In April, I attended the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., for the first time. All I knew was that on the first day we would learn about legislative and regulatory issues facing our industry, and on the second day, we would “storm the hill” to meet individually with our senators and representatives. Deep down, I did not know what to expect, so I was a little apprehensive.
The first day went as billed. We learned what NLBMDA was doing to inform Congress about legislative issues that affect our industry. At the Lumber Dealers Political Action Committee (LudPAC) fundraising lunch, Jake Sherman from Politico gave us a fascinating insider’s look into what was happening in D.C. and what he thinks the 2020 elections will look like. On the regulatory front, NLBMDA is actively working with OSHA on clarifying the new regulations affecting boom trucks. Even though the regulations are in effect, there still is confusion as to what constitutes a boom truck delivery that would fall under the regulation. The NLBMDA is actively working with OSHA to get the bar lowered, so that merely delivering material is no longer considered part of the actual construction process and therefore would fall outside the regulations and expensive training.
The second day was lobbying day. We all dressed up and attended an early-morning meeting where Jerry Howard, president of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), spoke and got us all fired up. He was emphatic about the importance of people from our industry talking to their members of Congress to inform them about the issues affecting us. Many of the issues that the NLBMDA is pressing, like the Canadian Softwood Agreement, are also important to the NAHB, so it was great getting their support before we headed off to our meetings.
Being on the hill was somewhat surreal. Once you get through security, you can walk right into any senator’s or representative’s office. You will be told that you need to call and make an appointment, which is very easy to do, but gaining access to the congressional staff was surprisingly easy. Sometimes I met with an actual congressperson, but more often, it was with a staff member who meticulously wrote down notes to share with the rest of the staff and their boss. In the case of my own representative, Rep. Lauren Underwood, she was not available to meet at the time I had scheduled. But she knew the NLBMDA was sponsoring a reception at the end of the day, so she personally came down to find me and go through our industry issues with me in private.
Why do I feel it is important to share this with everyone, and what does it have to do with leadership? When I went into Sen. Dick Durbin’s office, the number two ranking Democratic senator, I was greeted by a staffer who was less than excited about the meeting. I brought up our first issue, the Canadian Softwood Agreement, and he suddenly perked up. He told me that it was an issue he was personally interested in—so much so that he had taken a trip to Canada to research the issue. Unfortunately, there had been no feedback from our industry coming out of Illinois, so they had deemed it unimportant to our state. The reason there had been no feedback from our industry is that our state organization, the ILMDA, has chosen not to belong to our national group, the NLBMDA, thus leaving Illinois as the only state not represented in Washington for the past 10 years. I assured the staffer that it was an important issue in Illinois.
In leadership, there are two kinds of leaders: those who make things happen, and those who stand around wondering what just happened. With our government, it is critical that our industry be involved to make things happen, otherwise, we will be wondering how we will handle the next well-intentioned law or regulation that was passed without our input. Every member of our industry can make a difference, if just by showing up at next year’s NLDMDA Legislative Conference and going out to meet your members of Congress. And you won’t have to do it alone. There usually are other members from each state who go together, so you can just add weight to the message by being there, or you can present an issue to your senator or representative. As for visits to our Illinois congresspeople next year, I sincerely hope more of my fellow industry members from Illinois will attend.