Lessons From 50+ Years Of Calling On Politicians
In the summer of 1998, hundreds of people tirelessly worked thousands of hours to bring about the passage of a bill known as HR 1151 - officially the Credit Union Membership Access Act. Herman Alevy, a longtime lobbyist for the CU movement, said the tension was incredible as credit unions scrambled to line up votes for the landmark legislation.
"Steve Horn (a longtime Republican Representative of California's 38th District) was my congressman back then," Alevy recalled. "I will never forget the day he told me he was going to sign on HR 1151. I thought, 'Should I do the 'Toyota jump' now, or when I get outside.' I decided to do it outside."
Alevy began lobbying while he still was employed as a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier in 1952. He claims a 98% success rate on the many causes for which he has toted the banner over the years, from his work on behalf of the National Association of Letter Carriers to the California Credit Union League.
He has served as president of the board of directors for Long Beach Postal CU, which changed its name to Southern California Postal CU. His current position is vice president of the SCPCU board, and he has continued his decades-long tradition of lobbying both state and federal legislators for the California CU League.
"There's no secret to lobbying," he declared. "You have your agenda, your purpose and the truth, so you say it. If you have to repeat it a few times, you do."
Veracity is a point of emphasis for Alevy, something he said he learned from his father. One of the elder Alevy's favorite sayings was: "If you tell the truth, I'll stand next to you. If you lie, I'll stand behind you."
"When I visit with legislators, I read my material, I take notes and I tell the truth. The last part is the most important, because if you tell a no-no, it will come back to haunt you because you lose credibility. The truth never comes back to haunt you."
At the age of 84, the veteran of the U.S. Air Force says he is "slowing down," but he still keeps a busy schedule. One of his few concessions is he waits for state and federal legislators to return to their local offices, rather than traveling to see them in person in Sacramento or Washington, D.C.
"It is easier to visit them when they come home. It is easier to get in a car and drive to an office here in Long Beach than it is to get on a plane and fly to Dulles (airport near Washington)," he explained.
When he travels to Sacramento or D.C., Alevy's expenses are paid for by the California Credit Union League or by Southern California Postal CU. Car trips to offices in and around Long Beach are on his own nickel.
Alevy remains busy. He said one of his "hobbies" is to work on re-election campaigns for those who have shown what he termed "very wise decisions" in favor of credit unions.
"In credit union land, we have a saying: 'People helping people.' We are not unfair in what we are asking, that is for sure," he asserted. "Ninety percent of what we ask for is simply what is fair to our members."
Slowing down is a relative term. Alevy said he no longer can stay up all night, but if the subject turns to politics, it holds his interest for hours.
Asked if he thinks the federal and state legislators he appears before are listening, Alevy responded: "I hope so. But, there are other people with the same agenda, and they will make their own appearances at legislators' offices."
Questioned further if he has to correct misunderstandings about credit unions or combat misinformation spread by bankers' lobbyists, Alevy said he has faith in the elected officials. "I don't know what [the bankers' lobbyists] say. They are well schooled and have their own agenda, and that is not a negative. It is up to the legislators to sort out the truth, and they are educated, intelligent people."
"I don't go by any script," Alevy continued. "I wing it, as the expression goes. I do what I can to convince the legislators what credit unions are asking for is fair."
One element that has changed from years past is the turnover on both the state and national level caused by term limits. Alevy said he has noticed people serving in the California state assembly, and then moving over to the state senate.
As for the national level: "Congress members are continually running," he assessed.
After pondering the question of "being heard" for a few minutes, Alevy decided to amend his previous response. "Credit unions are being heard, that is for sure," he said. "I have always been able to give my presentation."
Volunteer Lobbyist: Herman Alevy
CU: Southern California Postal Credit Union
Worth Noting: Mr. Alevy got his introduction to lobbying while working for the Postal Service. He's been lobbying for more than 50 years.
Strategy For Ensuring The Credit Union Is Heard: Alevy believes that the best strategy is to tell the truth-and tell it often.