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy (RSTPC)
Science, Technology & Telecommunications