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SALT LAKE CITY – Mindful of legislative setbacks last year in the celebrated tax fight with the banking lobby, the Utah League of Credit Unions is opting for a “political strategist” – albeit a youthful one – as its new president and CEO in 2004. He is 34-year-old Scott Simpson, the former executive director of the Utah Republican Party who joined the League staff in April 2003 as senior vice president for governmental affairs. Simpson replaces Scott G. Earl, who resigned under pressure Nov. 30 in a “mutual agreement” with the Utah League Board after several members expressed dismay with the organization’s direction in the face of a projected banker fight in the legislature and a governor’s race in which a leading CU antagonist and former Zions Bank vice president is running. “This is a dangerous, serious time for credit unions in Utah but elsewhere too, and so we simply need to go in a different direction to have someone politically connected,” declared Michael Milovich, vice chairman of the League, referring to Simpson’s selection Dec. 18. Milovich, who also is president/CEO of Eastern Utah Community FCU in Price, said the Utah League “is using the CUNA model” in picking a political operative to run the organization making note of CUNA President Dan Mica’s experience as a former Florida Congressman. Mica has been CUNA President for seven and a half years. “With this taxation battle still sitting on our front door, we needed someone familiar with political circumstances,” said Milovich, to head up the League even though Simpson’s administrative experience in running a trade association is limited. “There is a learning curve here,” he said, “but we have an excellent staff to help him and he is a bright individual to carry on the banner.” From a national perspective and the prospect of a banker-inspired tax challenge against FCUs, Simpson’s GOP experience will be invaluable, said Milovich, Simpson joined the Utah GOP as its communication director in July 1998, and in Jan. 1999 was promoted to executive director. In 2001 he took a sabbatical for 11 months to work in Washington as special assistant to U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and was asked to return to the executive director’s job in March 2002. In both the 2000 and 2002 election cycles he helped guide the party to Utah election victories, producing what the League said were “significant electoral gains.” Meanwhile, in a formal League statement describing Simpson’s appointment, the League executive said working for the GOP was a “great experience but moving into the credit union movement has been more rewarding” noting also the challenges ahead “especially with an open governor’s seat.” The statement noted that Simpson replaced Scott Earl, who “departed” after 12 years as League president. Depending on individual viewpoints-be they from large or small CUs-Earl’s tenure was marked by both successes in holding back what was seen as a debilitating and first-time tax against state-chartered CUs, as well as disappointments in the loss of key legislator support for the CU cause. “Scott Earl did a remarkable job but we took our licks and now it’s time to take the gloves off and play offense,” said Darin Moody, president/CEO of Utah First FCU, in echoing remarks by several other Utah CU managers. Simpson, he said, will bring “new energy and excitement” to the job and yet it is one that is daunting since Utah CUs must work to defeat gubernatorial candidate Marty Stephens, the House Speaker and backer of the March law to tax CUs. That law also imposed barriers on business loans, created a two-year task force to bring up new taxation formulas on CUs, and threatened a curb on field of membership expansion. Though resigning last month from Zions Bank, Stephens, a CU antagonist, still retains strong support from the Utah Bankers Association and its national parent, the American Bankers Association. While acknowledging the “hostile” environment for CUs in Utah, Phil Janovak, president/CEO of University of Utah Credit Union which is a Dec. 23rd convert to a federal charter, said CUs at the national level retain plenty of clout and will be “formidable opponents” to whatever the banking industry dishes out in the courts or in Congress. But in Utah “remember that we only became active politically five years ago, but bankers in this state are members of the legislature or Utah lawmakers have very strong connections to bankers which date back generations, so you can see it is very much an uphill battle for us,” observed Janovak. Meanwhile, Janovak said he is heartened by the change in leadership of the Utah League and may decide to re-affiliate after his CU dropped its membership in the League in 2002, unhappy over what were described as sharp differences over legislative strategy and dues policies. “But Scott Simpson is an extremely bright guy, politically savvy and has a great deal to offer,” said Janovak, adding he will wait some weeks to see what changes are made in League operations before deciding whether to rejoin. Janovak said the League needs to maintain a strategy where it “plays offense-you can’t score if you’re on defense all the time.” At the national level, Simpson, in assuming the Utah League presidency, becomes one of the youngest to hold the job with the typical age of state League presidents being around 51-53 years old. Prior to working with the state GOP, Simpson was marketing director for Excel Entertainment. He holds a degree in public relations from Weber State University, Ogden. -

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