Something has changed with HARDI, and it has been dramatic.

I've witnessed it firsthand and, between observing it and writing about it, I still find the process fascinating, especially since it is still evolving.

How does a HARDI committee go from a deep slumber and passive interest on the part of the general membership to alert, active and animated participation?

I'm referring to HARDI's involvement, through its government and trade relations committee, on legislative issues that affect both HARDI distributors and the HVACR industry in general.

A little story. When this magazine started more than 10 years ago, I went to all the conferences for both predecessors of HARDI. During those first several years, I'd poke my head into various committee and council sessions. Because I didn't have a strong sense yet of what was important, I “sniffed the air” and did a body count to see if it might be worth staying or if it made more sense to stroll along and investigate a concurrent session nearby.

I remember the dearth of voices and lack of interest in any committee dealing with legislative issues. There always seemed to be five or fewer people in each session. I did sit down once, for about 10 minutes, and it seemed as though nothing was happening. This is no reflection on the people who chaired those committees. Arguably, they were the smart ones because they were AHEAD of the curve.

Today, HARDI has transformed an apparent somnolent view of government issues into a passionate, creative and active voice in legislative affairs. Frankly, a stunning turnaround.

What changed?

Circumstances and personality.

Certainly, the economic climate has curdled since 1999. And, regardless of your party affiliation or views of government involvement, regulatory issues via the green movement and other environmental trends have become so pronounced that only an ostrich would fail to notice something important was happening. In short, no one could remain on autopilot and pretend that decisions in Washington, D.C., had not moved from the abstract to the real.

The other factor was the arrival of HARDI Vice President Talbot Gee. He possesses an unusual array of intellectual capacity and drive that makes him the ideal wagon master for the new direction in which HARDI has embarked. He clearly understands the legislative process, has a strategic sense of why these budding governmental issues REALLY matter and is able to explain, discuss and offer direct responses in English that everyone can understand.

But I think there is one important factor that overrides all the others. It is Gee's ability to clearly, concisely and powerfully demonstrate that ignoring current legislative initiatives could threaten the existence, or certainly the profitability, of distributors' businesses. He makes it very, very real.

Most of us have seen him rattle off dates, initiatives, talking points, contacts and a plethora of facts when he stands in front of a HARDI session sharing an update on legislative issues — without any notes. The Washington, D.C., lobbyist industry's loss is HARDI's gain.

In recent memory, his support for the Congressional Fly-In and his running updates on industry influence on the EPA regarding HCFC allocation and equipment rulings are memorable and lasting.

Who could have predicted five years ago that HARDI members, smart business types who lacked legislative savvy, would troop to Washington, D.C., in order to offer their opinions on industry issues?

This new effort to prevent mandates on the industry without its input has created a more vibrant, participatory committee and has had a direct impact on HARDI overall. The right circumstances met the precise person for the response that HARDI needed for now and for the future.

I'll make a prediction. We will not see any lessening of HARDI's involvement with legislative issues. I took a peek at the Associated Press' top 10 stories for 2009. Six dealt with the impact of the national government on our lives. This involvement, not surprisingly, will not change in the future. But, at least, HARDI will be prepared.

HVACR Distribution Business welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to: Tom Pericˊ, Editor 2040 Fairfax Avenue Cherry Hill, NJ 08003 856/874-0049 or e-mail tom.peric@penton.com.