Credit Union Cookies and Long-Nurtured Relationships Rule a Very Busy Day in Salem
February 18, 2014
Feb. 18, 2014
In the end, the Northwest Credit Union Association’s Legislative Lunch @ the Capitol in Salem may have come down to four words:
“Thanks for the cookie.”
That’s the text message House Speaker Tina Kotek sent to the NWCUA’s Pam Leavitt in the early afternoon last Thursday, confirming what anyone in the crowded, colorful, noisy state Capitol already knew. On a very busy day in a short legislative session, credit union advocates were noticed, their stories were shared, and their message was most definitely heard.
“Your job is to make sure legislators know we’re here, and that we’re engaged,” Leavitt had told the advocates during a morning briefing.
Job done, and done well.
More than 50 representatives from Oregon credit unions attended Legislative Lunch @ the Capitol, where they heard from Leavitt, the Association’s policy advisor for Oregon advocacy; several state legislators, including Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-30); and Patrick Allen, the director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services.
Most of the day was spent “hiking the Hill,” though, meeting with legislators and their aides in cozy Capitol offices or in hallways outside the House and Senate chambers. Advocates adorned in bright yellow scarves carried key talking points with them, along with the specially designed cookies – featuring a silhouette of Oregon and birthday greetings from credit unions to the state — that caught Kotek’s attention.
For only the second time in the state’s history, the Oregon Legislature is meeting for a short, 35-day session is 2014. During longer sessions in odd-numbered years, the NWCUA sponsors a full-scale Credit Union Day at the Capitol, complete with a Financial Reality Fair and other special events. But this year’s tight timeline means not only that many of the most contentious bills could fall by the wayside, but also that it can be tougher to track lawmakers down.
So when a weary Sen. Peter Courtney stepped onto an elevator between legislative meetings, looking like he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, the cookie and kind words he received from Southern Oregon credit union advocates did way more than bring a smile to his face – even if they weren’t from his Salem district.
“The goal isn’t necessarily to meet with legislators,” Leavitt said, “but just to say hello. We want them to know that we are in the Capitol today, and that credit union advocates will stay engaged every year in the legislative process.”
Ironically, those advocates who greeted Courtney in the elevator almost didn’t make it to the Capitol. Two hours after leaving Medford in the Rogue Credit Union car, Laura Chadick found herself on the side of a “dark, dark I-5 with two men in suits” and a tire that had been destroyed by a truck’s broken and discarded snow chains. But Chadick, a mortgage delivery manager, and her suited Rogue companions – Senior Relationship Manager Bruce Hearnsberger and Financial Adviser Andrew Staley – changed the tire and, with a little help from Les Schwab in Roseburg, made it to Salem three hours later.
The payoff? They joined Kathie Philp, the president and CEO of Pacific Crest Federal Credit Union, for afternoon meetings with Sens. Herman Baertschiger Jr. (R-2) and Doug Whitsett (R-28). The Whitsett meeting alone lasted for more than 30 minutes and covered everything from prize-linked savings to credit union philosophy – a remarkable meeting, given the short-session time crunch.
Other advocates found similar success. NWCUA President/CEO Troy Stang joined Unitus Community Credit Union’s Mike Tierney for a visit to Democrat Barbara Smith Warner, the new state representative from Northeast Portland. “My dad once said, ‘Open an account at a credit union and never close it,’” Smith Warner told them.
Rachel Pross, the director of compliance and legislative affairs at Northwest Community Credit Union, and Trailhead Credit Union President/CEO Jim McCarthy delivered cookies and shared the credit union message with Reps. Val Hoyle (D-14) and Paul Holvey (D-8) and Sen. Chris Edwards (D-7).
Like many of the credit union advocates, Pross had nurtured relationships with key legislators long before “hiking the Hill.” Hoyle is “a friend,” Pross said, and Holvey had visited Northwest Community just before the holidays. Added McCarthy: “All of the people we met were warm, friendly and welcoming.”
And that’s no accident, according to Jennifer Wagner, the NWCUA’s senior vice president for advocacy.
“Advocacy in general is about relationships,” Wagner said. “If these legislators have a relationship with an advocate in their local community, it endears them to us for many, many years. If you don’t have a relationship and something critical — a serious threat — comes up, you can’t get into those legislators’ offices. They won’t take your call. But these folks who were here today, who meet with their legislators on a regular basis, they have a relationship. So when we really need them to pick up the phone, they can call the legislator and the legislator will take their call.”
Having impressive talking points helps. The advocates who came to Salem represented the state’s 68 credit unions and their 1.4 million members – members who saved $96 million in the 12 months that ended in September 2013 because of lower rates and better terms than those typically offered by banks. But in the end, the credit union message is about more than just numbers, Sen. Ted Ferrioli told the advocates.
“I really want to encourage you to do something that you are here to do anyway,” he said, “and that is to make sure you tell the folks you encounter what it is that credit unions do in communities. Put a human face on that. Tell the real story about how credit unions help people achieve their goals and their dreams and their aspirations for their families.”
It’s a great story, to be sure – even if it won’t all fit on a cookie.
Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, email@example.com.