With the 2013 New Mexico Legislature underway, like most interested parties, AARP New Mexico will have a slew of individuals lobbying on behalf of its legislative priorities – with a couple of big differences. One, AARP’s individuals are the legislators’ own constituents, the very people any new laws will impact, and second, they are all volunteers.
Each year during the legislative session, AARP has about 30 volunteers who work the session on the Association’s behalf focusing on the areas of consumer issues, utilities and health.
“AARP New Mexico only has six paid staff members for the entire state,” said Gene Varela, AARP New Mexico State Director. “It would be very hard for us to work the session alone as effectively as our advocacy volunteers do. There are enough of them to focus on several areas that AARP believes are vital. If we were relying on the staff only, the work we do would be limited to only a couple of areas.”
“Thanks to our volunteer team, we can work on protecting funding for senior services; monitor any plans for creating the new health exchange; protecting pensions for public employees; guardianship issues and reforming the Public Regulation Commission just to name a few,” Varela said.
“Plus AARP volunteers are very effective because these are the people that any laws that are passed will impact. They aren’t the typical paid lobbyist. Our volunteers pick the areas that they want to focus on so they are very informed and passionate about that particular issue. If an everyday citizen gets up to speak about a particular bill, you can bet that a legislator is going to weigh that testimony a little more heavily than from a paid staff person,” Varela said.
Volunteers conduct a variety of tasks through the session such as monitoring particular bills and their progress through both houses and testifying before committees but most importantly visiting directly with Legislators on a particular bill’s merits or detriments.
New volunteers are not thrown into the deep-end of the Legislative Session. Each January, veteran volunteers conduct a volunteer orientation focused solely on the Session and new recruits are paired with a volunteer mentor to work with during their first session.
“The Legislative Session can be a daunting process especially if you’ve never experienced it before,” said Leonel Garza, AARP New Mexico Legislative Committee Chairman. “There’s a lot of hurry up and wait but at the same time things can change in a moment so we make sure new volunteers can count on the experience of volunteers who have been doing this awhile and of course, the staff is always on hand to help answer any questions or provide direction.”
Garza says that being involved in the legislative process gives a person a real sense of accomplishment.
“Working the Legislature as a volunteer gives you the opportunity to impact current public policy. It’s very rewarding in terms of getting things done and seeing a process through. You’re part of the governmental process rather than just being an observer waiting for something to happen and that’s very empowering,” he said.
Anyone interested in working at the Legislature on behalf of AARP should contact Michael Donnelly, AARP New Mexico Associate State Director of Advocacy, at 505-946-3603 or 1-866-389-5636. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo Caption: New Mexico State Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) speaks to AARP NM volunteers on the legislative process during a volunteer orientation session.)