A record number of electrical contractors gathered for the National Electrical Contractors Association’s 2019 National Legislative Conference held April 29-30 in Washington, D.C., meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle on a range of issues impacting the electrical construction industry.
Nearly 300 scheduled meetings were held on Capitol Hill by over 200 NECA members on Monday and Tuesday.
“NECA’s voice on Capitol Hill is being heard like never before,” NECA Chief Executive Officer David Long said during the second day’s morning policy briefing.
Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) provided remarks after Long.
Velazquez, who chairs the Committee on Small Business in the House of Representatives, focused on areas such as federal contracting and infrastructure investment and the need for a bipartisan approach.
“You are on the front lines,” he said to those in attendance. “We need to do what’s right on behalf of small businesses.”
Fitzpatrick said Republicans and Democrats will have to work together on any viable deal, and that should include incentivizing apprenticeships and other opportunities to address the current labor shortage.
Bacon added: “We have a thriving economy right now, and you are the heart of it.”
Bacon later presented NECA contractor Greg Long, President of Long Electric Co. in Napa, CA with a framed copy of the Change Order Transparency for Federal Contractors Act. Long, a longtime NECA member and an electrician since 1979, testified on the charge order legislation on behalf of NECA in 2017.
“It was such a privilege for me to be able to work with you on this,” Bacon said.
NECA President Larry Beltramo said the association has a strong platform and continues to use it.
“It is important to get our message out there,” he said. “This is a dynamic time. We have to take advantage of it.”
Rick Milota, vice president at National Electric Company in Omaha, agreed. He said putting the industry’s ideas before his representatives is valuable.
“We can make a difference,” added Allen Hale, chapter manager at NECA’s Nebraska Chapter. “We have a pretty good relationship with our contingent. They’re really open and good for us.”
This year, NECA is pushing for infrastructure investment; lower individual tax rates and a permanent pass-through deduction; a repeal of the estate tax and the 40 percent excise tax on “Cadillac” health care plans; an authorization of composite plans to modernize the multiemployer pension plan system; the use of 529 education savings plans to finance ancillary apprenticeship costs; and ensuring that small business federal contractors get paid in a timely manner for change orders.
“We get in pretty lively discussions with them,” Jim McGlynn, president of Schaumburg, Ill.-based McWilliams Electric Company Inc., said of their Congressional representatives and staff.
Tom DePace, COO at Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Advanced Sound Company, said political involvement is very important for his company. “It has afforded us great networking opportunities with other contractors and helped to get bigger projects as well,” he said.
DePace also said his company has benefited from action on Capitol Hill that NECA has championed, such as the charge order legislation. “Those proposals have really helped us as a small business,” he said.
One of the attendees DePace spent time with in Washington was Meredith Kumpon, who was recently hired as the chapter executive of NECA’s Southern Tier Chapter in New York. She said it was beneficial to link up with longtime executives like Charles Gardner of the Long Island Chapter, who was attending his 11th legislative conference.
“Being new to the chapter and the industry, it’s a great experience,” she said.
On the first day of the conference, activities opened with remarks from Greg Rick, chairman of NECA’s Government Affairs Committee, and Ted Brady, chairman of NECA's Political Leadership Council.
“We are excited that this conference is another record-breaker,” Rick said. “We could not have that impact without our members’ involvement.”
Brady noted NECAPAC’s success as the country’s largest specialty contractor PAC but said more can be done.
“We can encourage others within our companies to get involved,” he said.
Later, veteran political journalist Amy Walter provided an assessment of the current climate in Washington and what to watch for in the 2020 election. Change was a big theme. One of the first things Walter said she noticed about the recent class of lawmakers is their relative lack of experience.
“This is not what they thought they were going to be doing,” she said. “It was a fascinating look at what gets people involved in politics.”
Walter said President Trump’s job approval numbers have been consistently low from a historical standpoint, though he fares better with voters when they are asked about his handling of the economy.
She added that an intensity differential (voters who strongly disapprove of President Trump versus those who strongly approve) is hurting the president, which likely will affect turnout. He has coalesced his base, but has not been able to bring in independents. She added that she does not expect the President’s approval numbers to change much before 2020.
As for the field of Democrats contending for the White House, Walter said primary voters might run the risk of overthinking their choices.
“There’s always that pull between your heart and your head,” she said.
Walter acknowledged the importance of NECA members making their voice heard in Washington.
“Thank you for participating in the political process,” she said. “Keep doing it.”
During an issues panel moderated by Frank McCarthy of McCarthy Advanced Consulting, members of NECA’s government affairs team discussed their legislative agenda. Despite the challenges of divided government, NECA Executive Director of Government Affairs Marco Giamberardino said progress can be made in some areas such as infrastructure, transportation and healthcare.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) then spoke about his work and took questions from contractors. He reiterated that Congress is working hard to come up with an infrastructure package, a possible area where deal could be struck.
“What’s frustrating to me is the word ‘compromise’ has become a dirty word,” said Graves, who is the ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House.
Through their meetings, though, NECA members found ample support from legislators, including many in Illinois, where Greg Outsen works.
“You have to stay out in front of it,” said Outsen, manager at Outsen Electric Inc. in Kankakee. “We have to let them know who we are.”
Outsen said having the opportunity to learn more about NECA’s activities on Capitol Hill was a positive. Collin Weiner, president of CalEnergy Electrical Corporation in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he’ll return as long as NECA extends the invitation. He attended NECA’s NextGen Fly-In last fall.
“I truly enjoy doing this,” he said. “I think it’s really important work. Somebody needs to put their hand up.”
Christopher Foster, president of Whitehead Electric Company in Mableton, Ga., felt the same way.
“It’s a cool experience,” he said of the conference. “If you haven’t done it, do it once. If you like it, keep coming back."