Dispatch from the District – New Legislator Orientation with Sen. Kevin De León

By Guest Blogger – Justin Robertson, Los Angeles County Tobacco Control and Prevention Program

New Legislator Orientation is a great opportunity for relationship building with new members of the California Legislature. Some members come to Sacramento knowing less about tobacco policy than others, and often appreciate that we’re here to answer their questions and to help keep them informed.

Last month, my TCPP/Project TRUST colleague Alisha Lopez and I sat down with Senator Kevin De León and his District Director—himself a local city councilmember—for a brisk 15-minute meeting at his district office in Los Angeles. It was a great experience that showed me the value of crisp, clear communication, and how materials like the American Lung Association in California (ALAC) State of Tobacco Control report can be invaluable for our information and education efforts.

Senator De León served four years in the State Assembly before being elected in November to represent the 22nd Senatorial District. He had a good record on tobacco control in the Assembly and served on the Assembly’s Health Committee and the Select Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

The senator was running behind schedule that day, and as we sat in his waiting room we watched as meeting after meeting piled up behind us. Time was not on our side.

When we were called into his office, we brought with us a “leave behind” folder of fact sheets and other information, including the latest ALAC letter grades and the local ordinance matrix from The Center. We introduced ourselves and our program, and handed Senator De León the ALAC report card, along with a chart of smoking rates in L.A. County. We pointed out that of the cities in his district, one was a leader in smoke-free policies (South Pasadena), while others haven’t done so well—and a few received a failing grade.

The senator was especially interested in the report card, as was his District Director, the councilmember, who was disappointed to learn his own city’s middling grade. Both were grateful to have this information at their fingertips.

Senator De León asked us questions about the various cities in his district and their smoke-free policies. We were able to easily point out the answers and not waste a minute of his time. With a half-dozen other meetings waiting in the hall, the senator told us that he appreciated our visit and that in him we have a friend.

Elected officials are busy people with countless issues and groups to consider—and not much time for dense reports. It was so helpful to have the ALAC State of Tobacco Control chart, fact sheets, and other good summaries on hand for Senator De León and his staff to absorb quickly.

In 15 minutes, we made a friend, and left him much more knowledgeable about tobacco control in his district. The takeaway, after a few hundred words? Get to the point!

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