ARLINGTON, Va. – Mary Martha Fortney likes to quip that her one claim to fame is that she comes from the same small city in upstate New York – Jamestown – that Lucille Ball was from. Fortney, NASCUS’ Vice President of Government Affairs can add to that list of prestigious credentials that she and her husband were often invited by former President Jimmy Carter to watch movies with Roslyn and him in the White House when Fortney worked there as a Schedule C appointment as Director of Agency Liason (she was referred to then as the `Honorable Mary Martha Fortney’). When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, Fortney found herself without a job (“Reagan fired me,” she jokes), but not for long. She was recommended to former Congressman Carroll Hubbard (D-Kentucky) and began working for him that February as a case worker and then as Hubbard’s legislative director. In 1985, when he was named chair of the House Banking and General Oversight Subcommittee, Fortney became Hubbard’s staff director and continued in that position until 1992 when Hubbard ran unsuccessfully for renomination to the 103rd Congress. Once again, Fortney found herself out of work. Meanwhile, in 1993, a fellow named Doug Duerr, who had worked as vice president of government relations for the California Credit Union League and then as vice president and registered lobbyist for CUNA, had been hired by newly-reorganized NASCUS as the association’s CEO. Fortney remembered Duerr’s call to her: ” `I want you to come and work for me,’ Doug said,” Fortney recalled. ” `NASCUS is a small association now, but it’s going places’ he told me.” How small was NASCUS eight years ago? “ Pretty small,” Fortney said laughingly. Counting Duerr, a part-time employee and herself, that made an entire staff of three people for the association. “When Doug hired me, he didn’t know what to call me,” said Fortney. “We did everything and anything, we all pitched in.” Fortney got the title director of communication and accreditation. Duerr eventually hired a third full-time person, Eve Elliot, to manage NASCUS’ conferences and board meetings. That gave Fortney the opportunity to focus her attention on NASCUS’ accreditation program and work on bringing it in-house instead of being managed by a consultant, Pete Parsons, a former Texas commissioner and president of NASCUS (the position of president of NASCUS prior to 1993 is equivalent to the chairman of NASCUS now.) Michigan was the first state to earn NASCUS accreditation in 1989. There are currently 26 states accredited by NASCUS, and 76% of all state-chartered credit union assets are from states that are accredited. Fortney said, “This number is a credit to the commitment of state regulators to earn accreditation.” In 1995, Fortney was named vice president of government relations and accreditation, thus becoming NASCUS’ first vice president. The promotion allowed her to leverage many of the skills she honed earlier in her career in working with elected officials. With Barbara Pogue hired earlier this year as manager of accreditation for NASCUS-the association’s staff now boasts nine employees-Fortney has turned her full-time attention to building government relations for NASCUS. Among her top priorities – to meet with each of the members of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee over the next few months. “NASCUS is not going to be following every bill on Capitol Hill, like CUNA does,” she emphasized. “The pending bankruptcy legislation, for example is important, but it’s not an area we’re following because the provisions do not disadvantage state-chartered credit unions over federal credit unions. It treats all credit unions the same. Our test to determine whether NASCUS should be involved with a bill in Congress is whether it potentially disadvantages or preempts either state regulatory authority or state-chartered credit unions. “NASCUS’ mission is to be the leading advocate for a strong state-chartered credit union system that benefits state regulators and state-chartered credit unions,” said Fortney. Fortney’s relationship building is already paying off. The House Financial Services Committee, for example, asked NASCUS to be a part of H.R. 1408, the Financial Services Anti-Fraud Networking Act of 2001. NASCUS has also held discussions with Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) on his bill to allow non-federally insured credit unions to join the Federal Home Loan Bank. “Our intention is to associate with groups that have similar purposes,” said Fortney. That includes groups such as the National Governors Association, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, National Conference of State Legislators, National Association of Attorneys General, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and The North American Securities Administration Assoc. In fact, NASCUS will host the upcoming quarterly meeting of these associations that’s held to give attendees the opportunity to brainstorm critical current state-related issues. Fortney says it’s no accident that since the passage of H.R. 1151, NASCUS has been more prominent and involved with political affairs and activities. “The NASCUS Board charged NASCUS to strengthen our influence with NCUA and other trade associations and to expand our visibility on Capitol Hill, as well as expand the accreditation program,” she explained. Despite NASCUS’ increased involvement with Capitol Hill issues, Fortney emphasized that, “NASCUS is never going to be a CUNA or a NAFCU, and we never want to be. That’s not our role. We’re willing to look at big issues and determine first where they fit into the regulatory scheme of the dual chartering system before taking action on them.” Fortney stressed though that, “While NASCUS may not take a position on a certain issue, we raise the level of interest among state regulators and state-chartered credit unions on the issues and elicit their comments. “NASCUS is very unique,” she continued. “As it reads in our mission statement, “NASCUS is the sole organization dedicated exclusively to the promotion of the dual chartering system and the advancement of the autonomy and expertise of state credit union regulatory agencies.’” “The beauty of the dual chartering system is that the distinctions between federal and state-chartered credit unions raise the bar for all credit unions. Parity means everyone is the same, and that’s not what we want,” said Fortney. “It’s important there’s a give and take between the two types of charters. Both federal and state-chartered credit unions have their uniqueness, and it’s key credit unions have the option to choose between the two charters.” Fortney admitted NASCUS has a “difficult mission” in the credit union community. “There’s a lot of attention being given to enhancing the federal charter, and that’s good. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of the strength of state-chartered credit unions,” she said. The controversy surrounding NCUA’s overhead transfer rate is a key issue NASCUS will be keeping its eye on in the coming months. “NASCUS plans to continue to cooperate with NCUA as the administrator of the insurance fund, but we continue to hold the position that NCUA’s regulatory and role as overseer of the insurance fund responsibilities should be separate. NASCUS has been opposed to the overhead transfer rate since it was instituted, and we are working closely with CUNA and NAFCU on the issue.” NASCUS also intends to monitor NCUA’s expanded examination cycle for federal credit unions to see what effect they have on what the state regulators do. “We will continue to look for dual-chartering system allies in Washington,” said Fortney. “We have to work to deliver the dual-chartering message to members of Congress. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. It depends on their level of interest and their legislative staff.” NASCUS has its share of what it considers to be its allies on Capitol Hill, said Fortney. Among them are Congressman Jim Leach (R-Iowa), Rep. John LaFalce (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas). Fortney said NASCUS is hopeful President George Bush will prove to understand and appreciate states’ rights and authority since he was a former governor. “Do I want NASCUS to have recognition from all the members of Congress? Of course, that would be nice. It would help them be aware of how federal issues affect state-chartered credit unions and state regulations and put state issues on their radar screen,” said Fortney. So how does Fortney unwind from juggling meetings with officials in NASCUS’ Arlington, Va.-office and on Capitol Hill? Many weekends she can be found with her husband on their 33-foot Chris Craft boat out on the Potomac. But one of her real passions, she admitted is being a NASCAR racing fan (her youngest daughter and her husband are both drag racers.). “I know that seems out of character for me, but I like to think I’m full of surprises,” she boasts. -

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