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GREENSBORO, S.C. – Stroll through most state capitols when the legislature is in session and you’ll spot lobbyists scurrying around toting thick folders packed with data supporting their particular cause. But when Martha Miller, the president of Choice Community Credit Union, makes the 90-mile trip to Raleigh she travels light. A key point on her agenda may be simply checking in with State Senator Kay Hagan to say hello and ask if there’s anything the senator needs. That approach, built up over the past six years, has enabled Miller to cultivate the kind of “good neighbor” relationship that lets Hagan know she can turn to Miller when she needs help. In return? Well, Miller says, there really haven’t been any pressing credit union issues on the agenda in Raleigh. But when CCCU switched from a federal charter to a state community charter, it was nice to be able to ask Hagan if she would write a letter supporting the move. Hagan readily complied. Similarly, one day Miller asked Hagan if there was anything she could do for her. Do you mean it?, Hagan asked. Of course, Miller replied. The next thing she knew she was busy addressing postcards as part of Hagan’s reelection campaign, an effort the senator explained was not going to be the usual incumbent shoe-in. That kind of lobbying may be a far cry from images of highly-paid lawyers with hefty expense accounts courting lawmakers over lunch, or of angry crowds waving signs and shouting slogans outside the capitol. But for Miller, who wasn’t sure what to expect when she first came face to face with Hagan back in 1999, it’s a comfortable fit. Miller’s introduction to one-on-one politics began when she met Dan Schline of the North Carolina Credit Union League. Newly hired as the league’s government affairs point man. Schline emphasized the importance of becoming involved in the political process. He arranged a meeting between Hagan, then newly-elected, and some of the credit unions in her district. Miller hosted the meeting at CCCU. Miller wasn’t sure what to expect because Hagan was new on the political scene. She was also a former banker. But she seemed open to credit union viewpoints. “When we first started, I figured, `Yes, that seems like a good idea. Yes, I’ll be glad to host the meeting,’” Miller recalls. “Of course she is from Greensboro and I’m from Greensboro. I think that helped. We did hit it off in the sense that she talked about different issues. I know she has a passion for education. I feel the same way, so we have some common ground.” One thing Miller has learned is to respect Hagan’s time. Like most lawmakers, Hagan has a packed schedule. Cultivating a relationship means walking a line between being a pest and showing up often enough to be known. Miller recalls one trip to the capitol when she wanted to say hello and discovered Hagan was in a committee meeting. An aide advised Miller that Hagan would be in the session for quite a while, but there would probably be a break at a certain time. So Miller waited patiently outside the room until Hagan emerged, then quickly told her she realized the senator was busy but she simply wanted to say hello. In between trips to Raleigh, Miller is able to stay posted through an e-mail Hagan sends out to interested constituents and others when there is news. “She really takes her job seriously,” Miller says. “I’m impressed. She has gotten in there and rolled her sleeves up. She’s full of energy and constantly on the go.” Perhaps as a result, Hagan has risen to some responsible positions on key committees, including chair of appropriations. “If I do need some help, that probably isn’t going to hurt,” Miller says with a soft chuckle. “You have to make some effort. It’s easy to say, `Well, she’s busy and I really don’t have time.’ I give credit to Dan and the league. They’re very conscious of political events and have made us more aware. “If you’re not sure where to start, hopefully your league can help. I still call Dan Schline and say, `Hey, what do you think about this?’ I get his input on things because that’s his job. You must have an interest and understand why it’s important.” -

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