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<p>In all the years I’ve attended the annual CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) held each year about this time in Washington, D.C., I never fail to come away with a number of distinct impressions. This year’s just-ended event is no exception. First of all, I was impressed that the 2002 version of the GAC was the largest meeting of any kind held in Washington since the September 11th tragedy. The nearly 3,000 person turnout says a lot about how credit unions feel about credit unions and about their country. For anyone needing further proof, they only needed to be in the cavernous Washington Hilton Hotel ballroom Monday morning to watch an outstanding patriotic laser show unfold in a 360 degree presentation to the illustrated music of “God Bless America” and Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud To Be An American.” It was the most powerful and creative way to completely captivate an audience and kick start a meeting that I have seen in a long career of attending and putting on large conferences. It was creative, original, and dramatic, but most of all, it was timely with a message that touched American credit union people no matter where they called home. When the laser beams faded to black, the presentation received a long and loud standing ovation, a first in my memory. The spirit of pride, cooperation, and energy carried through for many (unfortunately not all) of the general session speakers that followed, especially NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar. With his trademark enthusiastic and informal speaking style, Dollar cleverly ticked off the accomplishments of his administration (from CAP repeal and an OTR reduction, to Reg-Flex and incidental powers) by packaging them as ten myths that were destroyed in 2001 (see news report this issue). His concluding challenge to come up with a list of myths to eliminate for this year sounds like a future column to me. Even the usual lengthy line up of carefully selected senators, congressmen, D.C. bigwigs, state-level officials, those presenting awards and gifts, many special guests (like Miss America for example) and an assortment of CUNA dignitaries who take the main stage every year to say the things credit unions want to hear, seemed to have an added spring in their step. This year’s GAC also provided an opportunity to get a first impression, in person, of the two new NCUA Board Member appointees (still awaiting Senate confirmation), Republican JoAnn Johnson and Democrat Deborah Matz. First they appeared on stage in the middle of Dollar’s presentation with CUNA CEO Dan Mica in a politically astute show of hand-holding cooperation and goodwill. The audience loved it! All three board members held court for over an hour at a walk-in reception at which attendees stood in long lines to say hello and attempt to briefly make a point or two. My impression and first hand experience was that this was a shining moment for all three as they listened intently while warmly greeting dozens of credit union faithful. Johnson and Matz also had time in the spotlight as general session speakers. Both used the time well and made good impressions with their carefully scripted “getting to know you” remarks. The stage has now been set. Johnson outlined some issues she thought important (tax-exemption, trust services, NCUA’s budget, etc.) and some preliminary goals (wise use of NCUA resources, etc.). She stressed she is still learning the agency and the industry and thus, she said, it is too early to have a set agenda. Instead, she seeks open communication and intends to have an open door policy. The Iowa board member showed a good sense of humor as she ticked off the befuddling list of credit union industry acronyms including PCA which she said some say is a four-letter word. Matz also came across as warm, sincere, and genuinely interested in doing her best to make credit unions better. She cleverly outlined her personal life by taking the audience on a journey to states that had a special significance to her including, of course, South Dakota, home state of Democratic Senator Tom Daschle who recommended her for the NCUA slot she now occupies. Matz used some of her speech time to laud the NCUA Board and staff, CUNA leaders and staff, credit unions, volunteers, and professionals. Being aware that former NCUA Chairman Norm D’Amours had already visited her at NCUA headquarters, her very specific comments on serving the underserved and on Congressional intent, and why she abstained during a CU FOM expansion vote at her first board meeting, especially caught my attention. I’ll have more to say on all of this in a future column. Some other impressions: Everything at the GAC was professionally done including meeting room setups, staging, shuttle buses, signage, name badges, program materials, handouts, special events, entertainment, awards presentations, conference format, etc. Individualized plastic cards for use in the expo hall were especially impressive. The ambitious and professionally produced daily paper published by CUNA’s communications staff was once again the best of breed and once again taken completely for granted by participants. In some ways D.C. was a ghost town (sparse crowds at most memorials and museums) as the after effects of 9/11 continue to impact the nation’s capital. That didn’t prevent the conference hotels from charging their usual exorbitant rates for high-rise Motel Six type rooms. Final impression: Once again the GAC was almost completely devoid of any real controversy. Important issues like the OTR, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) lawsuit over the repeal of CAP, the latest bank attacks, new threats to the CU tax exemption, PCA, deposit insurance reform, issues surrounding an ineffective CU branding campaign, an increasing number of charter conversions, CU expansions and turf wars, Renaissance fallout, a number of key NCUA related issues, and many more were either ignored or glossed over. Perhaps these will be covered at CUNA’s annual Symposium next fall in Orlando? Don’t hold your breath! Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]</p>

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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