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WASHINGTON – Despite his unpopularity with 55% of the voters who chose to recall former Gov. Gray Davis, the California Credit Union League had a strong, working relationship with him and the league has vowed to build just as keen of an alliance with Gov.-Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger (See related story on page 1). Generally speaking, credit unions have done a proactive job of building bridges with governors and their respective administrative staffs, said John McKechnie, CUNA senior vice president, government affairs. Rightly so, since governors have the power to prepare the state budget, veto bills, appoint credit union representatives to powerful commissions and cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, state leagues know the importance of having their voices heard. “The root of lobbying is education,” McKechnie said. “Because governors have a major role in policy, state leagues should strive to have a good relationship and, by and large, they have been doing that.” NAFCU estimates that 99% of Congress belongs to a credit union and that connection works in favor for the grassroots efforts Washington has grown to associate the movement with. Still, some are reluctant to go on record and name instances of governors who have had capricious sentiments towards credit unions but most agree no alliance is ever taken for granted. “Elected officials remember their early friends and those calls get returned first,” said Buddy Gill, Texas Credit Union League’s senior vice president of advocacy. “And, those people are the hardest people to say no to.” Indeed, Louisiana appears to be in a choice spot because Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat and board member for La Capitol Federal Credit Union in Baton Rouge, recently won the Democratic bid for the state governor and will face Republican Bobby Jindal in a Nov. 15 runoff. While the Louisiana Credit Union League (LCUL) does not have a formal endorsement policy, it’s no secret that Blanco would have the advantage of a more holistic view of the movement. “With her credit union background, it would be very positive if (Blanco) won,” said Connie Major, LCUL vice president government affairs and public relations. “We work really hard in reaching out to our legislators. It’s been our main focus to build that rapport over the last four years.” Major said one important distinction with Louisiana is that of the 273 credit unions here, only 57 are state-chartered. Most of those are small in size so if a governor is looking to tax them, “there would not be enough revenue there” to make a substantial difference. Being careful not to politicize her views, Susan Leake, president/CEO of La Capitol FCU did share characteristics Blanco has shown during her more than five years as a board member. “She’s a consensus builder, an extremely hard worker and highly intelligent,” Leake said. “She’s very aware of the role credit unions can play in helping the underserved and the difficulties in doing so.” Both Leake and Major agree that while Blanco being elected Governor would be an asset to the movement here, Jindal would be equally supported. Jindal, a Republican, has vowed to eliminate “unorthodox taxes” on business investments and the franchise tax on corporate debt in an effort to woo corporations to Louisiana. Louisiana’s relationship with current Gov. Mike Foster is a “good” one, Major emphasized. Most recently, Foster signed into law the credit union-backed bill that would require financial literacy education for high school students. During any campaign for governor, credit unions have ample time to educate themselves on the candidates and their respective points of view but when a changing of the guard is unexpected as was the case in Indiana, coming up to speed becomes critical. After suffering a stroke, Gov. Frank O’Bannon died on Sept. 13 and Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan assumed his role a week later. The Indiana Credit Union League considered O’Bannon “a very good friend” to the movement here. O’Bannon was key in the signing of crucial legislation that gave state-chartered credit unions more flexibility with fields of membership. The bittersweet outcome of O’Bannon’s death was that credit unions in South Bend had an opportunity to build a strong alliance with Kernan when he served as mayor of the city a few years ago, said John McKenzie, ICUL president/CEO. That early association may be pivotal later on. Still, “we don’t take any relationship for granted,” McKenzie said. “While we’ve been fortunate to have good relationships with governors (over the years), we will continue to be proactive in educating them on the credit union difference.” For some, the governor’s office is often a pit stop to a national post and it’s then that league connections fostered early on determines who will be remembered in Washington, said Brad Thaler, NAFCU director of legislative and political affairs. “Our last two presidents were governors,” Thaler said. “Governors move on to higher offices like the Senate, the presidency or a spot in the administration. Another example of their power is the ability to appoint someone to a national seat should a seat in the Senate become vacant.” Even if a league is dealing with an elected official who is clueless about credit unions, building a rapport extends not only to his or her staff but also indirectly with members of their political party and other constituents. Thaler said these alliances go far in countering any anti-credit union sentiment being whispered in the ear of the governor by banking groups. “Governors hear from their constituents on a regular basis and that doesn’t necessarily mean some of them will be anti-credit union,” Thaler said. “But if the people that are doing most of the talking are pro-bank, that’s the message the governor will hear.” -

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