Building and Flexing: Political Muscle

HARDI completed its first Congressional Fly-In in early May with 60 HARDI members joined by more than a dozen ACCA members to hold more than 100 meetings with elected officials and their staffs. After a few days of digesting the buzz of excitement and enthusiasm practically oozing out of the distributor and supplier members that participated, I cannot help but revert to my days years ago as a personal trainer to relate the value and future for HARDI of this inaugural event.

Reluctance, hesitation, second-guessing, anxiety, discomfort, relaxation, growth, confidence and excitement.

This is the emotional roller-coaster ride new clients would experience from the first moment they were approached about starting a training program to the day they outperformed their competition, fit into their “skinny jeans” or simply began to look for the stairway rather than the closest elevator. Day 1 featured cracked if not feigned smiles, constant peeking at the clock and attempts to find anything else to think about during the sessions. The last day was all about puffed-out chests, standing tall with a hint of swagger and eager searching for the next Mount Everest. This, by and large, was what I saw in just one 24-hour period in Washington, D.C., last month.

Many of the business owners and executives I most respect and admire in the industry were visibly nervous and anxious as their first meeting on the Hill neared, and some I think were just praying for that “urgent” call to come from the office back home that would demand their attention be anywhere but the halls of Congress for the next six hours. However, by 4:30 p.m., after all of the meetings had ended, you would have thought you were in the midst of professional lobbyists, many of whom were already considering booking independent returns to the Capitol to finish the business they had started earlier that day with their senators and congressmen. In fact, before I was able to get to the bar for my first drink at the closing cocktail party, several members impatiently asked me what the dates were for next year's Fly-In.

While I probably should have expected no less from those whose businesses are built upon adaptability (and the ability to talk to just about anyone), I believe it is most important for the HARDI members unable to participate to understand what was accomplished during this day-and-a-half. More than 100 House and Senate offices now know not only what an HVACR distributor is but also that there is at least one of them in their district or state. We invited more than 100 House and Senate offices to learn more about these businesses by visiting the workplaces of so many constituents (and within one week after the Fly-In, two congressional offices had called HARDI members to schedule a visit). More than 100 House and Senate offices saw the faces of those with so much at risk, depending on how that official votes on small business, energy and environmental issues. More than 100 House and Senate offices learned that they are now accountable to an entire constituent base most of them didn't know existed.

HARDI provided the Fly-In participants with talking points on six issues facing all aspects of HVACR distribution that were eloquently, sometimes passionately, delivered by our members in these 100 meetings, always with very real and personal examples of how these issues were important to their businesses and employees. We made many of these arguments to strong proponents, or even sponsors, of several of the most troublesome issues, while others were preaching to the choir. While there is no guarantee that support or opposition to these particular policies will change as a result of these meetings, two things are certain:

  1. Those who support issues contrary to the interests of HARDI members find it harder to do so today than they did before the Fly-In, and those aligned with our interests have more reason to continue their fights.
  2. Regardless of which side of the argument on which they may fall, more than 100 House and Senate offices will have much explaining to do should they take a position on an issue of importance to HVACR distributors without talking first about the issue with their newfound constituents.

While all this may sound “pie-in-the-sky”-ish to you, those who participated in the Fly-In now understand how every HARDI member relates to the association's advocacy efforts. I had the privilege of joining several members' meetings during the Fly-In, many of which were with the elected official in addition to their staff, and it will be those offices that will respond to the national association more so than those I call independently. It is HARDI's job to know the legislative details, but it is each member's job to make their elected officials understand why they should listen to HARDI.

HARDI members don't have time to read hundreds of pages of bills, but I think many members realized during the Fly-In how a 20-something staffer can affect one line in that bill that could cost you millions of dollars in taxes, eliminate major markets for your business or help you sell hundreds of thousands of dollars of new products. HVACR distributors have spent much of the last 60+ years flying under the radar, often intentionally, allowing others in the industry to represent HVACR interests. Today, however, our industry, and some may argue small businesses too, is under an unprecedented assault that the 60 members who were in D.C. would argue demands the involvement of HARDI and its members to ensure access to new opportunities and protection from new threats.

Sixty members are poised to return to the Capitol next year stronger and in better condition for the legislative paces. The rest of the membership must start training their political muscles now or risk being the HVACR business in your district that is not involved in policies that could build or break your bottom line. The day is nearing when I will be calling some members to learn what their representatives are thinking. All members should be interested in being one of those members.

Visit HARDI's Government Relations section of the website for details on HARDI positions and tools for taking action. We are inviting all HARDI distributors to assist in the formation of HARDI policy positions by joining the Government Relations Committee.

Talbot Gee is vice president of HARDI. Contact him at 614/488-1835 or [email protected].

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