An Immigrant Learns Quickly How U.S. Government Works

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Marie Davis came to America as an immigrant from Scotland in the 1960s. She had no idea what a credit union was.

"I found myself in need of a car with very little money, and I went to a bank. They told me to come back next year. Since I needed the car that day, I went to the credit union and I was able to buy a 1969 Volkswagen for $2,000," she recalled.

For Davis, it was the beginning of her 35-year tenure with DuPont Co. and along with that career, membership in what today is known as the $150-million DEXSTA Federal Credit Union. Finding the credit union wasn't difficult-it was located in the facility where she worked, the DuPont Experimental Station.

About a decade later, Davis was looking to buy some property. While reading the credit union newsletter she saw an ad that led her to believe she could borrow money from the credit union to purchase that property. When she went to apply for her loan, however, she learned that the credit union didn't offer those types of loans.

"Instead of going away in a huff," she said, "I wrote them a letter to let them know the ad was misleading. As a result of that letter, I was asked to serve on the credit committee."

And so began her long and colorful history within the credit union industry.

Fast forward to 2005 and the story is strikingly familiar. Davis is retired from DuPont now, but she still serves her credit union as a board member as she has for 25 years. She still writes letters and stands up for what she believes, but her audience has expanded beyond the credit union to state and federal legislators, as well as others in the credit union community. And, the moral of her story still remains unchanged: credit unions are a benefit to all citizens, and they need to do everything possible to protect and defend that benefit.

"We have no right to complain if we're not willing to step up to the plate. If you want to make changes, you have to be part of the process," she said.

DEXSTA has been politically active for years, perhaps more than most credit unions, partially because of its close proximity to Washington, D.C. and, of course, the legislators who can form policy affecting credit unions.

Davis actually recalls a time when DEXSTA was the only credit union in the state that attended CUNA's annual Governmental Affairs Conference. "We really have gotten ourselves wrapped around the need to be heard," she said.

Apparently, someone was listening. Through her association with DEXSTA, she has received invitations to sit on boards and committees both at the state and national level. Davis once served as co-chair of the Delaware Credit Union league (DCUL) board and is a current member of DCUL's Governmental Affairs Committee, which she once chaired.

She is an original member of the GAC, which was formed during the push to pass H.R. 1151 in the mid-to-late-90s.

On the national level, she currently serves as a trustee representing Delaware on CUNA's Credit Union Legislative Action Committee (CULAC), which raises funds from individuals and uses its resources to support credit union friendly candidates who are running for office. Davis attends her state's Hike the Hill events annually, attends the CUNA GAC every year, and visits her legislators on their turf.

"I think it's important to see them in their place of business. I think it makes a bigger impact," she said.

Few would argue against that, and in Davis' case, there are some who believe she makes a significant impact no matter where she is and to whom she is talking.

A 'Dynamic' Representative

"Credit unions couldn't really ask for a more dynamic person to represent us, especially in front of our legislators," said Alice Smith, DCUL's communications director. "Marie is not only passionate about our cause, she's passionate about everything she does. She's also very articulate and extremely well-versed on credit union issues."

Davis has been an influential voice for her credit union and the movement for years, and it's not just because she knows firsthand how credit unions can help people. She's equally interested in the bigger picture, which is banks and credit unions uniting on issues that impact the well being of American citizens and the American economy. The hot one on her mind currently is bankruptcy reform, which failed to become a law despite a big push by credit unions in 2004.

"This is something that could benefit every single citizen, and I wish we could just unite on these issues," she said. "There's room for all of us. We (credit unions) can't serve people who need the big, big loans, but they (banks) can. We want to help someone who needs a refrigerator for $500, and the banks won't serve them. Those things just don't make sense to me. It should be fairly black and white. It's very sad to me that we pushed and pushed and pushed and we can't seem to push it over the top."

But, that's the game of politics as it's played in Washington, and Davis has been around long enough to know the rules. When things don't go her way, she looks for another plan of attack that's equally effective, if not more so, yet doesn't make people angry. She also keeps her face and name fresh in the minds of the legislators and their staff, which is key, because "the "staffers are always changing. We're constantly training staffers," she said with a chuckle. "We usually spend more time with their aides, which is fine because they are the folks who know what's going on."

Finally, she does her homework.

"You have to know what you're talking about and how it affects your credit union, as well as the membership in general," she said. "If we can better the community, the legislators need to know that."

When Davis retired from DuPont three years ago, she left Delaware and made her home in Maryland. Despite her move, she is still committed to her credit union and industry volunteer duties, which have her traveling several hours each way just for meetings. Davis, who is just 60 years old, says she has no plans to quit any time soon, and that's good news for credit unions. Davis has such a positive reputation that U.S. senators have actually left the senate floor just to take her phone calls. That's not why she pushes forward, though. Simply put, there's still work to be done, especially with bankruptcy reform and tax exemption issues still unresolved.

"Now is not the time to stop everything. Now is the time to decide the best avenue to take," she said. I don't give up easily, and there's a reason for that. You can yell behind closed doors all the time, but that doesn't matter, because nobody will hear you."

Volunteer Lobbyist: Marie Davis

CU: DEXTA Fedeal Credit Union, Wilmington, Del.

Worth Noting: A native of Scotland, Davis became involved in the credit union after writing a letter because the CU didn't offer a product it implied that it offered.

Strategy For Ensuring The Credit Union Is Heard: Davis said she pays particular attention to staying in touch with legislators' staff members, who are constantly changing.

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