CUs In South, West Aim To Leverage New Political Districts

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The congressional reapportionment that has shifted a dozen House districts from the northeast and Midwest to faster-growing sunbelt and western states has created numerous conflicts for credit unions throughout the country, but new opportunities, too.

As a result, the credit union lobby, which has grown in stature since its landmark victory over the banks in 1998 on HR 1151, has a chance to play kingmaker in this year's congressional elections, which will determine which party controls Congress.

The subtraction of 12 seats from northern states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Connecticut has forced credit union allies in some cases to run against each other in a nationwide game of musical chairs.

But the shift of those 12 seats to states like Arizona, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Nevada, California and North Carolina, means the credit union lobby has opportunities to help elect new House members, a strategy CUNA and its state leagues have been developing for the past four elections. The strategy has paid off in a big way with credit unions having played a major role in getting as many as 40 first-time House members elected to Congress the past eight years. This year's redistricting will help credit unions add to those numbers.

"If you take a look at our delegation in North Carolina we have a lot of strong supporters for credit unions-both Democrats and Republican. But it's been kind of static," said Dan Schline, chief lobbyist for the North Carolina CU Network. "With the new seat we have a new opportunity to create a new credit union champion."

'One-Time Opportunity'

He pointed to the strong support the state's credit unions provided to help Republican Robin Hayes get elected to the House in 1998 as an example of building congressional relationships on the ground floor.

"With these folks, it's a one-time opportunity for us to help them get elected," said Schline.

But Richard Gose, political director for CUNA, said the tight race for control of the House-Democrats need only six more seats to regain control-has prompted CUNA and the leagues to wait until late primaries in several states next month before weighing in on several of the races. "There are still a lot of primaries in September," said Gose, "We don't know how some of these new seats are going to work out."

So it is that in Arizona, which has two new seats under redistricting, the credit union lobby has decided to wait until the state's Sept. 10 primary before getting involved. "There are several new people running who don't have a history (on credit union issues)," said Pat Bodnar, chief lobbyist for the Arizona CU System.

The same goes for Georgia, where primaries later this month will winnow out the choices for credit unions in that state's two new congressional seats.

But elsewhere, the credit union influence can be seen in races for the new House seats.

In Colorado, State Sen. Tom Feeley won last week's Democratic primary for the state new House seat, its seventh, with strong CU backing.

In North Carolina the credit union lobby will support State Sen. Brad Miller in a six-person Democratic primary likely to choose the winner in November's general election.

In Florida, credit unions are supporting Speaker of the House Tom Feeney for the new district in Orlando.

In Nevada, the credit union lobby has thrown its weight behind state Sen. Jon Porter to the new House seat encompassing part of Las Vegas.

"He's been a good friend of credit unions and has been for a long time," David Chatfield, president of the California/Nevada CU Leagues, said of Porter. "He's introduced legislation for us; he's been a member of Boulder Dam CU for a long time. He's one of our guiding forces in the state senate."

Dozen Critical Seats

Porter is in a close race for the seat, the state's third, with Democratic Clark County (Las Vegas) Commissioner Dario Herrera, who at 28, would be the youngest member of Congress.

With an overwhelming majority of incumbents reelected to Congress each election-incumbents typically win 98% of their campaigns-those dozen new House seats will be critical in determining which party controls Congress next year. As a result, the national parties are already pouring millions of dollars into these races in hopes of gaining a foothold.

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