Wherever They Looked, Oregon Legislators Saw Credit Union Advocates

When credit unions talk, legislators lean in. That’s a decades-long tradition in Oregon, where advocates have built lasting relationships with elected officials and successfully pass charter updates and other key legislation on a regular basis.

The virtual environment created an even more effective opportunity for lawmakers and advocates to engage. More than 130 credit union champions jumped online for the virtual Oregon Credit Union Day at the Capitol last week, and then spent quality time with their local legislators in more than 60 meetings following the event.

There was plenty to talk about, including credit unions’ positive, $2.8 billion impact on the economy and extraordinary services provided to the 2.25 million Oregonians who’ve chosen credit unions as their trusted financial partners. Advocates also talked about helping their members through the pandemic last year, by waiving $4.4 million in fees, funding Paycheck Protection Program loans for thousands of small businesses, helping the state distribute emergency payments to 60,000 Oregonians, and volunteering 18,000 hours of community service.

It was clear that credit union advocacy has helped elected officials understand the credit union difference; in fact, guest speakers evangelized the benefits of membership, right back to the advocates.

“I’ve been a credit union member for well over a decade,” said keynote speaker Shemia Fagan, who was celebrating her 100th day as Oregon’s Secretary of State. Secretary Fagan has even told her young children how credit union benefits are shared by all members, not stockholders. “It’s a sense of community. What is good for one is good for all of us,” Fagan said.

House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, who represents District 45 in northeastern Portland, shared similar praise for the credit union business model.

“I am such a great believer in the structure of credit unions, and the fact that they are designed to be mutually beneficial,” Smith Warner said. When she graduated college, her father’s advice to her was to join a credit union, and she did.

For her years of supporting credit union and service  to Oregonians, Smith Warner received the NWCUA’s Community Impact Award during the virtual event.

Democrats have a “super majority” in the legislature, so House Minority Christine Drazen (R-39) told advocates that part of her leadership mission is to “impact outcomes, to shoulder someone’s burden, and to be a voice for someone who is, politically speaking, marginalized.”

Drazen praised credit union advocates for their bipartisan work with legislators.

Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read, also a guest speaker, reminded advocates he belongs to three credit unions.

“I am a big fan of the work you do,” Read said.

Later that afternoon and during the days that followed the virtual event, advocates joined NWCUA for more than 60 meetings with legislators representing their home districts.

“Legislators always enjoy meeting with credit unions and sharing conversation about how they’re serving members and communities,” said Pamela Leavitt, NWCUA Policy Advisor for Oregon State Advocacy and Grassroots. “Of the 90 legislators, 20 are newly elected so it’s important to tell the credit union story to them, and to keep building relationships — not just on our special day at the Capitol but year around, whenever we have good news to share, or when we can demonstrate how legislation we support, will help us to meet our members’ needs.”

This year, advocacy has already helped credit unions’ two priority bills to pass in the house. One of the bills updates the Credit Union Act, and the other allows financial institutions to swipe a consumer’s ID card or driver’s license to expedite membership and loan applications. Both bills are headed for a hearing in the Senate Business and Labor Committee, so this month’s meetings have been timely opportunities to message state Senators.

While the virtual setting was extremely connective and convenient, some advocates and legislators said they missed the in-person days at the Capitol, when credit unions dominated the building, with attendees wearing their signature colorful advocacy scarves and delivering donuts to legislative staff.

“No problem,” said Leavitt. “We are planning to gather in person next year, so mark your calendars for Feb. 17, 2022.”

Editor’s note: The Northwest Credit Union Movement greatly appreciates CUNA Mutual Group for supporting and advocating for credit unions, and for sponsorship of the Virtual Day at the Capitol events.

Posted in Advocacy News.