Taking it to the Hill
ASA members, federal legislators discuss pertinent wholesale industry issues.
With so much up for grabs during this election cycle in the United States, mid-May was the appropriate time for members of the American Supply Association to descend upon Washington and partake in ASA’s annual Legislative Fly-in.
Thirty members of ASA – including current President Scott Weaver (APR Supply Co.) and Chairman Bill Kenny (Kenny Pipe & Supply) – made the trip to the nation’s capitol to discuss and debate issues pertinent to the PCHP and PVF wholesale industries with their senators, representatives or their staff members. The event was spearheaded by ASA’s Director of Government Affairs Dan Hilton, the second Fly-In he has organized since joining ASA in early 2011.
For day one, Hilton presented key position papers for Fly-In attendees to review and digest so they would be up-to-date regarding current bills about to come to the floors of the Senate and the House of Representatives which could positively or negatively affect their businesses. Those position papers included:
Hilton also stressed to attendees the time-crunch they would be in during the event. First, he said, their meetings probably wouldn’t start on time due to previous congressional meetings running long, which could throw the schedule for a loop. Also, Hilton prepared attendees they would most likely get 15 to 20 minutes with each legislator’s office and encouraged them to get into discussions quickly, particularly with members of the Democratic party on issues such as the Keystone Pipeline and the repeal of an employer mandate for health care.
Glenn Fuller, president of Texas Plumbing Supply, was able to make some headway during one of his meetings. Fuller was able to meet with Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act.
“Although I may not have changed his mind on the basic fundamentals of it, I explained to him the business choice this law forces me to make and I believe he saw it from my point of view,” Fuller said. “After our discussion, he admitted the law needed some changes to it and he agreed to look at the changes from a business point of view.”
“My wife Christina asked me, ‘Is Texas Plumbing Supply better off because you attended this event?’,” Fuller said. “My answer was, ‘No, not necessarily. However, someone has to speak up for our industry and business. If I sit back and wait on someone else to do it, what if no one else attends?’
“Every industry event I attend, I hear my peers’ concerns about the direction our country is going. Many will complain about it, but not enough will actually take the time to do their part. I had to do my part.”
Kenny is a veteran of the ASA Fly-In. Before his meeting with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), he spoke of the debate the two had in 2011 regarding WaterSense and was prepared for another go-around this year on the new topics - even after Cooper came to the grand reopening of a Kenny Pipe facility in Nashville, which sits in Cooper’s district. Kenny went through the topics of discussion and afterward he spoke about the respect he had for Cooper. The congressman even shared his proposal for his “No Budget, No Pay” bill.
“I think he’ll listen,” Kenny said of Cooper. “He’s willing to buck his leadership.”
David Prahler, a vice president with Wisconsin-based First Supply, was pleased he could educate staffers to what affects ASA’s businesses. As much as congressional staffers know about the ins and outs around the Capitol, they’re not experts on every issue.
“All of the legislators and their staffs listened to us rather than trying to convince us that we were wrong when there was a difference of opinion,” Prahler said. “Some of the staff members were not conversant with our issues and I think we raised the level of awareness on those issues with those individuals.”
Prahler visited with a majority of the Wisconsin delegation and was joined in many meetings by Michael Vickery, national sales manager with Bradley Corp., which is headquartered in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Prahler thought it was very beneficial to have a tag-team partner from the manufacturing side of industry.
“I found it particularly useful to be teamed with a manufacturer attendee,” Prahler said. “Having both the distributor and manufacturer point of view available in the discussions was helpful.”
Fuller made sure to impress in each meeting he had that it was a two-way street with the Texas delegation.
“I gave my contact information to every congressman, senator and staff member I met and encouraged them to use me and all of my peers that attended as a connection to our industry and to contact us directly for questions on specific laws that may come up in the future,” Fuller said. “I know this has worked for me in Texas and I hope it will work on a national basis.”
Hilton – who worked as a staffer on the Hill before joining ASA’s advocacy initiative – was pleased to get such positive feedback from the attendees. He also was happy to hear senators did their part and joined in the meetings. From experience, Hilton knows how maddening it can be to get senators in front of their constituents during session.
“The feedback I got from our members was it was very positive and very informative. I was very surprised with the number of member meetings, particularly on the Senate side,” Hilton said. “Working here for 11 years, it’s a challenge to pin them down. That’s always a pleasure to connect with them.”
There will not be an official ASA Fly-In in 2013 as the NetworkASA event will be held in Washington. Hilton hopes that the attendees of this year’s event will stress to other ASA members that the Fly-In is an important part of growing the industry.
“We certainly plan to increase this,” Hilton said. “We’ll have a lot more people and a lot more folks that are well-versed at doing this. The more often they do this the more comfortable it is for them.”
Kenny concurred that more wholesalers need to find the time to join up to tell their stories and let their voices be known in the city where things get done.
“This is the only event where I have an opportunity to do this. I don’t have another situation that I can go and meet my congressman. And this is set up in a very professional and organized manner,” he said. “You come in and we’re treated very well. We’re educated, we’re brought up to speed and it’s all organized. Our appointments are set up for us.”