Between the massive concrete pillars outside the building, the metal detectors just inside the door, and the young business-suited staffers scurrying through the cavernous halls, the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., was almost intimidating as I set out with the Kentucky Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (KLBMDA) on one of two congressional visits in late March. After all, it is one of the most powerful places in the world surrounded by the country's key decision makers.
But it didn't take long to feel comfortable in Senator Jim Bunning's (R-Ky.) office. A former pro baseball player and a Hall of Famer, Bunning has decorated his conference room with baseball memorabilia and photographs—hardly the oak columns and stuffy portraits you might expect. And, more importantly, Bunning's demeanor was at ease as well; he listened intently as his constituents voiced their concerns and he offered his positions on some of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association's (NLBMDA) current issues.
Bunning's office was the first of several senate and house offices members of the Kentucky delegation visited during the conference, March 21–23. This enthusiastic and experienced group was just one of the many NLBMDA state and multi-state associations and individual dealers that met with congressional reps from around the country.
Steve Kelly, president of Kelly Bros. Lumber, national director of KLBMDA, and past chair of government affairs for NLBMDA, has been attending for 10 years. “I've found that one of the best things we can do as small-business people is to go up there and tell them how we feel so they can make their positions,” he says. “We're not only constituents of theirs, we're also business-people in their districts that employ their constituents. We carry a lot more weight than a lot of people realize.”
The event represents true grass roots taking hold as real people from around the industry and around the country come together to make their presence known and voices heard. “We have the opportunity to make an impact on how Congress views this industry,” said NLBMDA president Shawn Conrad during his opening remarks. “We have to have a considerable presence with the people who make decisions that impact this industry.”
Prior to the Hill visits, the 186 conference attendees participated in a number of sessions and events, including special presentations from OSHA's assistant secretary John Henshaw and Doug Waddell, chief Canadian softwood negotiator. Attendees were then updated on NLBMDA's current top issues, which include:
Next year's Legislative Conference will be held in March and NLBMDA is working to get more members involved in the process to build a stronger voice for the industry. For more information, visit www.dealer.org or call 800.634. 8645.