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RENO, Nev. – Forget campaign cash, it’s grassroots contact by credit union managers and employees with lawmakers that counts most in political action. The advice comes from a New Mexico legislator who has had plenty of dealings with banks and CUs and finds the personal visit whether at his office, “at the supermarket, ” the gas pump or “ the neighbor contacting you while doing the lawn” counts more than all the high powered lobbyists can accomplish. Addressing a “Sound Off” panel at CUNA’s Future Forum conference here, Rep. Daniel Foley, a Roswell Republican, spoke a message that the CUNA leadership may, in part, be glad to hear as it tries to build board CU support to thwart stepped-up attacks from bankers in 2004 on taxes and business lending. Foley, speaking on the “CU’s Under Attack” panel, said CUs have been given “a great opportunity to flex their muscle” in state legislatures and in many cases have done well by recruiting CU employees to call on favored lawmakers in state capitals to convey the CU message. However, bankers tend to “really control the debate” which is why, he said, CUs “have to get active” if they expect to sway lawmakers. They also, he said, need to recruit among their own to find candidates who will seek statewide or national elected office. But another panelist who has been on the frontlines of the nation’s fiercest CU-bank clash, Scott Earl, president/CEO of the Utah League of Credit Unions, lamented that job can be tough. There can be a problem, Earl said, in finding the most “articulate” spokesmen for CUs in the legislature as well as those who demonstrate real “leadership skills.” Earl was introduced by moderator Pat Adams as one receiving “more press than had ever hoped for” as the Utah media for more than a year now has given wide coverage to the clash between CUs and what Adams called “the American Bullies Association,” a remark that drew audience laughter. In his panel comments, the Utah League CEO observed that the conflict with bankers in his state -”a holy war” – has taken its toll of emotions on both sides and “seems to have taken a life of its own.” And like “the Crimean War,” it is one “that goes on 100 years,” he said. Curiously, said Earl, it comes at a time when there is “no crisis in the industry” as banks enjoy record profits. Nonetheless, he said, credit unions are now faced with a vice president of Zions Bank, the CU nemesis in the state, slated to run for Utah governor next year replacing Michael Leavitt, named recently by President Bush as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Joining Foley and Earl on the CUNA panel was Richard Gose, vice president of CUNA’s political affairs, and Rick Pillow, president/CEO of the Virginia Credit Union League, who endorsed the idea of building strong, personal ties with lawmakers – making sure every CEO “knows his own legislator by name” and is willing to pick up the phone to call him or her. Apart from personal contact, Pillow as well as Earl have been outspoken about their Leagues raising “defense fund” cash for lobbying and ad expense to fight the anticipated banker attacks. Gose noted that CUNA’s Project Zip Code remains an ideal marketing tool in demonstrating the strength of the movement. Project Zip Code, he said, has identified 42 million CU members and he projected the system will pay dividends in the future. Responding to an audience question about whether small or large CUs have more political clout, Rep. Foley said he likes to hear from both acknowledging that larger CUs have a harder time getting staffs mobilized. But small CUs “have a great opportunity to be a stronger force,” he said discouraging generic e-mails and letters. “Make them specific and tell them you want a call back,” said Foley, owner of an insurance agency in his southwest New Mexico community. Regardless, “money is not the answer” to effective political action, he told the audience. “Writing a check” is not enough, he said, but “knocking on doors and stuffing envelopes” for candidates in a political campaign can be worthwhile. “Bankers know how to bring the money but not the votes,” he said. The “CUs Under Attack” panel was preceded by a “Sound Off” session on consumer views in which a collection of five Reno-area consumers including University of Nevada students, a Latino businessman, a Korean grad student and a representative from the Reno Consumer Credit Counseling Service shared thoughts on what products and services CUs should be offering. The give-and-take with moderator Adams, who also is executive vice president of St. Louis Community Credit Union and a skilled questioner, produced some humorous as well as evocative observations of how CUs operate. Several on the consumer panel thought CUs are regulated by FDIC and only one or two knew what was meant by NSF. The audience got some laughs from Nathan Simonson, a student, who said he “has come pretty close” to getting hit with NSF fees while paying for books and tuition but has never actually received them since he is careful about how manages his finances. “This is the kind of member we want,” Adams retorted. When making final decisions, Simonson disregards the views of his buddies and instead turns to the “elderly,” which Adams with mocking humor said “must mean me.” Members of the consumer panel agreed CUs don’t advertise their differences and services enough to minorities and are less than conversant about Asian cultures and family finances. he Latino businessman, Jesus Gutierrez, said the biggest needs of Hispanics are for car loans and wire transfer services. Despite the advanced promo of high audience “interaction” at the Future Forum, some of the more serious general sessions had little Q&A and those that did had what appeared to be “planted” questions from state League staffers and CEOs. Indeed, the “Banker Attack” session ran past its scheduled slot and there was time for only one or two brief questions. But the attendees never seemed to mind, enjoying the off-the-cuff big screen videos of top CUNA execs, elected leaders and ordinary CU folk as well as the humorous banter of comedian Taylor Mason, who served as MC for the entire conference. The four-day CUNA meeting, renamed from its previous title as the CUNA Symposium, seemed to be a crowd pleaser and got high marks from delegates for many of its entertainment features. Among the most popular were: a “living history” rendition by a Nebraska state senator, David Landis, of the life of former Sen. George Norris, also of Nebraska who was instrumental in signing the 1934 Federal Credit Union Act and a closing day motivation speech by athlete Kevin Carroll, a consultant for the Nike Corp. CUNA staffers expressed disappointment at the lower-than-expected turnout – only 12 people – for the “Xtreme Team” of members who all week took part in secret physical outward-bound type activities stressing personal growth and teamwork. The group, who signed up in advance for the exercises, were often up at 5 a.m. doing calisthenics and swim “challenges” in the hotel pool. CUNA said the Xtreme Team is a takeoff on a similar program for top CEOs in Madison and is being tested for acceptance among lower level staff. CUNA, which said it hoped for 30 to 35 participants, said it was satisfied with Reno’s “Xtreme” and it would be repeated in Honolulu – the site for the 2004 Future Forum Oct. 24-28. -

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