by Nick Battles, Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow
The TV ads have stopped. The billboards are coming down. The unsolicited text messages and calls have slowed (or switched topics, at least). The 2022 election season has, largely, come to an end. Aside from this brief reprieve from electioneering, what happens now? Let’s break down what the aftermath of an election looks like and what it means for advocates at every level.
In 2023, the 59th Oklahoma legislature will come together for the first time on Monday, February 6. Upon election, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives serve for two years. Oklahoma state senators have a term length of four years. On the national stage, the state’s five members in the U.S. House of Representatives (serving for two years) and two U.S. senators (serving for six years when elected to a full term) will officially begin their work in January as a part of the 118th Congress.
Why is this information good for you to know? Legislators need to hear from you. Whether they are long-time incumbents (i.e., currently in elected office) or newcomers to the legislature, lawmakers will vote on legislation associated with the widest array of topics, including those you’re most interested in. Few, if any, legislators begin their time in public office with adequate knowledge on all the issues they will be exposed to in their work as a lawmaker. Therefore, it is imperative for professional advocates, folks with lived and living expertise, and, frankly, all Oklahomans to keep incumbents informed of the problems, possibilities, challenges, and nuanced experiences in their communities.
Additionally, relationships with legislative newcomers should be forged. The weeks and months immediately following an election present a window of opportunity to do exactly that. Bringing elected officials up to speed on the issues that matter most is critical work. Foundational insight provided by engaged champions can make all the difference in crafting productive legislation or administrative adjustments over the next two, four, or six years.
While the legislature is the clearest example of policymaker turnover, plenty of elected positions hold leverage in the fight against hunger, poverty, and similar systemic issues. The offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, superintendent of public instruction, commissioner of labor, corporation commissioner, and a plethora of others at a local level (e.g., mayor, city councilor, school board member) also benefit from your engagement and community accountability. Policymakers always benefit from your involvement.
How can advocates tangibly prepare for participation in the policy process?
- Build and leverage relationships with all elected officials that can best serve you and your cause. This could entail inviting a member of Congress for a site visit at a local childcare, school, adult daycare center, or summer meal site. Ask your state senator or representative to do the same. Request a meeting. Ask for engagement in the communities they represent.
- Think about the personal priorities you want to center for the upcoming legislative session and consider sharing them in a manner that suits you best (e.g., written in an email or letter, spoken over the phone or in a meeting).Be loud and proud about the work you value and want to see accomplished; remember to consider the interests, experiences, and perspectives that an elected official might bring to the table. What do they value? Is there a piece of your “ask” that could be especially appealing to them? Identifying how best to engage can feel like a balancing act, but your authenticity, story, and lived experience matter most.
- At a basic level, become familiar with each legislative chamber’s timing and process. See the Oklahoma Senate calendar and overview of deadlines in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The legislative session moves fast and time to influence activity can be limited. Allow your voice to be properly heard by staying up to date.
Above all, in the coming months, let us celebrate the new year and a new session — not for the inevitable obstacles that lie ahead, but for the opportunities presented in every conversation, meeting, docket, coalition, and campaign.
Is anti-hunger policy work an area of interest for you or those you know? Get in touch with Hunger Free Oklahoma! Our existing and evolving relationships with state legislators and our state’s delegation in D.C. serve as solid starting ground. With your help, support, and amplification, the work done at Hunger Free Oklahoma will always be a catalyst for positive change.