For Congressman & CU Volunteer, Dealing With Divisions A Constant
WASHINGTON — For U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), Congress and credit unions aren't that dissimilar: in both, he said, it all boils down to relationships.
Michaud has been involved with the credit union community since high school in 1973. He had saved money to buy a new car and attempted to get a loan from the bank. When the bank "wanted me to get a co-signer and wanted me to go through a lot of hoops to get a loan," he instead he headed for Eastmill FCU.
The credit union's personal touch did the trick, and since that time he said he has done all of his financial transactions with the credit union since then, and has held positions the Eastmill FCU board, of which he is currently an honorary member.
"That community-type involvement and member attention has really kept me involved," he said.
Now in his fifth term in the House, Michaud spent 22 years in the Maine legislature-both as a member of the State House and the Senate-before coming to Washington in 2003. He was elected to the legislature at age 23 and some of his earliest efforts dealt with legislation to clean up the Penobscott River. During his final term in the legislature he was Senate president, presiding over a body split among 17 Republicans, 17 Democrats and one Independent.
Dealing with such a narrow margin, he said, "forced us to actually get to know one another as individual senators." He added that sitting down together and talking things through "opened up that trust, and we were able to actually communicate. It was no longer just Republicans and Democrats-it was 'How can we solve these problems?' And by working together in the same room every day we were able build up that trust that is so often missing here in Washington."
Michaud noted that the situation in the nation's capital hasn't been very civil for quite some time, and that the severe partisanship is in stark contrast to his experience as a legislator at the state level.
In Washington these days, said Michaud, "it's not if you have a good bill, it's whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. And, unfortunately, both parties are to blame. The party leadership focuses on the party and not on what's good for the United States."
Michaud said that he has done his best to get along with those on both sides of the aisle, working closely with Republicans to pass bills related to veterans' affairs and economic development-two of the issues closest to his heart. He also met with members of the Tea Party during the last election cycle, and while he said that his and their opinions didn't always gel, each side had a better understanding of the other's point of view after those meetings. That sort of citizen involvement and a willingness to hear the other side, he said, are vital.
The Biggest Frustration
"It really helps me, as an individual member of Congress, to really get to know the issues by sitting down with both sides and figuring out how we can move forward," said Michaud. He added: "If people do not get involved, the process is going to happen with or without them. If they're really concerned about the process and what's happening," then there's no reason not to become involved.
Still, despite the satisfaction of passing legislation, he noted that there are downsides to political life. "The biggest frustration I have is that there are not enough hours in the day!"
That really hits home, he said, when he returns to Maine and criss-crosses the state meeting with his constituents. Since his district covers about 80% of the state, he spends quite a bit of time on the road. But that's enabled him to stay involved in the credit union community, including raising awareness about the importance of getting members of the CU movement involved in politics. Plus, he said, it provides an opportunity to say "here are some of the changes we've been able to do because of the grassroots efforts"-a sentiment that particularly resonates with the CU community.
Despite the good work he feels he's accomplishing and his strides to increase involvement from the grassroots up, he is realistic about the prospects of increasing civility in government-particularly with a presidential election on the horizon.
"It's unfortunate that during the election cycle the political rhetoric is increased substantially more than in a non-presidential election year," said Michaud. "And that's too bad, because that's one of the things that really doesn't help us as an institution. And it definitely doesn't help us as a country, that partisan gamesmanship. And both sides do it."