Northwest Credit Union Execs in D.C. to ‘Hike The Hill’

Quick. Focused. Efficient.

That’s the mantra for Northwest credit union executives who are in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with U.S. representatives and senators as part of Northwest Credit Union Association’s “Hike the Hill” program.

“We’ll be discussing the credit union tax exemption first and foremost, educating our delegation once again about the not-for-profit cooperative structure of credit unions, the value that Oregon and Washington members receive as a result of that structure, and the impact credit unions have on their communities.”Jennifer Wagner, NWCUA Vice President, Legislative Advocacy (right), with the Northwest delegation and Rep. Greg Walden (D-Ore.)

Held in collaboration with the Credit Union National Association, “Hike the Hill” is a unique chance for member credit unions to dive deeper into issues and have honest discussions with legislators in face-to-face meetings. The meetings are organized by Jennifer Wagner, NWCUA’s vice president for legislative advocacy.

“Advocacy is all about relationships,” Wagner says, “and this trip is another opportunity to nurture our relationships with our Congressional delegation and remind them about the needs and challenges of the credit unions in their districts and of our members, who are their constituents.”

Wagner leads two trips to the nation’s capital every year—one in the fall and another in the spring. That’s in addition to CUNA’s big Governmental Affairs Conference in February, when more than 200 Northwest credit union executives join delegates from across the country in Washington, D.C., for meetings, workshops, and seminars.

NWCUA’s “Hike the Hill” trips are smaller and more focused, allowing 12-18 CEOs and executive-team members to meet personally with 15-16 Congressional offices over the course of two very busy days. NWCUA is one of only a few associations that hikes the hill twice a year, a testament to its commitment to being a leader in credit union advocacy on the national stage.

“Advocating at the federal level is a process, not an event,” Wagner says. “While they don’t act quickly on anything, legislators do make decisions that can have extraordinary implications for credit unions. It is imperative that our senators and representatives understand the unique structure and needs of credit unions.”

On the eve of this week’s trip, Anthem sat down with Wagner to talk about the importance of that process, the delegation’s agenda and how more Northwest credit unions can get involved.

Q: Why hike the hill rather than just send emails or make phone calls?

Each is important, because they serve different purposes. Visiting the offices in Washington, D.C., gives us the opportunity to tell our story face to face on legislators’ turf. It also helps us develop our relationships with their D.C. staffs, who play a critical role in determining agendas and voting decisions. This trip also gives our credit union leaders the opportunity to see how D.C. functions. I’m re-energized after each of our trips, because I’m reminded of the value of delivering our messages on Capitol Hill.

Q: Who will the delegation see this time around? How is the lineup determined?

We’ll see all four Northwest senators, all five members of Congress from Oregon and seven of the 10 Washington members. The members are so busy that they don’t want to see us unless we have a constituent from their district, which is why it’s critical to have a geographically diverse group of credit unions attend these trips. We try to visit every office at least once on one of the two “Hike the Hill” trips, and we’ll hit that goal this year.

Q: What’s on the agenda this week? Any issues particular to the Northwest, or will you discuss mostly national issues? And what are the biggest hurdles you face in terms of pushing the credit union message?

We’ll be discussing the credit union tax exemption first and foremost, educating our delegation once again about the not-for-profit cooperative structure of credit unions, the value that Oregon and Washington members receive as a result of that structure, and the impact credit unions have on their communities. Another issue getting significant attention right now is housing finance reform. We’ll discuss the key principles for credit unions as Congress looks at a variety of proposals for reforming the secondary market.

One of our biggest challenges is the calendar. Congress is scheduled to be in session just nine days in September, and there are some big issues waiting for their return. With priorities like Syria, the debt ceiling, and funding the government on their “to do” list, it’s unlikely issues like regulatory relief will get the attention we would hope for.

Q: Can you share some examples of how previous visits have benefited Northwest credit unions and the credit union movement?

The most recent example is Congresswoman Suzan DelBene’s announcement this week to cosponsor our Member Business Lending bill. This bill was introduced to the congresswoman during our February visit to her D.C. office. Last year, we were able to meet with Sen. Maria Cantwell four times in her D.C. office. In our last visit, she joked that we won the award for the most visits to her office! But you know what? She was well versed on our issues by that last visit, and we received her commitment of support on a critical issue.

Q: How can credit union executives participate in future trips?

Our next “Hike the Hill” visit to D.C. will be in May, and I’d be happy to talk with anyone interested in learning more about it. (Wagner can be reached by email at jwagner@nwcua.org or by phone at 503.350.2224.) We want a diverse representation from across the region, and we always welcome new participants.

 

Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Events.