A Life-Long Educator Has Advice For Educating Elected Representatives

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Fred Johnson, Ph.D. has dedicated his life to educating others, but all the teaching hasn't been limited to the traditional classroom. Johnson has been educating legislators in Washington and Tennessee for years on the issues important to his community, and that includes credit unions.

Johnson has been on the board at the $550-million Memphis Area Teachers' Credit Union in Tennessee for nearly 15 years and has been lobbying on its behalf almost the entire time.

"I stay involved in lobbying efforts because I'm concerned about people. I look very carefully at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and I want the needs of the total population to be met," explained Johnson. "I look at credit unions as a gateway for helping people in ways that banks do not provide. I lobby for issues that are in the best interest of the credit union, as well as the members we serve."

Johnson admits there was about a six-month learning curve to overcome before he began feeling acclimated to his board responsibilities at the credit union. During that time, he was the administrator of a large school district and was serving as the president of the National Science Teachers Association, the largest association for science teachers in the world. In that role, he was active in lobbying for education at the state and federal level and had already made a name for himself among many of his legislators. It was only natural for him to begin lobbying for credit unions, especially since he knew how to effectively communicate issues to his legislators and how to recognize that the message was being heard.

One Person's Approach

"It's a combination of efforts," he said. "I meet with legislators personally and through group efforts. We call on various congressional offices. I go to political fundraisers. I went to the Democratic National Convention. No matter where we are or what event we are attending, we try to tell our story and why it's important that we have a level playing field from a regulatory vantage point. We can do so much more for people with less. Our history is based on helping people."

Of course, the educator in Johnson says there is a certain amount of homework that comes with effective lobbying, and he's definitely up to it. When Johnson visits his lawmakers, he provides data to make his story more compelling, like: how many people would be affected by the issue at hand; which communities would be impacted either negatively or positively; is it just credit union members or would all citizens be impacted.

"I see credit unions being able to serve a segment of the population more comprehensively and at a lower cost than some other financial entities. That could be an entire constituency," he said. "The bottom line is how many votes you can deliver. When we meet people who do not support credit unions as strongly as we hope, we try to tactfully remind them of that."

Johnson's experiences in the political arena have served Memphis Area Teachers' Credit Union well.

The credit union's CEO, Ray Algee, said Johnson's reputation alone has been a benefit to the credit union's political efforts.

"Dr. Johnson is a superb asset for Memphis Area Teachers' Credit Union on many different levels. He is well known and respected in our community because of his work experience," Algee said. "MATCU has a credit union volunteer that has previous acquaintances with many legislators and community leaders, which can be very helpful at opening doors in the political arena."

A Father's Influence

Johnson may have learned the political ropes through his role as an educator, but his passion for serving comes from his father, who was a successful businessman during World War II, despite having a fifth grade education. Instead of learning in the classroom, his father learned by living, and he passed those lessons on to his son.

"I learned to live my life with honesty and integrity and respect for all human beings. He taught me to respect other peoples' views even if I don't agree with them," Johnson offered. "I am so proud and humble to be a citizen of this great country. I owe people much more than I can pay back, and I'm very honored to serve."

Volunteer Lobbyist: Fred Johnson

CU: Memphis Area Teachers Credit Union, Tennessee

Worth Noting: A veteran of the education community, Johnson came to credit unions with experience in lobbying on behalf of the National Science Teachers Association.

Strategy When Lobbying Representatives: Not surprisingly, Johnson believes in doing his homework, and in meetings with representatives is prepared with information on how various communities are being affected.

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