ABC 2015: Reporter’s notebook from Washington

WASHINGTON — The winner of the 2015 ABC Lifetime Achievement Award highlighted a lineup of speakers Wednesday.
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WASHINGTON — The winner of the 2015 ABC Lifetime Achievement Award highlighted a lineup of speakers Wednesday on the final day of the American Boating Congress.

NMMA president Thom Dammrich presented the award to U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Boating Caucus. Dammrich said “there is no greater friend in Congress than Candice Miller.”

In addition to Miller, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and lawmakers from Virginia and Florida raised topics that included the Miami International Boat Show’s new home and calls for “smarter boating regulations” and “good science” to drive the policy affecting recreational fishing.

Miller, serving her seventh term after first being elected in 2002, received the award in a packed ballroom of more than 100 ABC attendees at the Marriott Renaissance. “I feel like I am at the Oscars,” said Miller, a sailor who also said her family owns a small powerboat. “It is great that you are here in Washington. It is critical; it is our system; it’s democracy. The only way it works is if you engage.”

Miller grew up in a marina business in a boating family and thought she would be in the marina business all her life, she said. She knows the value of boating to the local and state economies.

From her experience she has learned that “sometimes it is just as important to stop something from happening as it is to push for something,” referring to the excise tax of the ’90s and the damage it did to boatbuilders. “Sometimes in government you have to stop bad ideas,” she said.

Miller also threw kudos to the NMMA’s legislative team in Washington.

Of boating in general, she said, “Time on the water is probably the best time spent; it is where you make family memories and friendships.”

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Regelado, the Miami mayor, told ABC attendees that “boating not only is the lifestyle for Miami, but for the city it is big business. Miami is a city of water; it is a boating community.”

He said there is a new marina underway in the city that will add to the boating opportunities offered by the eight boating clubs the city owns.

“The clubs bring about 4,000 children from our inner city and train them in sailing and boating,” he said. “We can’t be a world-class city if we don’t take care of the boating community; it is part of our economy and city.”

The marine industry has plans to hold the 2016 Miami International Boat Show for the first time at the Miami Marine Stadium. However, Biscayne Bay has filed lawsuits against Miami and the NMMA.

But the major said the show “is going to happen. The most important thing about this boat show is the venue itself. It is a unique stadium — built in the ’60s — but considered a stadium of the 21st century.” Regalado also said there are no walls, the stage is the water and the air conditioning is the breeze.

“We don’t see this as an expense,” Regalado said, referring to the millions of dollars the city is investing in renovating the Miami Marine Stadium. “We see it as an investment. What you will see, come February, is the MIBS on the water next to a structure that has been noticed by the world. You will have the boat show with all the glamor, the parties, the new boats, the new products.”

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U.S. Rep. Patrick E. Murphy, R-Fla., gave some lobbying advice to attendees before they headed off to meet with lawmakers and their staffs during Capitol Hill visits. He suggested that they “personalize a story.”

“Mention how many jobs are being created, how many boats are being built, sold and used,” said Murphy, who serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Another powerful fact to fire at decision-makers: “90 percent of boats are made in this country — that is something to be proud of,” he said.

The congressman also said he wants to support the industry by “promoting legislation that helps job growth.” In regard to government in general, he spoke of “not more or less regulation, but smarter regulation.” The current regulatory burden makes it difficult to launch small businesses, he said.

Murphy grew up in the Florida Keys, boating and fishing. He urged the industry to invite lawmakers to visit their businesses.

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U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) was recognized by the States Organization for Boating Access for promoting access in Virginia and nationwide and supporting the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

“It’s an ongoing process; we are still making adjustments to the bill,” Wittman said, adding that he wants to be sure that “good science” is behind the bill. “Science needs to drive this policy,” he said.

Wittman commented on the federal budget adoption process. “You don’t go on vacation until all the work is done,” he said, sparking applause. However, he did say the budget process is “better this year with staying on track.”

“The best thing the government can do is get out of the way,” he said.

Trade Only Today editor-in-chief Bill Sisson contributed to this report.

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