“You’ve got to go to this conference, you can’t miss it,” IIAA vice president-public affairs Jeff Myers told me repeatedly. So, on April 30 I hopped on a red-eye flight to attend the Independent Insurance Agents of America National Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
Turned out Jeff was right. Not only did I get a chance to shake hands with the President, but I saw firsthand the influence that our industry can-and does-have on legislation in this country.
As soon as I got over my initial jetlag, I was able to get a better grasp on what was going on. It was an eye-opener.
Our nation’s capital is not quite on the cutting edge just yet. Back at the ranch, I knew the Insurance Journal staff was gathering all the latest technology material for our “Automation” issue, but the Internet and all its accompanying drama was not headline news on the legislative agenda.
In the high-ceilinged, wood-paneled offices of our Congressmen and women, there are no high-tech systems and discussions of server farms and modems. The issues on the table this year are strictly back to basics: taxes, natural disasters, healthcare, crop insurance.
This may have been just one day out of 365 on Capitol Hill, but these are the core issues that won’t go away in America, e-commerce or no e-commerce.
According to the Big “I,” 83 agents made the first trip to Washington in 1977 to discuss how various insurance legislative proposals would affect their livelihood. Today, the Leg. Conference has grown to one of the largest and most effective gatherings of its kind in Washington.
The fascinating part for me was watching our influence at work. These 800 agents that took the trip to Washington to spend three days trekking around the Capitol buildings were not starch-shirted bigwigs grabbing the chance to rub elbows with a Senator, drink a few cocktails and feel important. They were young up-and-coming agents, small-town third-generation agency owners and female agency executives with agendas-and they were important.
As we tromped the mazelike hallways of Capitol Hill in search of the Congresspeople who represented our state, the agents were busy reviewing their issue sheets and briefing cards. When the initial small talk and introductions were over, serious business was at hand.
“You are here to make a sales call on Capitol Hill, to service an existing client,” IIAA CEO Paul Equale informed us on the first morning. “For some of you it’s a cold call…Who’s your customer? Congress. What are you selling? Yourself (the independent agent).”
To the Congresspeople, we may have been just another random group of representatives from another random industry, but they took the time in their hectic schedules (such as one Congressman who flies home to Long Beach to see his family every weekend and back to D.C. every workweek) to meet with us and hear what we had to say. In a way, we were doing them a favor, presenting our issues to them directly rather than mailing another endless agenda of our demands.
So what message are attendees bringing back to their fellow agents from the nation’s capitol? “Don’t give up hope,” said Jeff Lang of Los Angeles-based Speare & Company Insurance Brokers. “Congressmen are people too, and as long as we show a unified front, they’ll listen to what we have to say.”
The power of 800 agents converging on Capitol Hill should not be underestimated. And as one agent from Kentucky said, “If you aren’t here fighting for what you believe in, you can’t be complaining about what you don’t get.”
Although just sitting in someone’s office and presenting your case does not ensure approval, the impression has still been made-your presence felt and your point taken.
That’s part of the thrill of being an American citizen-we have the right to do just that, to sit face-to-face with an elected representative of Congress and tell them how we feel about issues that matter to us.
That chance alone is worth the red-eye flight from LAX.
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