Community bankers have a chance to have our issues heard over the next few months on the national front.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has been bringing up the issue of the over-regulation of community banks on the campaign trail and in the national news media regularly over the last few weeks.
We also have a former banker who is running for president, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer. He ran a small community bank in Baton Rouge, Louisiana over the last ten years and understands the new regulatory pressure community bankers face from new legislation and tightened regulation.
They both understand that left unchecked there will be very little community banking industry left in states like Georgia, Florida, and others over the next five years. Over the next decade the community banking industry as a whole may be a much smaller force than it is today.
The community banking industry has the upper hand in the presidential race over the next few months as the caucuses and the primaries in the Main Street states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina determine the front runners on the Republican side. In these states, we can make a plight of community banking and our Main Street problems one of the focuses of the debate.
Remember what Tip O'Neill said about national politics, "all politics is local."
As my father explained to me when I was a young man, a dozen motivated people can change the direction of a city, a state, and a nation if well prepared with strong passionate arguments for their side.
Even the leader of our national trade association (the Independent Community Bankers of America) Cam Fine, I am sure would agree that there is no place better to fight for the future of community banking than on Main Street, USA. This is where we as local bankers have the advantage over the Wall Street banks, which have the lobbying manpower and money to overtake us in Washington, D.C. They tell your elected officials that we are all in the same industry and there is no difference from a $100 million dollar bank in Iowa and a $1 trillion dollar bank on Wall Street. I think we would all agree that we would not want to have our customers view us this way so why do we want our elected officials being told this?
Over the next six months, it is your time to set the record straight. You will not get this chance for another four years so you and your bank had better take advantage of this opportunity. I am not speaking of just the president and chief executive of your bank, but of the entire staff and board members. I do not need to explain to any community banker the issues that we face or what needs to be changed in Washington, D.C., but if you need some quick answers just tell your elected officials to pass the Community First Act.
If you live in one of the states that has an early vote in the election of the new president you need to be present at the town hall meetings or small group discussions and vocalize how the small banks in this country are being hog tied by regulations and not able to do business the way we used to help build this great country.
At the same time the people who should have been brought down by what they did to cause the great recession of 2008-present are still doing what they do.
If your home state has a candidate in the race, talk to their staff about the issues that will help them when the early primaries are held in Main Street states early next year.
We have some of the largest numbers of community bankers in America in the state of Texas (home of Governor Rick Perry) and in Minnesota (home of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and other front runners. I encourage you to reach out to your local Tea Party members who hate government intervention and also to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and explain to them that the rules and regulations are not hurting the fat cats on Wall Street but the small people they want to help on Main Street and the urban areas of America.
You would be surprised the allies you have if you reached out to give a talk to the local Rotary Club, Lions Club, or Kiwanis Club. We need to bring this fight to every senator and congressman that is running for election, if we start with the presidential election it will flow down to the congressional races.
I have been to Washington, D.C. many times on trips and had the opportunity to visit with our elected officials and I have testified many times before Congress; however, I have never had a better meeting with my elected Washington officials than the one I in my hometown one-on-one with a candidate running for election. This is when they listen and learn what is really going on in Main Street America.
The next year is up to you, the choice is clear...you can get involved in the fight against Washington or you can expect the additional rules and regulations on your bank to continue until your franchise is worthless.
Rusty Cloutier is the president and chief executive officer of MidSouth Bank. He is a former chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America.