How to effect change in politics
Greg Leo is no stranger to Salem.
The City of Wilsonville lobbyist has been trying to persuade legislators to advance or scuttle initiatives for nearly half a century. Although the political process can seem daunting and even byzantine, Leo believes the average citizen can exert influence.
And he wants to provide Wilsonville residents with the knowledge to do so.
Leo is hosting presentations titled "Understanding the Oregon Legislature: How citizens can be effective in Salem" from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, and "Civics Guide: Participation in Federal, State, County and City Affairs" from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4. Both events will be held at the Wilsonville Public Library.
"Giving citizens the information they need to participate is really important," Leo said. "The work of the Oregon Legislature will affect people and citizens. It's their government. It's a government for the people, by the people."
He added: "This whole process is based on people caring enough to learn and to show up."
Leo received a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University and began his first legislative session as a lobbyist in 1971. He eventually founded The Leo Company in 1997 and has been working for the City of Wilsonville since then.
Leo was instrumental in convincing legislators to build the current Coffee Creek Correctional Facility at the site on Day Road rather than where the Villebois community is sited.
In recent years, Leo has presented a talk about citizen involvement to the Wilsonville Citizens Academy but said Library Director Pat Duke asked him to open it up to the public and he agreed.
Some topics Leo will discuss during the first talk include how a bill becomes a law, the organizational structure of state government, the legislative calendar and how to use the Oregon Legislative Information System (OLIS), which includes legislative history, information about bills, and who supports or opposes them.
"Being able to look at a statute, look at its history, that gives you a rich understanding of why you have that statute," Leo said.
He also will touch on how people can apply for state boards and commissions and ways people can voice their opinions on legislation, such as submitting letters to OLIS and showing up to public hearings.
"The most effective testimony is where you've written it in writing and you don't read the letter but speak extemporaneously about it and why it's important," Leo said.
He added that one key to navigating the Legislature is to be reasonable and well informed.
"Don't get angry, don't accuse, threaten; (don't) be hostile with legislators or other advocates," Leo said. "Listen as much as you talk. Before you can be understood you have to listen; you have to understand what the other folks are trying to do."
He added: "When a well-informed citizen comes to Salem they get listened to. Legislators see a reflection of who they are in these citizens."
Currently, Leo is preparing for the upcoming legislative short session, where the public body will congregate for five weeks starting in February. He said that time would be an optimal opportunity to begin engaging with the Legislature.
"It's a nice lab to see how the process works. The tempo of the action is brisk," he said.
During the Feb. 4 session, Leo will talk more about city, county and federal governments, how they function and the different ways people can get involved.
"I hope people show up," Leo said. "It's going to be interesting for people. I will try to keep it interesting and enjoyable and entertaining."
For more information, visit the City of Wilsonville website: www.ci.wilsonville.or.us.
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