March 28th through 30th, NAEDA members converged on Washington D.C. for the association’s first federal (U.S.) fly-in. It was a resounding success, with 22 dealers from 15 states registered for the event.
It was a promising move forward in NAEDA’s core function of Advocacy – one of the three pillars of the association’s mission to Advocate, Elevate, and Educate.
The primary goal for any association’s fly-in is to get its members in front of elected officials for policy discussions. Though, they serve another critical purpose: to show the association is not a “Paper Tiger.” This is a Chinese phrase that references something that claims or appears to be powerful but is actually ineffectual or powerless. Before we get more into this subject, let’s quickly review what participants at the fly-in did with their roughly 48 hours in D.C.
The primary goal for any association’s fly-in is to get its members in front of elected officials for policy discussions. Though, they serve another critical purpose: to show the association is not a “Paper Tiger.”
Over the course of their day on Capitol Hill, dealers engaged with 27 congressional members and their staff – just shy of five percent of Congress, not bad for a day’s work.
Overall, these meetings included six Senators and 21 Representatives, counting two of the “four corners” of the Ag Committees – Ranking Member of the Senate Committee, John Boozman (AR) and Chair of the House Committee, Glen “GT” Thompson (PA-15). Both of whom were speakers before the entire NAEDA delegation. Rep. Thompson spoke to the group during a lunch at the prestigious Capitol Hill Club, and Sen. Boozman joined the group for their closing dinner at the Westin, Downtown D.C.
The predominate topic for dealers was Right to Repair. Most of the offices and members had a rudimentary understanding of the issue already, and most felt it was not a priority nor would it be in the near future. However, a few dealers were surprised to find that their elected officials, whom they thought would be in opposition, had questions about the issue and had heard from advocates.
None of these discussions were cause for alarm, but the dealers involved said it highlights the need for active engagement and participation at both the state and federal levels to frame the issue and provide the facts for understanding it.
Participants attended meetings in groups of two to five, arranged by their geographic locations. To give everyone a chance to get to know one another better, a reception was held the night before the day on the Hill at the historic Old Ebbitt Grill – touted as D.C.’s oldest Saloon.
Following the Hill Day, participants were bussed 30 minutes south of D.C. for breakfast and a private tour of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Upon their return to the hotel, the fly-in itinerary officially concluded.
Now, back to the point of not being a “paper tiger.” An example often cited in recent years was the Afghan Army. On paper, an army existed and was equipped, but when it came time to fight, no one showed up – it was a paper tiger.
During the fly-in a dealer asked, “How do you get above the noise?” Referring to how busy the halls of Congress are and how difficult it must be to leave a lasting impression with offices constantly barraged by information. The answer is, by proving you are not a paper tiger.
Any lobbyist can meet with a member’s office and give them stats on the number of people they represent and how good or bad a certain policy will be for each of those individuals. It is exceedingly difficult for elected officials to determine if a lobbyist represents their constituents on these discussions alone. NAEDA’s voice would indeed be lost in the noise if this were the extent of our interaction with legislators. In their minds, we would be an association of 4,500 dealers that simply exist on paper – we would be a paper tiger.
Dealers participating are what make the difference. Those who came to the fly-in not only had the chance to talk policy with their elected representatives, but they sent an important message – “NAEDA members are action takers.”
A dealer’s presence means they committed time and money to be there, and legislators fully understand that. If someone is willing to come all the way to the Capitol, it is a strong indicator they are also participating in all other aspects of the political and policy process.
According to Pew Research Center, the average voter turnout in the last three mid-term elections was only 43 percent of eligible voters. So, when NAEDA requests a meeting with legislators and says that a small business owner from that official’s district is coming for the meeting, it is in their best interest to listen to an active constituent. This non-verbalized messaging benefits the association staff as well. In those official’s minds. NAEDA is no-longer just another group vying for attention, but the organization represents active constituents in their district.
In short, dealer participation gives NAEDA credibility with elected officials, which leads to the understanding that NAEDA is not a paper tiger. Our members are doers.
In closing, thank you to all the dealers who have participated in NAEDA events. Whether it be at conferences, testifying on legislation, hosting dealer demonstrations, the D.C. fly-in, or any other way – NAEDA deeply appreciates your time and help in Advocating, Educating, and Elevating the equipment dealership industry. We look forward to building on this inaugural event’s success and hope to see you next year.
Article Written by Kipp McGuire
KIPP McGUIRE is the director of government affairs for NAEDA. He comes from the consulting world, where he was an advisor to the U.S. Navy’s Commander of Pacific Fleet as a member of the Commander’s Action Group and Government Affairs and Outreach teams. Prior to his time as a consultant, he was an Advance Officer for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which took him across the globe coordinating nation-to-nation engagements. He has extensive experience in the legislative and policy fields, and has previously worked for state and federal legislators, as well as an advisor on several political campaigns. His military service includes five years enlisted with the Marine Corps and is presently an Intelligence Officer with the Navy Reserves. He has degrees from the University of Montana and the Institute of World Politics.