By GERALD DIAL, Alabama State Senator
1. KEEP YOUR WORD
The only significant difference between two legislators is that one will keep his or her word and one will not – not only to fellow legislators, but to constituents and lobbyists as well.
If you make a commitment, keep your word (and be careful when you commit).
As a legislator, you will face hundreds of issues. It is impossible to be an authority on every one, so begin with a specific issue. Learn every detail about it, seek out those who have knowledge of the issue, and build a team of others who have it in common. Become the legislator that others contact for information on the issue.
For instance, I was a member of the Alabama National Guard and became the “go-to-guy” on military affairs. As such, I was able to pass significant legislation to help our military.
3. MENTOR A FELLOW LEGISLATOR
All new legislators who have just been elected are seeking a friendly face. Remember when you were new? Carefully select a House and/or Senate member and assist them by supplying helpful hints on issues and procedures. Discuss their primary issues and provide past experience concerning those issues. After all, few items the Legislature handles are truly new.
Never give misleading or incorrect information for it will destroy your relationship. Sometimes the information might not be in your best interest. However, being truthful and maintaining the relationship are more important than getting your way on any one issue.
Mentees will become long time trusted friends and will assist you when needed. And as a mentor, it will please you to see them progress into component, knowledgable legislators who are successful and engaged.
4 SELECT A POSITION THAT AFFECTS ALL MEMBERS
Everyone knows the Committees that are important. And of course, positions within legislative leadership are very important. They attract all the attention from the lobbyists to the press and others.
But there are other, lesser-known positions that can wield lots of influence, too. Most don’t want to put forth the hard work and effort to find and do these jobs because they get very little press and notice outside the chambers or committee rooms.
One position I asked for was Parking Chair, responsible for parking spaces for all Senators and staff. Now, everybody knows parking at the State House is a premium for lawmakers and staff alike. Chairing that responsibility equated to a position of tremendous influence. Not a high profile position, mind you, but one that affected everybody and therefore came with great influence.There are other positions like it that can have benefits if you are willing to do the work.
5. MAKE SURE THE TROOPS EAT FIRST
This means don’t rush to the front of the line. In the military, the Commander never eats until he is sure all his troops have eaten. This is to ensure there is food for the troops, but it also sets an example that you care about your troops and their welfare. What is important to them is also important to you.
You might be in position to be first on an issue but show consideration for others and allow them the opportunity to “BE FIRST” in some situation. Sharing the spotlight with your fellow legislators will demonstrate that progress on the issue is more important than “me” the legislator.
6. GIVE THANKS
Never fail to give credit when credit is due. Go the extra effort to thank those who voted with you, win or lose. I am “old school” and still hand write notes. All thanks must be sincere and deserved. False thanks will easily be seen as insincere and will lose you respect.
7. BE FIRM AND FAIR
Be Firm and Fair with your beliefs. Wish-washy action will lose you support more rapidly than anything else. Be truthful. Be honest. Be dependable. Work hard. Be ethical. Never embarrass yourself, your constituents, or your state.
8. NEVER FORGET HOW YOU GOT HERE
This is my final and most important advice. In all my time in the Alabama Legislature, I never forgot how I got here and those who helped. I keep a picture of a turtle setting on a fence post in my office to remind me. Never trade old, proven friends for new, unproven friends.
Good luck to you as you address the issues facing all Alabamians for now and the future.
Gerald Dial was first elected to the Alabama Legislature in 1974. He started in the House and then moved to the Senate, where he built a long and legendary career. All told, Dial spent 40 years representing his area in the State House and is retiring this year.