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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – “On any given day, we’re always playing a measure of offense and a measure of defense.” The words don’t come from Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O’Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins’ star center Mario Lemieux, Tennessee Titans’ quarterback Steve McNair or even winger Doug Howlett of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. In fact, the words have nothing to do with the sports world. But Bob Arnould finds the sports analogy particularly apropos to describe the work being done here by the legislative affairs office of the California Credit Union League. Arnould, vice president of state governmental affairs and the league’s chief lobbyist, is much like a quarterback directing his team in the rough and tumble world of California politics. Many of the plays are called in from the sidelines, in this case by the league’s governmental affairs committee which will be reappointed at the league’s annual meeting and convention Nov. 17-19 in San Diego. So far, the league has amassed a winning record, thanks in large part to the grassroots efforts of its loyal fans – credit union leaders, officials, volunteers, staffers and members – who have always been willing to contribute both their time, their energy and their money. “The combination of time, money and our grassroots advantage has allowed us to continue to win virtually all of our battles in Sacramento,” Arnould noted. Indeed, the league has become a somewhat more formidable power on the legislative front over the years. In terms of fund-raising for its political action committee, for instance, it is expected to raise $2 million in the current 2003-2004 two-year cycle, up from the $150,000 it raised in 1995-1996. “I think that if you looked at the credit union industry over the last 10 or 20 years, I think you would have to say we moved from being a lower level player and we’re now somewhere between mid-level and moving into the upper echelons of political activity,” Arnould said. “I think it’s safe to say that California credit unions have been moving up the charts for some time and we’re continuing to do that.” John Van Etten, who was hired last year as a league lobbyist, agreed that the league’s stature has grown. “I was attracted to the league by its reputation as a well-respected organization that is growing in political influence,” said Van Etten, who came to the job after serving as a government relations advocate for the California Psychological Association. The league’s growing political influence comes at an important time. With financial institutions being an especially easy target for legislators these days because of the state’s dire financial crisis, and with continued threats by the banking industry, political advocacy continues to rank as one of the top priorities with league members. “We do the best we can to make sense of it for our members and to make sure our members don’t get harmed either by design or by ricochet,” Arnould said. “And both of them are very possible on a day to day basis.” The league’s state legislative affairs office is staffed by Arnould, Van Etten, political finance director Ron Fong and Ashley Trujillo, the state grassroots coordinator who serves as a link between state elected officials and local credit unions. Chris Kerecman, vice president of federal governmental affairs, is the league’s chief federal lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Arnould admits that the challenges have grown for the legislative affairs staff, especially with the advent of term limits and the redrawing of legislative boundaries after the 2000 Census. “Terms limits have basically turned politics in Sacramento upside down for almost every organization including ours,” he said. Not only is there a steady stream of new people to deal with, but a new hierarchy when it comes to committee and party leadership. New legislators, realizing their time in office is limited (Assembly members are limited to three two-year terms; Senate members are limited to two four-year terms), are looking to quickly make a name for themselves so they can run for a different office when their term is up, Arnould said. That usually means introducing a raft of bills early on. “You have this dynamic of freshmen helping freshmen to accomplish their goals of making a name for themselves with maybe not a long history of understanding the complexities of the issues,” he said. Five years ago, Arnould said, there might have been 10 or 15 legislative bills in the office’s “watch list.” These days, there may be 50 bills on the list “which requires us on a day-to-day basis to monitor very closely where each one is in committee and whether any amendments have been filed. So we have a sizable number of bills that we just have to monitor on a non-stop basis.” At the same time, the office may be promoting legislation favorable to the credit union industry or battling to kill bills pushed by the California Bankers Association or others. “Each one of those 50 bills (on the watch list) may impact us,” Arnould said. “Even though they’re not part of the defensive or offensive strategy, they still require discussions with many many members of various committees and all of their staff people who might handle the legislation as well as the technical people who might analyze the legislation. “Every bill, even if the consequence for our industry is relatively modest, requires us to birddog it carefully, to discuss the potential implications with the authors and their staffs and all the committee members and their staffs,” he said. “It can multiply into a very significant workload very quickly.” Coupled with the term limits issue is the reapportionment plan created by the Legislature, which essentially protected Democratic and Republican incumbent seats. “The implications for that decision means that most of the Republican districts became more conservative and the Democrat seats more liberal,” Arnould explained. The result, he said, was a marked change in how issues are approached with both sides having firmly entrenched positions and little willingness to compromise. Nowhere was that clearer than when lawmakers locked in battle over the 2003-2004 budget. In contrast, it’s not unusual to find league lobbyists working with some unlikely allies on legislative matters. “There are many days of the week where we are lobbying side by side with lobbyists from Wells Fargo or the independent bankers or even the California Bankers Association,” he said. “What makes credit unions unique . . . is that we are willing to break and go our own direction when it’s in the best interest of credit unions. “We’re going to fight to the death over issues where our industry is clearly targeted, but where there’s opportunity for compromise in ways that are good for our members and good for the state we’re going to be willing to sit down and work things out in a constructive atmosphere,” he said. -

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