Washington Advocates Get a Warm Welcome at Credit Union Day at the Capitol

Credit union advocates from across Washington braved cold temperatures and the threat of snow to gather in Olympia last week for Credit Union Day at the Capitol, but the reception they received inside legislative offices and outside committee meetings was anything but chilly.

“Everyone showed a brave face as they struggled to keep warm in our tent on the Capitol lawn,” said Mark Minickiello, the Northwest Credit Union Association’s vice president for legislative affairs. “But what they didn’t struggle with was the high energy they passed along to legislators throughout the Capitol.”

How warm was the reception in Olympia?

It was so warm that after Rep. Jeff Holy (R-6) met with Spokane-area advocates, he immediately pulled HB 2140, the NWCUA-backed credit union merger bill, out of the House Rules Committee, making it eligible for a floor vote. 

It was so warm that lawmakers like Rep. Sam Hunt (D-22) and Rep. Brandon Vick (R-18) actually stepped out of important committee hearings to meet with advocates in nearby hallways. Hunt shared his support for credit unions with advocates from Thurston County, while Clark County advocates thanked Vick for his support of HB 2140.

It was so warm that Rep. Hans Zeiger (R-25) and Sen. Bruce Dammeier (R-25) left their committee meetings to chat with Woodstone Credit Union’s Jane Parker about the benefits of credit union membership. Dammeier, it turns out, didn’t need much convincing — he was once a member of Navy Federal Credit Union.

And it was so warm that Minickiello spent a good part of the afternoon fielding calls from legislators who wondered if any of their own constituents were in town, after watching advocates dressed in bright yellow scarves pass by their offices.

“Even non-legislators got caught up in Credit Union Day,” Minickiello said. “Many of our advocates were stopped in the cafeteria and in hallways by folks outside of the Legislature who wanted to ask about credit unions or share their love for credit unions.”

Held every year during Washington’s legislative session, Credit Union Day at the Capitol is a chance for advocates to hear from key lawmakers and to “hike the Hill” for face-to-face meetings with senators and representatives from their districts.

The timing of this year’s Credit Union Day couldn’t have been better, Minickiello said, because as the Legislature continues to struggle with budget shortfalls, lawmakers’ attention remains focused on tax reform. That makes it imperative, he said, that every legislator understands the difference between credit unions and banks, and why the credit union tax exemption is so important

Throughout the day, legislative leaders stopped by the NWCUA’s big white tent on the Capitol lawn to talk about what credit unions mean to their communities. In a smaller tent next door, they got a chance to watch 74 high school students work their way through the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s Financial Reality Fair. (Read more about the Reality Fair here.)

Rep. Joel Kretz (R-7), the deputy minority leader in the House, told the more than 110 advocates who sat bundled in hats, gloves, heavy coats and iconic yellow scarves that credit unions play a key role in his rural district, where the financial options for his constituents are limited. “I appreciate that credit unions are there,” he said. “I appreciate that you are part of the community.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler  (R-9), the Senate’s Republican leader, and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34), told advocates about their legislative priorities for the current session and why credit unions help inform those agendas. “During the Great Recession, credit unions remained stable and continued to serve our families,” Nelson said. “Time and time again, you were there for them.”

Credit unions have a lot of friends on both sides of the rotunda, Rep. Steve Kirby (D-29) said. Kirby, who chairs the House Business and Financial Services Committee, is also a sales and services specialist at Harborstone Credit Union. “But you need to constantly remind them of why that is,” he said. “That’s why this is such an important day.”

Anthony Huey, a former reporter and editor who now offers coaching in effective communication and crisis management as the president of Reputation Management Associates, helped prepare advocates for the day with tips for making sure their message would be heard. Be specific, be accurate and speak with conviction, Huey said, and remember that “you are in control.”

“You’re their constituents,” Huey said. “What can you do to connect with them and get your story across?”

The answer, he said, is to prepare a list of “nuggets” — or key talking points — to share, and Minickiello did just that, including some impressive statistics: Washington’s 106 credit unions represent 2.9 million members, for example, and favorable terms helped those members save more than $200 million in the 12 months that ended in June 2013 when compared to typical bank customers.

Minickiello also urged advocates to stress the structure, value and impact of credit unions in their chats with legislators. “But remember,” he said, “that it’s your voice as a member, as a credit union employee or director, that is most important. Tell your story.”

And don’t worry if all you get is 15 minutes in a crowded hallway, Minickiello said. Legislators are in session and they’re busy, “but they’re going to be very happy to see you, to hear from you. And they’re going to remember that you were here.”

 

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

Posted in Advocacy News, Events.