CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Regarded as a staunch credit union ally, newly-elected, widely popular Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s appointment to one of the Senate’s most influential committees is seen by many here as a crucial alliance. Dole, one of two female senators on the Senate’s Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, joins the ranks of a bipartisan group that represents such concerns as bankruptcy reform, the debate over the role of banks in real estate, legislation to allow interest-bearing checking accounts, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. amendments. For credit unions, her appointment may be the filter needed for some of the industry’s most pressing issues, but it remains to be seen what will trickle down to her home state. which has successfully established itself as one of the frontrunners in the crackdown on predatory lending. “Based on the activity in last year’s (North Carolina) election, we have every reason to believe that we have her support,” said John McKechnie, CUNA’s senior vice president of government affairs. “It’s so important to cultivate friends before they get to Congress so that credit unions can provide a clearer understanding of what issues are most important.” Dole sought the committee position because of the importance of banking and her interest in urban affairs issues handled by the committee, such as mass transit and inner-city development, said Mary Brown Brewer, Dole’s spokeswoman. The Senator has yet to outline a specific banking committee agenda. The former transportation secretary and American Red Cross president has lobbied for the tax-exemption status of credit unions and supports individual development accounts, which encourages savers to set aside money for a down payment on a new home, start a new business or return to school. Money saved is matched by contributing local and state programs. The North Carolina Credit Union Network (NCCUN) backed Dole extensively in her campaign for the state’s Senate seat, contributing more than $22,000 along with other credit unions. Roughly 42% of those who voted in 2000 were credit union members, according to NCCUN. Remembering that large constituency will be key “She’s well-briefed on the issues that concern us,” said Larry Johnson, NCCUN president. “As the case with anyone who goes to Congress, what we’re hoping for is access to her and her staff. The greatest thing we can ask for is when we call, she will listen and make it a point to see us.” Johnson added while Dole is considered amiable with the credit union movement, nothing in Washington is “taken for granted.” With the growing Hispanic population, North Carolina credit unions have also been on the forefront of wooing that group to establish traditional financial relationships. At the Latino Community Credit Union in Durham, which opened in 2000 and has 8,000 members and $12.5 million in deposits, the alliance with Dole means someone who sincerely understands the needs of those shut out of mainstream banking either by choice or out of fear. “All the roles of her committee – banking, housing and urban affairs – are linked in that you need to have access to funding to be able to save for a home and in turn, help develop the community you live in,” said John Herrera, board chair of the Latino Community Credit Union. “She provides a voice for credit unions and she’s been very responsive to our needs.” The Senate Banking Committee oversees a plethora of areas including control of prices of commodities, rents and services, financial aid to commerce and industry, public and private housing and renegotiations of governmental contracts. Dole, who will serve on the Armed Services Committee, and is seeking a seat on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. -

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