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WASHINGTON-Unless the Ravens or Orioles come knocking on his door, CUNA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs John McKechnie is staying right where he is. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to do a hobby for a living.” he recently told Credit Union Times. “As long as I enjoy what I’m doing to the extent that I do right now, I can’t imagine any other job in Washington that would make me happier than the one I have.” However, he qualified that statement, explaining that if the Baltimore Orioles or Ravens had an opening for him, he would be ” happy to talk to them.” For the sports fan to have such a fondness for politics may seem odd considering his first political memories are of the 1968 elections when he was six or seven years old and the riots during the Democratic National Convention, as well as the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinations. “ That was really a bad time to start becoming politically aware.I honestly thought that was the way politics always was. It was really a frightening time, a very chaotic time,” McKechnie said. He recalled that at 10 years old in 1972, he was actually disappointed there was not rioting in the streets at election time. “I was just always fascinated by history and politics,” the political enthusiast commented. McKechnie explained that he was first “bitten by the political bug” around 1980, when he was first starting college at Loyola. He credits Almanac of American Politics 1980-he said as he proudly pulled out his not-so-gently used copy from college during the interview-with arousing his interest when a college professor had the class use the book to profile and predict some of the races. From there, between watching movies like Animal House, Blues Brothers, Patton, This is Spinal Tap, Dr. Strangelove over and over again (McKechnie admits to having seen the Blues Brothers about 40 times in college), he got involved in a college Republican group and Ronald Reagan’s campaign. After graduating from college, McKechnie worked on various campaigns in Maryland and Southwestern Virginia, through the spring of 1985. “The pay isn’t great, but it’s the most fun you can possibly ever have. I’d do it again in a second if I could. It was a lot of fun,” he remembered. “You learn a lot about human nature, about politics, about finance, about sociology, about everything, the whole gamut.” However, by age 24, McKechnie said he was feeling a bit burned out working at such an intense pace-about 12 hours daily. After one campaign, he was approached to work for former Virginia Congressman Stan Paris, who was a member of the then-House Banking Committee. “By osmosis, I got to know the banking issues somewhat, even though I wasn’t his day-to-day banking aide, he was on the Banking Committee. He was actually ranking Republican on one of the subcommittees,” McKechnie said of his two and a half years with the congressman. He served as a legislative aid in another area and as a press person. To this day, McKechnie tells the story of one of the best lessons he ever learned in politics. During his first day working on the Hill, the young aide was sitting in on a meeting Paris had with a constituent. He felt that the man was droning on about a lot of extraneous issues, until he finally asked for a favor from the lawmaker. After the man left the office, Paris asked McKechnie to get right on the issue, because he said he had known the man 20 years and he had never asked for anything before. “I realized two things. One was that he had lobbied the congressman for that entire 20-year period, not just that one meeting. He had lobbied him by building a relationship. The other thing I realized is the best time to lobby is when you don’t need anything.” This is a philosophy he has carried over to CUNA. Also during his time with Paris’ office, McKechnie became acquainted with some of the Banking Committee issues and the lobbyists, one of whom was Doug Duerr, current CEO of NASCUS, but who was then the head lobbyist for CUNA. So McKechnie came to CUNA in April of 1987 as the manager of political action. He said he spent his first week reading about the Political Action Committee and the laws governing it. He then asked Duerr about CUNA’s grassroots materials, remembering his experience from Capitol Hill during the credit unions’ tax fight in 1986. Duerr admitted there were not any grassroots materials; it was just talked about. “There was a perception that was created that we had grassroots, but the truth is, we really didn’t have a clear, cohesive plan to get people involved in the process,” McKechnie said. He said he spent his first few years at CUNA trying to get credit union people involved politically during the 1988 and 1992 elections. At that time the Credit Union Legislative Action Council raised about $500,000 a cycle. Many inside the credit union movement felt it was distasteful to get involved in the political process at all. By the mid-1990s, the PAC was up to around $750,000 per cycle, and raised $3 million in the last election cycle because of the programs and people put in place, McKechnie said. The H.R. 1151 battle helped kick political activity among credit unions into high gear. “I think that was a shock to the system,” McKechnie commented. “I think that helped people to really take seriously that, even if you don’t want to get involved in politics, politics is a way to get involved in your credit union.The size of the constituency makes us noticeable, but there’s a difference between being noticeable and active. I think right now we’re at the point where credit unions are perceived by Congress as an active constituency in every district in the country.” And while lobbyists staying in contact with members of Congress on a day-to-day basis and the PAC are essential, the credit union leaders are the best conduit of what the credit union movement is about. “The best lobbyists a credit union has are not here in D.C. They’re the people out in the districts. I just feel very strongly that it’s our job to create an atmosphere for credit union people to come in and do their jobs as advocates. They can be the best advocates you have by just telling the credit union story,” McKechnie explained. On his way up the ladder at CUNA, McKechnie was offered a job on NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar’s staff while he was CUNA’s vice president of legislative affairs, which he originally accepted, but then changed his mind when CUNA offered him the senior vice president position. “I was genuinely looking forward to that a great deal. I think it was a great opportunity to work with somebody who I really like and respect a great deal,” he commented. It was just a quirky matter of timing and “good luck” that McKechnie’s current position came open when it did. He added, “I’m sure it would have been an interesting couple of years with the chairman. And we’ve been able to work together, just not from the same side of the desk.” [email protected]

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