As I sit down to pen this article in late August, I am struck with a news item of the day citing a recent Gallup Poll showing the public's opinion of how Congress is doing. Their job approval had dropped to the lowest level since they started tracking that measure in 1974. At this time, 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76 percent do not find it acceptable, and 6 percent don't have an opinion. Polling experts point out that public approval ratings of Congress are traditionally less than 50 percent and only hit a high of 84 percent for one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack when Americans rallied behind the government. Then, they quickly retracted to historic lows.
HARDI's experience with two significant legislative issues — the energy bill including regional efficiency standards and refrigerant reclaim initiatives — leads me to a few clear conclusions about Congress and the rationale behind their record-setting low approval ratings:
- Wholesale distributors do not have an understanding audience in Washington, nor have they sought legislative or regulatory consultation, even when they may be the most affected industry segment on a given issue.
- Logic, facts and expert testimony take a back seat in D.C. to personal relationships.
- Traditional legislative and regulatory roles of segments within our industry's supply chain are shifting rapidly and dramatically.
These three observations are forcing HARDI to adapt and expand into new roles. We have revived our Government & Trade Relations Committee with a new function in helping staff evaluate and develop legislative and regulatory strategies. Now beyond serving a purely educational function, this Committee must actively review potential legislative threats and opportunities, proposed legislation, and HARDI arguments and positions. These changes require this Committee to reflect representation by all member segments, company sizes and geographies, and perhaps most importantly, to be ready to act quickly, since Washington operates on its own schedule.
HARDI distributor members need to start forging and cultivating relationships with their elected representatives — even if they did not support them in the last election. HARDI is starting to help members do this by facilitating district meetings and organizing the association's first-ever Congressional Fly-In next spring on the front end of the Mid-Year Business Meeting in Washington, D.C. HARDI members are prominent employers, contributors to local, state and federal tax revenues, and businesses unlikely to pick up and relocate to China or Mexico. You have political clout but just haven't needed to develop it until now.
Finally, HVACR distributors have long been able to “outsource” government affairs to the industry's manufacturers and contractors. The times, they are a-changin' now as regulators and legislators are increasingly looking to add costs, administration and enforcement responsibilities that can only be assumed by the channel's distributors, meaning that no manufacturer or contractor partner, no matter how close and strong, can be expected to thoroughly advocate on your behalf. Further, many HARDI members are active members of other organizations that may offer government representation, but it is vital today that HARDI members actively involve their distributor association in issues of importance to the industry and their businesses. It will often be through organizational partnerships and alliances that politicians will consider wholesalers' interests.
I believe we all have very real concerns about energy independence and environmental issues, but I also believe we need to be prudent in how we as a nation handle those matters. HARDI can and must be a driver toward responsible, realistic and effective energy policy. Distributor members of all sizes and their key partners need to step up, take note and get involved before bad legislation ruins good intentions in our states and our nation, in which the worst unintended consequences could threaten the basic viability of the industry's best wholesale distributors.
Executive vice president / COO