On Jan. 4, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association's (NLBMDA) board of directors appointed Diane Swenson as the association's new president. For this issue, Swenson talks about her background, her decision to join NLBMDA, and her plans for the organization.
NLBMDA: Tell us about your Midwestern roots and your eventual move to Washington.
Swenson: I grew up on a farm in South Dakota. I found my love of politics through a farmer's economic concerns and necessary interest in government. I attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., and then moved to St. Paul, Minn., where I earned my J.D. [law degree] at Hamline University School of Law. While in law school, I interned with two membership organizations: the Minnesota Association of Counties and the Minnesota Education Association. These were pivotal experiences that motivated me to set my sights on a legislative position in Washington after passing the Minnesota bar exam.
NLBMDA: Your Washington experience consists of time on Capitol Hill and positions with two trade associations. How did this progression prepare you for your role at NLBMDA?
Swenson: I came to Washington to work for former Rep. Tom Hagedorn (R-Minn.). I soon moved to the office of former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), where I represented the issues of my home state. After five years on Capitol Hill, I became the legislative director at the American Tort Reform Association, where I reached the position of executive vice president. After 13 years, it was time to do something new, so I accepted the executive vice president/chief operating officer position with the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, where I managed 65 staff members and a $12 million budget.
All of these positions involved advocacy, and afforded me the opportunity to fine-tune my understanding of issues and the process to advance them with policy-makers and regulators.
NLBMDA: What attracted you to the position with NLBMDA?
Swenson: I love trade associations and their issues. Because of my farming and small-business background, I developed a firm appreciation of business and the companies that provide basic employment opportunities for so many people. NLBMDA plays a key role in a setting where it is confronted with a variety of issues, from environmental concerns to liability concerns. I'm thrilled to be part of NLBMDA's future while contributing to the resolution of the industry's challenges.
NLBMDA: What are your plans for NLBMDA?
Swenson: The theme is "Fair Play," which is what our members need in order to successfully operate their businesses. This is the good fight that is exemplified by the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (ISFA) and the importance it carries for the industry. I have some previous experience with ISFA, and know that it is an easy bill to sell because it is about simple fairness. At the same time, it's a tough battle because the opposition is willing to fight and is supported by a large political action committee. I plan to work with our members to meet with every member of Congress to keep this legislation moving forward.
During my first day on the job, I contacted all of the state and regional associations. NLBMDA conducts federal lobbying and supports the advocacy efforts of its state and regional partners.
NLBMDA: Any final comments for our readers?
Swenson: I'm ready to work on behalf of NLBMDA and its members. As part of the SmithBucklin management team, the new association management company for NLBMDA, I'll focus on building relationships, earning the confidence of the board of directors, building member services, and advancing the advocacy efforts of the association.
–Diane Swenson can be reached at email@example.com or at 800.634.8645.
Make your voice heard on Capitol Hill by joining your colleagues at the 2008 Legislative Conference, March 31-April 2 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington. The conference also will include a new Green Building Forum March 31. For 2008, the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (H.R. 989) continues to be a top priority for NLBMDA. Your discussions with legislators are essential to convey how this bill will protect dealers against predatory lawsuits. Support your industry by advocating on this issue and others this spring. Conference agenda items include: Briefings from key policy-makers and analysis from industry experts Special sessions providing you with key talking points for your Capitol Hill visits Opportunities to connect with fellow dealers and legislators at the popular LuDPAC Event and Auction. You must make hotel reservations by March 9 to receive the special NLBMDA group rate of $289. Call the Ritz-Carlton at 800.558.9994 or 202.835.0500 to make your reservation. Please mention the NLBMDA Legislative Conference to receive the special rate. We look forward to seeing you at the conference. For additional details, visit www.dealer.org.
Speak Out: Ask Your Representative to Support Innocent Sellers Fairness Act.
In a few weeks, dealers nationwide will converge on Capitol Hill to advocate for legislation to improve the industry's business climate. At the top of their agenda is the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (ISFA).
This NLBMDA-initiated legislation would protect dealers from abusive lawsuits regarding products sold in their yards. Under ISFA, dealers that sell a legal product without altering it and that do not act negligently in handling it would be protected from liability should the product fail or cause damage in the future.
Today's laws hold each party in the supply chain equally liable regardless of fault. If a product fails because of a manufacturing defect or improper installation, the dealer could be left holding the bill. At the very least, the dealer will be tied up in legal proceedings even if it's eventually dismissed from the case.
Trial lawyers are aggressively targeting the building supply industry. Many in the industry experienced litigation over asbestos products sold long before they were known to be hazardous. Now, lawsuits over lead paint are springing up and target retailers as well as manufacturers.
ISFA is bipartisan, common-sense legal reform legislation introduced in 2007 by Reps. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). Nearly 60 co-sponsors put their support behind it in 2007, thanks in large part to the grassroots contacts made by building material dealers.
Even if you cannot join your peers in Washington this spring, you can help continue building momentum for this legislation. On April 1, NLBMDA will launch a national write-your-congressman campaign. Using our dealer advocacy Web site, www.BuildtheVote.org, dealers can send an electronic message to their legislators, seeking their co-sponsorship of ISFA. Look for the "Action Alert" image on the start page to begin.
Once you've contacted your member, be sure to follow up. If you do not receive a written response within a few weeks, call the office and ask to speak to the legislative assistant for legal reform issues. All offices can be reached through the Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121. Congressional offices get a lot of mail, and it never hurts to follow up with a brief personal call.
BuildtheVote.org offers other resources to learn more about the legislative priorities of NLBMDA and the 2008 elections. Under the "Register & Vote" tab, you can find forms to register or request an absentee ballot. "Election Information" provides information about candidates and primary election dates in your state. "Your Elected Officials" is the area to look up your representative and senators and view their voting records on industry priorities.
The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association represents more than 8,000 lumber and building material companies with more than 400,000 employees, 20 state and regional associations, and the industry's leading manufacturers and service providers. NLBMDA is the voice of America's building suppliers. www.dealer.org.