President's Message

President's Message: Advocacy-A Prime NASBP Mission

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Advocacy-A Prime NASBP Mission

“Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people...to peacefully assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is not only first numerically; it is first in importance since it guarantees the freedoms that make all other rights possible. Most of the time we focus on freedom of religion, speech, and the press. However, the final clause I quoted above is one that resulted from our colonial forefather’s frustration with King George III’s response to the numerous petitions that they sent to London. After winning our independence and creating the United States, the writers of the Constitution made sure that the right to assemble and petition the Government was preserved in the Bill of Rights.

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           Howard Cowan, left, with his Congressman
                  Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX 19th).


NASBP members and affiliates recently gathered in Washington, DC to exercise these rights. We assembled peacefully at The Liaison Hotel in sight of the United States Capitol, and, like our colonial ancestors, we enjoyed an adult beverage or two, as we planned our meetings for the following day. This year we did something different from previous Fly-ins. Instead of asking Congressmen to come to our hotel, NASBP reserved a large room in the Cannon House Office Building and gathered at 8:00 a.m. to hear five members of the U.S. House Transportation Committee discuss infrastructure issues. The room was filled from wall-to-wall with our attendees. The panel discussion was moderated by a NASBP-retained lobbying consultant on public-private partnership projects, Marshall McComber. The panel members represented California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. Both Democratic and Republican U.S. Congressmen made up the panel. The interaction and banter among the participants was entertaining and informative. Our attendees learned that infrastructure encompasses a range of local concerns, including port facilities in Long Beach, CA, lack of funding in states such as Louisiana, and water issues in rural Georgia. That Wednesday was an extremely busy day for members of Congress with high profile committee meetings covered on national television to subcommittees marking up spending bills. We were impressed that the U.S. Congressmen took time at the start of the day to meet with constituents from across the country. After the panel discussion, we began nearly 50 meetings by our 50 attendees with House and Senate members and their staffs. I was privileged to hear my freshman Congressman, U.S. Representative Jodey Arrington (R-TX 19th), make a speech on pending Homeland Security legislation and then to have my picture taken, as seen here, with him on the Speaker’s Balcony, which is alongside the U.S. Speaker of the House's office suite with a view toward the Washington Monument. The Congressman and his Chief of Staff later met with NASBP Director of Government Relations Larry LeClair and me at the Capitol Hill Club, where we discussed the NASBP Legislative Agenda for this session of Congress. U.S. Senator John Cornyn came out of the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting to meet with NASBP Government Relations Committee Chairman Tracy Tucker of Tucker Agency, Joey Dussault of NAS Surety Group, LeClair, and myself. (See picture below) with, from left, Dussault, Tucker, Cornyn, Cowan, and LeClair.) All of our attendees experienced similar hospitality. 

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U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), center, with the NASBP Texas Delegation and Larry LeClair.

 
When I spoke at the closing banquet at NASBP’s 75th Anniversary celebration in Boca Raton, FL, I mentioned that I was drawn into political advocacy by one of my highway contractors whose only condition for writing his bonds was that I would become an active member of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Texas, the Texas Chapter of the Highway, Heavy, Utilities and Industrial Branch of AGC of America. I made that commitment and soon learned that membership meant becoming involved in advocacy. The classic quote from a speaker at an AGC conference was, “If you are in business but not involved in politics, you will soon be out of business.” If that is true for highway contractors, it is also true for surety agents. Numerous NASBP Past Presidents and Committee Chairmen have stated that our industry was essentially legislated into existence with the Heard Act and later the Miller Act of 1935. Therefore, we can just as easily be legislated out of business. In addition, we now face challenges from alternative products. I predict that challenges will not end with subcontractor default insurance (SDI). In addition, both public and private owners question the cost, effectiveness and need for surety bonds. We ignore those challenges at the risk of following dinosaurs into extinction.

Our efforts in DC and the states are effectively led by NASBP staff, CEO Mark McCallum, LeClair, and Assistant Director of Government Relations Shannon Crawford, in conjunction with their counterparts at Surety & Fidelity Association of America. They do an outstanding job of tracking legislation on surety and financial service issues at the national and state level. However, our members’ involvement at the federal and state levels helps to illustrate to legislators that constituents are impacted positively or negatively by decisions made in Washington, DC and state capitals. In today’s world many of the new challenges unfortunately come from city councils, school boards, county commissioners and other local agencies. This arena is where we need “boots on the ground” to feed information on damaging proposals to our leadership. To state it simply, every NASBP member must become an advocate for the value of our product. Contact your Regional Director or a Director-At-Large whenever you become aware of a critical issue that could negatively impact our efforts in either contract or commercial surety. Please also share your concerns with our NASBP staff. They will immediately swing into action.
As I conclude my first Pipeline article, my appeal to every NASBP member is to immediately get involved as an advocate and to plan to join us in June 2018 for our next NASBP Legislative Fly-in. We have contracted with The Liaison Hotel, a Jolie de Vivre hotel, for next year’s Fly-in, which will be held June 5 and 6. We offered an enjoyable Family Day this year and hope to do the same in 2018. That was a great opportunity for spouses, children and grandchildren to experience our nation’s capital and see the “peaceful assembly and petitioning of our government.” 2018 NASBP President Bob Shaw and I hope to see you and family members then.

Howard Cowan is Principal of Acrisure, LLC dba Cowan-Hill Bond Agency in Lubbock, TX. He can be reached at howardcowan@sbcglobal.net.