Take Five: NSSGA’s Mike Johnson talks about the Legislative & Policy Forum/Fall Board Meeting and why you should attend

Therese Dunphy

July 26, 2017

Michael Johnson, NSSGA president and CEO.

This fall, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association will offer a new event: the Legislative & Policy Forum/Fall Board Meeting. Held Sept. 24-28, the event will blend industry education, breakout sessions, and local highlights with meetings with lawmakers and advocacy visits with legislators. AggMan talked with Michael W. Johnson, NSSGA president and CEO, to learn more about the meeting and what it means for the industry’s influence on Capitol Hill.

1) What led to the decision to combine the Fall Board Meeting with a legislative event?

Johnson: Advocacy is job one for NSSGA. When surveying our members, that comes back — by far — as the primary thing they want from their federal trade association. For us to know that and have a strategic plan that calls for us to be the best we can possibly be as an industry and not do our own federal fly-in where we can talk about infrastructure investment, but also about those regulatory issues that impact our industry in unique and different ways — those things that, if we don’t talk about them, nobody else will — doesn’t really live up to that mantra that advocacy is job one. With that in mind, as we looked at the work we did under Charlie Luck’s leadership as part of the board evolution initiative, we really reassessed our meeting schedules. What we found lacking was bringing a strong voice, a united aggregates industry to Washington each year to drive home a message to members of Congress from those people that they care about the most: the people who live and work in the districts where they have to run for re-election. That’s the most powerful advocacy that can be put in front of a member of Congress, and we just weren’t doing that as a trade association. This meeting in the fall is our first attempt at coming together in that way.

We’ve done great work with our friends at ARTBA and AGC as we’ve come together around the TCC Coalition and done fly-ins as part of the TCC Coalition. We’ve done targeted, smaller rifle shot approaches where we brought in industry experts when we needed them on the key regulatory issues, but we never brought together that critical mass. There are more than 100,000 men and women who deal with these issues every day in the workplace. Bringing them to Washington in an organized, strategic way has much more impact than what we were doing before.

2) What are your goals, both in terms of impact and attendance, for the new meeting?

Johnson: Whether you’re talking about politics or lobbying or if you lump the two together and call it advocacy, this is a relationship business. For the members of Congress to start to develop first-name basis relationships with key people who work in this industry, there is nothing stronger than that when you’re trying to move the needle on an issue. For them to hear from someone from home, someone that maybe they will see in the community, and know that person has traveled to Washington to make the case…that’s powerful. They know it must be an important issue.

Our annual fall board meeting was typically 120 to150 people each year who would get together and do good work and do the business of the association. We think we can double the number of people, maybe even a little better than double the number of people that come to a traditional fall board meeting by having it in Washington and encouraging not our board members and our executive committee members, but the CEOs who may not currently serve on either our board or our exec committee to come to this meeting and not only show up but to bring their employees to help make the case. We think it will be bigger than our average fall board meeting. We think 300 to 350 people is a good goal for this one, but we’d like to see it grow even more.

3) How are you encouraging operators to prepare for this meeting?

Johnson: To make sure we are doing all that we can to help our folks be their own best advocate, we have taken the step of putting our money where our mouth is around this event. We have dedicated a significant amount of our budget dollars toward making sure that our folks are well received when they get here. We’re working to schedule meetings for those folks who have registered. We’re not going to leave that to chance. We’re going to use our lobbying abilities and some of our contract assets to make sure that we can get something scheduled for each and every person who registers for this meeting with their representatives in Congress.

We’re serious about making sure this is a meeting that people don’t feel like they have to come to each year, but a meeting they want to come to each year because they see that it’s effective, and we can have some fun while we’re doing it.  People think about fly-ins they’ve done before, and, sometimes, they can feel like a grind. They come to Washington, come to the Hill, and deliver a message that they aren’t sure is being heard. It’s why we’re also building out some great educational opportunities and sessions around this meeting, and some fun.

We’re going to have opportunities to experience Washington, DC, a city like no other; to do some monument tours; to see the things that we do and have done for years in Washington that separate us from any other country in the world in how we celebrate our history. We’re creating opportunities for folks to get here and enjoy the city and have some fun while they’re also doing some very important work and delivering a message about why this industry cares so much about infrastructure and regulatory reform.

4) Can you share some of the aggregates industry policy goals for the meeting?

Johnson: What we need to do on Waters (the Waters of the U.S. rule) is keep people’s feet to the fire. Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has said that he wants a rollback on Waters that doesn’t have incredible overreach and or a horribly negative impact on business. That sounds great, and we take the administrator at his word, but we need to make sure that the members of Congress who have oversight of EPA are also engaged and are ready to help make sure that Administrator Pruitt has the backup and the support and the resources he needs to move forward with recalling and substantially rewriting that Waters rule.

We have a new secretary of Labor, and we’ll have a new MSHA administrator at some point. Both of those folks also have to report to their members of Congress for their budget and oversight process. We want members of this industry to talk to their members of Congress about the way that they interact with the Mine Safety and Health Administration and how, while we share the goal of zero injuries and zero fatalities, sometimes we disagree about the best way to get there.

The number of rules and regulations we saw during the Obama years seem to have increased paperwork and to have been designed to create new fines rather than make meaningful progress toward zero injuries and fatalities. Having the folks come up here and talk about the great work they do on safety already and to talk about how best they can work with the Trump Administration’s labor department and MSHA to get to that goal is very important. We need those members of Congress educated so, in their appropriations and oversight activities, they understand how best to help us get to that goal with MSHA.

5) How important is a bipartisan effort to achieving long-term highway funding or any major legislative goal?

Johnson: Especially on the infrastructure issue, it’s a bipartisan issue. There is no daylight between Republicans and Democrats about the terrible state of our infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers grades it every year, and it continues to decline. I hear all the time, from Republicans and Democrats alike, that we need a stronger economy, that we need more GDP growth, that we need better jobs and wages. The way you get there is to begin to invest again in what we know will grow our economy, and that’s our infrastructure.

You can’t be the number one economy in the world with infrastructure that’s consistently falling in its rating. There are countries out there that would like to be the number one economy who are investing a greater percentage of their GDP in infrastructure than we are. There is broad bipartisan agreement around that.

Where it gets tough is funding. That’s where, frankly, we have to deliver our message while we’re in town in September that it’s not good enough to just talk about it. You’ve got to find a way to fund it. It’s the responsibility of Congress to do that, and we’ll continue to push hard to make sure that they understand that.

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