Newly elected Arkansas State Sen. Alan Clark has some advice for lumber retailers: If you want to make a difference in how the political process affect you, court your elected officials as you would a customer. “Everybody wants your time or a favor once you are elected. Imagine how much you would sell if you acted like your customer owed you their business,” the COO of Clarks Building Building & Decorating Center in Hot Springs told ProSales after winning his first statewide office last November.

A fifth-generation Arkansan, Clark says he had no plans to be a politician when he joined the Republican Party in 1988. But “I have always wanted to make a difference,” he says. Clark represents the Mid-America Lumbermens Association on the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association board.

Clark rates Medicaid reform as the biggest issue facing him in the Arkansas Senate. During his campaign, he questioned how the state can afford to expand its Medicaid program as mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act. Nationally, he believes America’s top priority should be energy independence. He favors compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel and maintains it could bring the equivalent of $2-per-gallon gasoline, which would leave people more money to spend on other things, including home improvement.

“I actually became aware of CNG from a seminar at a Mid- America Lumbermens board meeting,” Clark says. “I think that demonstrates the importance of being involved in your association.”

At home, Clark oversees the original store—“an old-fashioned lumberyard”—as well as IDEAS by Clarks, a flooring and decorating store. His son Drew manages IDEAS, which is short for Innovative Design, Elegance and Style.

Having been involved in both the building material industry and politics for more than two decades, Clark thinks people in his industry “are noticeably absent from the political system in our area. They seem to be aloof, detached, and separated from the political system.”

A little effort can matter more than many people might think, Clark says. “Just inviting your legislators to your place of business can be effective. I think dealers would be surprised how many would come. Inviting them to an association meeting with several dealers would be even more effective. … Calling a lawmaker on an issue is exponentially more effective if you already have a relationship.”

Courting candidates is important, too, Clark says. “There aren’t that many people who seem genuinely interested when you are on the campaign trail. Those who just call you occasionally and offer encouragement are not forgotten after the election. Those who didn’t have time to see you when you tried to make an appointment aren’t forgotten, either.”—T.G.

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