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Forty UI students to write, lobby legislators

BY JORDYN REILAND | DECEMBER 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa is one of the first to have a program dedicated solely to the act of student lobbying.

But legislators and experts disagree on whether the Hawkeye Caucus group's new pen-pal initiative — in which students will exchange emails with legislators to lobby for state appropriations and low tuition — will be effective.

And though organizers of the student group feel the email program is beneficial, some say it depends on the way the situation is handled.

Tim Hagle, UI associate professor of political science, said students writing to legislators can put a personal touch on the issue depending on how they approach it.

"It depends on the specific things students are writing about," Hagle said. "They need to be delicate in how they approach their issue to the legislator."

Abbey Moffit, the founder of Hawkeye Caucus, said the group is strongly pushing for a professional, polite relationship.

"I can see where [Hagle] is coming from," she said. "We are coming about it as students just advocating and creating professional, long-lasting relationships."

Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf, said the most important thing is creating the personal relationship, and making it a two-way street for the student and legislator.

"If you can develop a relationship anytime with your legislator you get to vote for or elect, I think it's a great cause," she said. "It's a way to share your views, as well as seeing what the legislator feels."
Moffit said the communication will occur over a series of four emails starting at the end of the month, the first one as an introductory welcome and the rest focusing on the continuation of appropriate funding for the UI.

Other universities, such as the University of Northern Iowa and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, have lobbying groups on campus, but none have planned a similar pen-pal program.

UNI Director of Governmental Relations Rhonda Greenway said external relations is the "lobbying arm" of the Senate.

The group collaborates with the goals of the Senate to work with legislators at the Capitol. The members put on such events as postcard drives, a voter-palooza — an event promoting voting with games and other activities — voter registration drives, and tutorials on how to lobby.

"We have seen good responses from legislators in the area," Greenway said. "Across the state, it depends on when you go to the Capitol and what your message is."

Don Nelson, the director of state relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said state relations — the equivalent of the UI Student Government — works directly with legislators and helps educate legislators with issues that come up, as well as help from the student government.

Nelson said he thinks the partnership is an important part of the communication process.

"Legislators come from all parts of the state, and so do our students, " Nelson said. "It's important to hear issues from students in their legislators' districts … it makes the message more effective."

There are currently 40 members signed up for the pen-pal program, and Moffit said she hopes more will sign up as the process continues to develop.

"It's how everyone can have an impact on the status of higher education in the future if they just communicate," she said.


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