America’s electric cooperatives must use their credibility and genuine connection to their communities to form relationships with Congress, particularly where votes affect consumer-members, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said.
“Thousands of lobbyists knock on their doors every day. It’s that connection back home no one has but us,” Matheson told the more than 2,000 co-op officials gathered at the 2019 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
“The most important thing about your presence here is to develop a level of trust with people who are making policy,” he said.
NRECA urged co-op leaders meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill during the week of April 30 to discuss four priorities:
- Include development of rural communities in any infrastructure package.
- Reject the administration’s proposal to sell the Power Marketing Administrations.
- Protect electric co-ops’ tax-exempt status.
- Stop overcharging NRECA’s pension plans for co-op employees.
Matheson also encouraged NRECA members to host lawmakers at their co-ops, given about 100 of the 535 senators and House members are newly elected.
“I can’t tell you how important that is to build a bond,” he said. “They all vote on our issues. That is something we should not forget.”
Matheson recalled his years in Congress as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and how his relationship with Utah co-ops went beyond electricity issues.
“I knew they had a finger on the pulse of their various communities and I trusted what they told me. In Washington, D.C., where everyone has their own agenda…when you find someone you trust, that’s a big deal,” he said.
NRECA and its member co-ops have worked to build “relationships to get things done on both sides of the aisle,” said Matheson. “That’s pretty rare in this town.”
A case in point occurred when Matheson recently delivered ACRE® checks to House campaign committees for each party, and both leaders said they knew co-ops because of growing up in communities served by an electric cooperative. A photo of Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., in a co-op bucket truck became a hit on social media, he said. “We have a reputation that transcends partisanship,” said Matheson.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.