July 2016: MCAA Legislative Conference

Words: Dan Kamys

Time Spent on Capitol Hill — My MCAA Legislative Conference Experience

By Karen D. Hickey

By now you may have read a couple accounts of the 2016 MCAA Legislative Conference, which took place in May in Washington, D.C. — one from MCAA Chairman Mike Sutter, and the other from Stephen Borg of the Keelan Group. I was fortunate to attend this event as well, and my experience was eye-opening. I had not been to D.C. in about 20 years, and it was my first Legislative Conference, so I was a bit nervous. I really didn’t know what to expect. I wondered, would it be difficult to talk to Congressional Representatives and their staff about the issues faced by the masonry industry? Being so new to the industry, would I be helping or hindering our cause? [caption id="attachment_13186" align="alignright" width="320"]Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH, left) took time out of his day to meet with MCAA member John Jacob (right) on Wednesday, 18 May. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH, left) took time out of his day to meet with MCAA member John Jacob (right) on Wednesday, 18 May.[/caption] As it turned out, the process was a lot easier than I expected. Stephen Borg had arranged the appointment schedule for each MCAA member in attendance, and had equipped them with a folder containing all the talking points and handouts they would need. We even had a handy guide, “Congress at Your Fingertips,” which contained details on every member of Congress. On Wednesday and Thursday, May 18–19, I accompanied MCAA member John Jacob of J. Construction Co. Inc., located in Cleves, Ohio. The Ohio schedule included 10 appointments on Wednesday and three on Thursday. I was able to join John for most of these, as I was working on finalizing the June issue of Masonry that week as well. The meetings with the Ohio Representatives took place in all three House Office Buildings: Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn. The hardest part of the day was actually walking between the buildings! For each appointment, we were greeted by friendly office staff. In all but one of the appointments, we met with a legal assistant of the Representative. John and I were fortunate to meet with Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) on Wednesday afternoon. Everyone we met with, including Rep. Wenstrup, was quite receptive to the five issues we came to discuss: workforce development and reauthorization of the Perkins Act, the silica exposure rule, misclassification of employees, the CMU check-off program, and a recent Timber Innovation proposal in the Senate. Because each appointment was about 15 minutes long, I did my best to help John as he covered the issues quickly. It was definitely much easier to go in as a team; we reminded each other of points we needed to cover and helped answer questions from the legislative staff members. Maybe it was bravado, but we felt like, together, we were taken more seriously. I’m sure the MCAA members from North Carolina know what I mean — when they showed up in a Representative’s office as a group of nine, that staff person had to know they were serious! Leading up to the D.C. fly-in, MCAA had asked all its members to attend. Speaking with members of Congress and helping them understand the masonry industry’s point of view on pertinent issues is highly important and makes a difference. But I know it seems daunting, or even impossible, to take time away from your already busy schedule to go talk to your elected officials in Washington. Though we had a very good showing of members this year — one of the largest groups ever — there were still only 11 states represented. When you’ve seen MCAA’s emails asking you to go to the conference, you have probably thought to yourself, “Someone else will do it for me.” Well, John Jacob was the only MCAA member from Ohio who attended the conference and took the time to speak to his representatives in person. Someone else wasn’t doing it for him. Meanwhile, 39 states had no in-state representation. Next year, when the 2017 MCAA Legislative Conference rolls around, I hope you’ll be in Washington, D.C., making your voice heard, and not leaving it up to someone else. It’s a lot easier than you might think, and it makes a tangible difference.
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