15 tips for being an effective legislator: practical wisdom on coping with increasingly complex issues.

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"Listen, think and vote your conscience. Your constituents will not always agree with you, but they will respect you for thinking through the issues and leveling with them."

--SENATOR LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE, TEXAS

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  1. HONOR THE INSTITUTION

    Thomas Jefferson did it, and so did James Madison, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and other builders of our governmental institutions. They worked tirelessly to make representative government work. Now the well-being of your state legislature is in your hands. Preserve and protect it so it remains a strong, co-equal branch of government. Legislative service is one of democracy's worthiest pursuits. It is an important duty that deserves our time, attention and dedication. To work well, government requires a bond of trust between citizens and their representatives. Try to appeal to the best instincts of the electorate, talk about what you stand for, what you intend to do during your time in office and then work as hard as you can to fulfill those promises. Remember why you ran for office--to make a difference, a difference for the better.

  2. TAKE THE HIGH ROAD

    If it won't "read good" tomorrow, don't do it today. That's the best rule to follow when judging those instances that are perfectly legal, but could look bad. Would you be embarrassed to see your actions reported in the newspaper? Make sure you understand your state's ethics codes and adhere to them. Avoid even the appearance of impropriety--always take the high road. Understanding legislative etiquette and ethical responsibilities is vital, not only to the institution and your constituents, but to yourself.

  3. MASTER THE RULES

    Play volleyball or tennis without knowing the rules? You'll lose. The same goes for legislating. You need to know the rules. It's a good idea to carry them around with you to read as you see the process unfold. Soon they will start to make sense. Get to know experienced parliamentary experts (legislators and staff) and seek their advice routinely. And don't ever fool yourself by presuming that you have conquered the rules--there's always someone in your chamber who can challenge you.

  4. KNOW WHERE TO GET HELP

    Get acquainted with staff members, not only legislative staff but key people in the governor's office and cabinet offices. Look for expertise among members on both sides of the aisle. Turn to them for advice and counsel. Lobbyists also serve as resource people, but it's important to ask for...

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