Strong cities advocacy guide

Washington’s 281 cities are strongest when we work together. Follow the guide below to gain ideas and resources to advocate for strong cities.



Work with your legislators

Establish a working relationship with your legislators year-round

Part of your job as a local elected official is to make sure legislators understand how their decisions in Olympia affect your city and community members. This requires year-round contact. Your legislators may not have a background in city issues so this frequent contact will help educate them. Ask how they prefer to be contacted and get their cell phone number. Ask for periodic meetings or calls throughout the year. The relationship you cultivate with legislators will facilitate a stronger city-state partnership.

  • Develop year-round communication with your legislators.
  • Use the time between legislative sessions (the “interim”) for longer and more relaxed meetings.
  • Travel to Olympia at key points during the legislative session to share what your city needs and how legislation will impact your community. You can follow AWC’s Legislative Bulletin for timely updates about when critical times of session are happening.

Talk about the state of your budget

The impacts of state budget decisions on your city’s day-to-day operations are not always clear to your legislators. Invite them to be part of your budget updates or briefings.

  • Brief your legislators on your city’s budget as it’s being developed.
  • Share your challenges and opportunities related to issues such as growth, fiscal shortfalls, public safety, infrastructure, COVID-19, and economic development.
  • Give specific examples of how actions by the state influence your budget – positively or negatively.
  • Thank them and ask about the state’s fiscal challenges. Remind them of the importance of addressing both state and local needs.


Communicate strategically

Communicate what your city needs early and often. Frame your city’s issues in a way that legislators can understand and remember.

  • Don’t just send an email – call or text them! Speak with your legislator or the legislative assistant.
  • Stories stick. Frame your city’s “ask” with a local story. Too many charts and graphs can make brains spin.
  • Respect staff and use time wisely. Staff are busy! They appreciate clarity and brevity.
  • Ask for frequent meetings or calls with your city, or a group of cities.
  • Talk about specific bills or budget priorities and tell stories about real impacts on your constituents.
  • Speak up even if you think it may not be necessary. If legislators don’t hear from you on something deemed important, they may assume you don’t care or that the issue has no impact on your community.

Make the most of your interaction

Time with your legislator is often brief, so it’s important you make the most of it.

  • Be concise. Plan what you what you want to say in advance.
  • Stories are best illustrated in terms of impacts to constituents, not as impacts on government.
  • Legislators do not always have time to read big packets. Keep your materials short.
  • Offer to provide more detail to staff.
  • Don’t try to cover too much, 3-5 issues at most.
  • Ask for clear commitments to work on your issues.

Leverage your role as a community leader

As a local elected leader, you’re in a unique position to represent your community with your legislators. Create consequences for your legislators’ decisions – good or bad. Publicly thank legislators who have helped your city be successful. Be candid about those who haven’t done as much. You owe it to residents to share how much or how little help you’ve gotten from Olympia.

Is a local project or program facing difficulties because of declining state support?

  • Let beneficiaries know what role state funding plays in advancing your city’s priorities and projects.
  • Consider how your legislators have or have not helped support state capital programs that benefit cities.
  • Publicly acknowledge the need for state programs and funding at civic meetings and openly share what you need from your legislators.


Talk publicly about why cities and the state need each other

If you aren’t communicating with your constituents, who is?

You and your legislators have the same constituents. Make sure they know how decisions made in Olympia affect them at home. This is a powerful way to create accountability.

  • It is your responsibility to tell the public how their legislators are supporting your community. No one else will do this.
  • Communicate with your constituents through city council meetings, public access TV, social media, and newsletters.
  • Use your influence with community groups to make sure they know the full story.

Work to get your local media to cover your city’s needs

Develop a relationship with your local media. This is a great opportunity to educate community members about what your city needs. This helps spur action and holds legislators accountable.

  • Choose an issue where the benefit to people in your community is very clear.
  • Be honest and clear about which legislators are helping and who you still need help from.
  • Draft an opinion editorial and submit it to your local paper.
  • Join forces with your neighboring communities if you share similar challenges. There is power in numbers.

If you don’t have local media, reach out to neighboring media outlets. You can also connect with local writers or keep your own website updated with the latest news. Share posts on social media so that residents can hear information directly from you first.

Develop your city’s legislative agenda and share it

Tell your legislators what you want from them. Sharing your city’s legislative agenda is a simple and effective way to get your legislator’s attention. It’s best to adopt your legislative agenda in the fall and share it before session starts each January.

  • Keep it short and simple – one page only.
  • Include capital needs along with policy priorities.
  • Incorporate AWC’s Legislative Priorities into your agenda.
  • Make it public. Post it on your city’s website, put it in your newsletters, and insert it into utility bills.
  • Work with your local media for coverage.



Do not accept excuses

It’s possible that you could get pushback from some legislators on certain issues. Here’s a list of common refrains we’ve heard over the years, along with sample rebuttals you can use to counter them.

“I’m not on the committee.”

Your legislator’s job is to fight for your district! They need to advocate for your interests with colleagues who are on the committee tasked with considering your issue. You can help by arming them with stories and data to help.

“I had to follow my caucus.”

The only way for your community to get what you need is for your legislators to fight within their caucus to support you. No one else can fight for your city. Suggest they join with other local government champions to gain allies who will help advance good bills for cities and help block bills that are bad for cities.

“City funding is not our problem.”

Remind legislators of the statistics in our cities by the numbers fact sheet. Cities drive the economic health, population growth, and commercial activity in the state. Underfunding city government undermines that critical value. The state and businesses thrive when we have vibrant communities, when transportation is smooth and accessible, and when key services are dependable. The state needs to make sure that we have the tools and funding to keep cities strong. Local funding is not optional and it is their problem when things aren’t working right.

“Cities are doing better than the state.”

Your response to this statement will depend on local conditions. But overall, on a per capita basis, cities’ revenues grow more slowly than the state’s. If your city is struggling, explain the reasons why. For cities that are faring better, remind your legislators that the vast majority of the tax dollars generated by economic activity flow directly to the state and not to your city. Strong cities provide more resources to the state.

“Cities pay more for employees than the state, control your own costs.”

The majority of city expenses go to personnel costs and, like the private market, salaries for public sector employees vary by region. Many cost drivers are out of city control, such as health insurance premiums, pensions, or workers’ compensation rates set by the state. Cities use the tools they have for controlling costs but must also respond to the economic market.


A note about constituent communications

There are important legal restrictions on using city resources to engage constituents in grassroots lobbying campaigns on legislative issues. A better approach is to focus your lobbying efforts on providing information to constituents about the impact of legislation and the actions your legislators take on bills.

Visit or AWC’s website for more information.

Copyright © 2018-2020 Association of Washington Cities