NCUA's John McKechnie To Miss CUs And The GAC

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WASHINGTON — John McKechnie will retire from the credit union movement next week after 25 years, the first 20 as a CUNA lobbyist and the last five as NCUA's congressional liaison and public affairs spokesman. McKechnie is leaving NCUA to open his own lobbying firm. The Credit Union Journal spoke to him about his memories of 25 GACs.

CUJ: When was your first GAC?
McKechnie: My first GAC was in 1987 when I was still a Hill staffer (for House Republican Stan Parris of Virginia) and I was interviewing with (former CUNA lobbyist) Doug Duerr for a job. I attended a reception at the National building Museum and there was a lot of enthusiasm there as credit unions had just won a big tax fight after a proposal (by the Reagan administration) to repeal the tax exemption.

Among the first credit union representatives he met were Ralph Swoboda, who was serving as interim CUNA CEO, and Wally Myers, a long-time credit union director who was also a state legislator from South Dakota.

CUJ: What are your fondest memories of the GAC?
McKechnie: The (Washington) Hilton (the site of more than 20 GACs) is always going to have a special place for me. The place had a lot of charm; it was intimate and provided a lot of real camaraderie.

I'll always remember the 1991 GAC too because of "Operation Grassroots" where we got more than 15,000 people to attend a rally on the Mall against the (Bush administration's) proposal to combine NCUA with the banking agencies. I'll never forget members of the media coming up to me who thought it was a celebration of the end of the Gulf War, which had just recently concluded.

CUJ: What is the most memorable moment?
McKechnie: I'll never forget in 1998 when we had just lost the Supreme Court case (over field of membership) and the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich standing up there on stage and saying he was going to sign on as cosponsor of our bill, HR 1151. There was such excitement in the room. That's when the fight over the bill really came into focus.

CUJ: What is your favorite site at the GAC:
McKechnie: McClellan's Bar at the Hilton. There was a lot of business transacted there.

CUJ: You're first job at CUNA was to head the political action committee, CULAC, which you built from $220,000 over a two-year election cycle to more than $800,000 (CULAC is now an almost $4-million PAC). What is the importance of campaign contributions in dealing with Congress?
McKechnie: People have to realize it's not a case of quid pro quo; that is, members of Congress are not going to vote with you just because you give them a PAC contribution. But an active political action program sends a signal to Congress that you're willing to support the people who support you and your issues.

CUJ: Have any parting advise for credit unions in dealing with Congress?
McKechnie: Credit unions will always do well when they put the consumer first.

CUJ: How about when dealing with NCUA?
McKechnie: In dealing with NCUA you have to realize there's always going to be a tension there, you're not always going to be on the same page. So you have to accept it and keep moving forward.

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