One of the lessons of legislative lobbying is this: If you’re not in front of lawmakers with your message, somebody else is.
Operating under that theory, and armed with position papers and talking points, lumberyard executives and members of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) descended on the halls of power in Washington, D.C., last month for the group’s annual Legislative Conference, parts of which were co-hosted with the Windows and Doors Manufacturers Association (WDMA).
Here’s a blow-by-blow account of a busy day — Tuesday, March 15 — inside the Beltway.
7:00 a.m. The classic animated musical Schoolhouse Rock episode “I’m Just a Bill” is playing on the wall of a Washington Marriott conference room, as dealers file in for a session called “Lobbying 101.”
7:01 a.m. The NLBMDA’s Jeremy Stine and Frank Ward explain the ins and outs of communicating with legislators and their aides. “Make sure you press hard on 1099 reform,” Stine said. “The House has already passed it, so thank them. But on the Senate side, it’s very important to urge the Senators to take a vote.”
7:10 a.m. Ward braces the NLMBDA members for the realities of lobbying. “The staffers are younger than the people in this room,” he said confidently. “Don’t be put off by that.” Meetings with actual legislators can be difficult. And he added that some of the legislative office buildings seem designed to confuse visitors. “If you can get 20 minutes, that’s a good meeting,” he said.
8:11 a.m. NLBMDA chairman and Ferguson Lumber president Joe Collings, from Avon, Ind., introduces the morning’s speaker: fellow Hoosier Mike Pence. Pence reveals an aw-shucks Hoosier style by thanking the NLBMDA, the WDMA, as well as “the BMOC and the BYOB.”
8:40 a.m. After rallying his audience for fiscal responsibility, limited government and an appeal for a flat tax, Pence is presented with the “NLBMDA Legislator of the Year” award.
8:53 a.m. The NLBMDA’s Colleen Levine and Stine spell out the three key talking points for dealers to bring to their representatives: 1) Repeal the 1099 “paperwork mandate,” buried in the healthcare legislation; 2) continue work to limit the scope of the new EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule; and 3) press for sponsors of the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act.
9:52 a.m. After honoring Chris Yenrick of Smith Phillips Building Supply of Winston-Salem, N.C., as Grassroots Dealer of the Year, Collings introduces keynote speaker Bret Baier, the host of Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier.” Immediately, Baier wins over the audience by explaining his speaking fees are donated to the Children’s National Medical Center, which has treated his son Daniel.
10:31 a.m. For the next 15 minutes, Baier fields arguably the toughest questions facing civilization today, including post-tsunami nuclear radiation in Japan and practical responses to civil unrest in Pakistan, Egypt and Libya. Like most TV anchormen, he doesn’t fluster easily.
12:28 p.m. Dealers head to the Hill for meetings with lawmakers. HCN joins a Texas delegation, including Chuck Pool of Main Street Lumber, Cally Fromme of Zarsky Lumber and Roger Dankel of Simpson Strong-Tie. As the car passes the George Washington Monument, Pool recounts the time in 1963 when it was closed temporarily to allow him and a friend to race to the top and back.
12:46 p.m. Waiting inside Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office.
1:04 p.m. In an endearing Texas drawl, Pool begins the introductions and sets the stage for Fromme’s launch into the main messages. The aide — very youthful looking despite being a veteran from the Bush Administration — nods in agreement with each point. Lead rule, check. Innocent Sellers, check. Form 1099 repeal, check.
1:35 p.m. The delegation moves on, crossing in front of the Capitol, an awe-inspiring building, on the way to the office of Ron Paul, Texas legislator, renowned conservative and perennial presidential candidate.
1:51 p.m. Fromme talks her way into an unscheduled meeting with a staffer, who seems interested in learning more about the NLBMDA’s lead-paint efforts. Speaking quickly, she promises to get a letter to the congressman that he can circulate. The group agrees the exchange shows progress.
2:07 p.m. The delegation moves on to the office of freshman Congressman Blake Farenthold of Texas. An aide joins the group in the entrance area. In the middle of Fromme’s message about the EPA’s lead-paint regulations, the aide stops the meeting. “Wait,” she said. “I could use this for a speech.” It turns out, she’s preparing a speech on federal red tape for the congressman’s remarks on the House floor. The delegation leaves the office encouraged by the prospect of appearing in the Congressional Record.
2:48 p.m. Crossing the aisle, the delegation visits the office of Henry Cuellar, a 28th District Texas Democrat. An intern — even younger than the youthful aides — cheerfully explains to Fromme that his grandfather used to work at Zarsky Lumber. Legislative Fellow Monica Tomutsa patiently and supportively listens to Fromme’s major points, which, at this point in the day, are polished to a shine.
3:43 p.m. Resting outside, Fromme reflects on a day of lobbying. “I like it that it’s such a small world that I can come here to Washington and run into someone whose grandfather worked at Zarsky Lumber,” she said.
4:01 p.m. Back at the office of Representative Farenthold for an open house, the Texas lumber delegation rubs elbows with guests, including a bank industry lobbyist (wearing a “proud to be a banker,” button), Texas Republican Pete Sessions, a former Bush administration aide (a different one), and a Texas family with two young children.
5:15 p.m. The lobbying winds down. Due to prodding from members, the NLBMDA Legislative Conference reception begins 15 minutes ahead of time. In a symbol of the progress made throughout the day, Fromme and Dankel receive an email from Representative Cuellar’s office: “Thank you for coming in today. Please be assured that I will share your concerns with Congressman Cuellar. Don’t hesitate to contact me in the future if there is anything else I can do to assist.”