'It's Important For People To Pay Attention'

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DES MOINES, Iowa — To hear Iowa State Rep. Bob Kressig tell it, getting involved in both credit unions and politics isn't unlike the first day of school as a child.

"It's like going to the bus stop and waiting for the bus, but the bus doesn't stop," he said. "You've got to catch it and get on board and then figure out who everybody is and who's driving the bus."

Kressig is a 15-year member of the board of the $1.78-billion Veridian Credit Union, which serves 158,000 members-and he has served in the Iowa State House of Representatives (Dist. 19) since 2004. Kressig had been active in the community, including being appointed to a position on Cedar Falls city planning and zoning commission, and was asked to run for a seat on Veridian's board. That was his first elected office, he said, and he followed a similar trajectory to his current position in the Iowa House.

As a member of the legislature, Kressig said that the issue that's closest to his heart is education, from kindergarten all the way through college (the University of Northern Iowa sits in his district). One piece of legislation that he's pushed hard for includes having schools add some component of financial literacy into the curriculum.

"I think that's a key, key thing," said Kressig, a Democrat. "I can't necessarily say 'oh, you have to join a credit union,' but here's the financial service industry, here's how to balance your checking and your savings. So financial literacy is something I think is an important part of our education system."

Generation What Is This?

He added that he thinks that younger people today don't necessarily understand the cooperative element of credit unions, viewing CUs as essentially being the same as banks. So it's important, he said, to educate people on how the CU model works.

Kressig believes that one thing that can help the CU community in the long-run is like-minded people who understand the community-driven business model and have a willingness to serve in public office. "That helps to perpetuate the idea of how important they are as part of the overall financial service industry," he said.

While the political arena can get heated, it's been especially fraught since Kressig took office six years ago. He said that he's spoken with people involved in politics for several decades who shared that even during the 1980s and '90s, when both sides of the aisle were debating tooth and nail, once the political day was done "they'd go somewhere and get something to eat, and they knew each other's families." That is often no longer the case. "We need to bring that back, where they know something about me and I know something about them" that goes beyond political positions. In other words, a bit of the community-based, credit union mindset.

The Iowa legislature is bicameral and the state has no term limits. It has 100 House members (currently 60 from the GOP, 40 Dems) serving two-year terms. The state Senate has 50 members, 26 of whom are Democrats, serving four-year terms.

In politics, just like with credit unions, he said, relationships count. "The federal and state government can do things to the credit union that may be negative, and I think it's important for people to pay attention and make sure they know who their representative is," he said. "When somebody sends me an e-mail and I know them, there's a relationship there. That's key."

Kressig said that he hadn't given much thought to serving at the federal level, in part because it takes so much time and money just to get elected at the state level. "I'm content with this, but I'm always looking at what does tomorrow have," he said, before adding, "If I was elected to the federal level, one thing you can count on is that I'm going to support the credit unions."

Besides, he said, "there are folks that are glad that I'm down here, and the credit union folks are one of them. I'm Mr. Credit Union here in the capital; I'm a big advocate for credit unions and I will continue to do that as long as I'm serving."

As for others entering politics, Kressig said, "I think it's important for other credit union people to consider running for office-the only thing I'd ask is that they don't run against me!"

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