Joe Simitian’s 13 Tips for Successful Advocacy

Joe Simitian was elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 2012 and re-elected in 2016​​​ and 2020. He represents the Fifth District, which includes Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Saratoga, Stanford, and portions of Sunnyvale and San Jose.

Joe’s public service over the years includes stints as a member of the California State Senate, the California State Assembly, Mayor of Palo Alto, President of the Palo Alto School Board, as well as an earlier term on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. He served as an election observer/supervisor in El Salvador and Bosnia and participated in refugee relief and resettlement efforts in Albania and Kosovo.

On the Board of Supervisors, Joe serves as Chair of the Health and Hospital Committee, Chair of the Board’s Federal Affairs Advocacy Task Force, and Vice-Chair of the Housing, Land Use, Environment, and Transportation Committee.​


Joe Simitian’s 13 Tips for Successful Advocacy

1. Before speaking to a group of elected officials (such as City Council), develop a relationship with one or more of them. Even a 15-minute call ahead of time with one of them could make a big difference in the effectiveness of your request.

2. Understand what motivates the audience of elected officials (or staff) to which you are speaking. For example, do certain members care about traffic, housing, the environment, fiscal responsibility, or schools? They will be more receptive if you can frame your arguments in the ways they care about.

3. Understand what is possible and what is not. For example, a school board cannot take action on a City building. Similarly, asking for a very expensive new program might not make sense during a recession when budgets are being dramatically cut.

4. Find a “floor manager”. Before speaking before an elected body, find an elected official who believes in your proposal and can steer the discussion in a positive direction for you.

5. Tell them what you want. Mr. Simitian has sat through many presentations and meetings when in the end he is not clear about what the speaker wants. He feels it is important to state right upfront what you are requesting.

6. Bring solutions, not problems. Rather than just stating there is a problem (such as not enough housing), public officials like ideas for solutions, especially those with which the majority of their constituency might agree.

7. Describe the elements of a solution, rather than insisting on a specific solution. For example, if traffic on your street is bad, be open to different alternatives, rather than insisting on one particular solution (such as a speed bump).

8. Do not chastise, insult, or threaten an elected official or his/her staff. It is a sure way to slow down (or even kill) your request.

9. Understand that less can be more. For example, if many people in your neighborhood agree on an issue, it would be more effective to have two or three neighborhood representatives speak at a meeting and then ask all of those in the audience to stand up to show their support, rather than having everyone say the same thing over and over again for two hours.

10. Layer your campaign. Given that everyone gathers information in different ways, communicate your request through different channels (letters, emails, etc.) and with different presentation modes (written, verbal, graphic, etc.).

11. Persistence pays off. Reasonable, continued persistence can often work in the long run.

12. Make it easy to say yes. Requests are easier if most of the elected officials and/or constituents agree with it.

13. The value of a “thank you.” Elected officials and staff appreciate thank you notes as well as thank you letters in the newspaper. Even if your request is not approved, thank those voting against it for their consideration so they’re more likely to receive you favorably when you come back the next time.

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