Lumber rolls inside the Beltway

On April 1, lumberyard owners and executives from around the country will gather in Washington, D.C., to meet with their elected officials over a two-day period. The various dealers will bring their issues—tort reform, estate tax and green building mandates—to Capitol Hill as one entity, under the auspices of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA).

Last year’s Legislative Conference drew dealers from 26 states, all of them lobbying for the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act, a bill that would protect retailers named in product liability lawsuits. Originally introduced by the NLBMDA, H.R. 989 now has 58 congressional co-sponsors, including Democrats and Republicans.

Seth Arluck, co-owner of New Hampton Lumber, has been attending the event for 16 consecutive years, ever since the first George Bush was president. Home Channel News asked the New Hampshire Democrat to explain what motivates him to trudge up the Hill every year.

Well worth the effort

I was recently asked whether the NLBMDA’s annual Legislative Conference actually accomplishes anything; why bother to go, be away from your business for several days, spend a significant sum on hotel and travel, and spend hours learning about issues and lobbying?

I believe that there are several reasons: 1) an obligation as a business person to be aware of government policies that affect your bottom line, that is, the fiscal, trade and regulatory policies have a direct impact on the success of our enterprises; 2) an opportunity to develop a relationship with your member of Congress, to explain what your business is about, to communicate negative and positive effects of the rep’s positions—if your representative is supportive of retail lumber dealers, here is the chance for a big “thank you”; 3) net working with some of the most successful members of the retail lumber community in the United States, many who have been coming to Washington to do this work for all of us for over a decade.

Has this collective exercise in civics accomplished anything? I believe that it has; the temporary repeal of the death tax, bankruptcy reform, pressure on the administration to strike a deal on the Canadian Soft wood Lumber issue and forest health legislation have all been positive outcomes on which the lumber dealers have had influence. The real measure, though, would be to ask individual dealers if they see this Legislative Conference experience as worthwhile. Many of us have felt the satisfaction of having members who would sign on as bill sponsors or speak before a lumber dealers meeting when asked, the satisfaction of being part of the process.

A few years ago, in January, I was going around with the NLBMDA lobbyist on Swearing-In Day, when the new Congress is sworn in, to visit some of the lumber dealers’ friends who were returning to Congress. We happened to be passing the office of a Southern congressman who I know, and he invited us in for a visit. He asked what our issues were at the time, and we explained them.

In March, when I was back for the Legislative Conference, I just happened to be going by the same office as the congressman’s Legislative Assistant came out the door. He recognized me and asked if he could help with anything; I replied probably not because our number one issue at the time was elimination of the Canadian Softwood Lumber quota that most Southern representatives supported. The staffer then proceeded to explain that since my January visit, the congressman had resisted attempts by pro-quota forces for his backing, producing considerable turm oil for the office. “You’re a good lobbyist,” he said.

You’ll see me in D.C. again this year.

Seth Arluck is the co-owner of New Hampton Lumber.

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