Boating Congress participants come away with positive vibes after lobbying home-state lawmakers
The 2012 American Boating Congress was truly an industrywide legislative event, with more than a dozen co-hosts coming together to lobby Congress on behalf of recreational boating.
“I think that ABC was a great success this year. The agenda was well-organized and we had some of the best speakers that we’ve ever had,” says Jim Frye, president of the Association of Marina Industries, a co-host of the event, which took place April 24-25 in Washington, D.C.
“The group was upbeat, the message was a positive one, and industry representatives were well prepared to take our issues to Capitol Hill,” he adds. “[NMMA] staff did a terrific job creating and presenting issue briefs that participants used to brief Congress, and many of those visiting the Hill relayed that for the first time in many years they had actually spent meaningful time with senators and representatives, rather than just staff. The recreational marine industry was heard on Capitol Hill, and those that participated got a lot out of the experience.”
There were 165 attendees at this year’s ABC, and 187 Hill visits were scheduled — the most meetings ever arranged during the event, says Jim Currie, legislative director of the NMMA.
In addition to the NMMA and AMI, co-hosts of ABC included the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, the South Carolina Marine Association, the National Marine Distributors Association, Boy Scouts/Sea Scouts, the Boating Trades Association of Metropolitan Houston, the U.S. Superyacht Association, the National Marine Bankers Association, Michigan Boating Industries Association, States Organization for Boating Access, the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association and the Center for Coastal Conservation.
NMMA president Thom Dammrich says he’d like to add co-hosts for next year’s ABC, and hopes these groups will bring more people to the event — and to lobby on Capitol Hill. “I’m never happy with the number of people who attend,” he says. “What the government does and can do to the businesses in our industry is more significant than almost anything else that affects our businesses, and why we don’t have 500 people out there and why we’re not calling on nearly every congressional and Senate office, I don’t know.”
Dammrich acknowledged that co-hosts were engaged a little late in the planning process this year and he’s optimistic that with more advance notice they can encourage more of their individual members to attend. Also, he says, businesses might not have the money they once did to allow for travel expenses. “Things are still pretty tough,” he says. “Sales are only half of what they used to be. I think we’re approaching a period in time now where people are coming to terms with the fact that this is the new normal and, while I think they’re still going to be conservative, they’re also going to recognize that they need to be involved to ensure the future.”
Visits to Capitol Hill continue to be a main focus of ABC, with NMMA staff offering attendees briefings on key issues and tips about how to best engage lawmakers. The NMMA and MRAA gave out packets with policy briefs on such topics as E15, the Sport Fish Restoration & Boating Trust Fund, the Business Activity Tax Simplification Act, the proposed management plan for Biscayne National Park, the Lacey Act, federal life jacket requirements and fishing catch limits.
The briefs were left at congressional offices to allow for further study of these issues. “I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from those [Hill visits], Currie says. “That’s where we sort of make our money — have our members go out and talk to members of Congress and say, ‘I represent boats, I represent jobs, I represent economic activity in your district or your state,’
“It’s a lot better than someone like me going and talking to them,” he adds. “I can do that and I can try to be persuasive, but there’s nothing like hearing from the people back home. We consider it to be the key point of ABC.”
South Carolina Marine Association executive director Suzi DuRant, whose group was a co-host, says she was optimistic after the Hill visits. “Talking to members face to face at the district level is good, but when you go in with more people and the backing of a larger organization, I think they sit up a little more and take note,” she says. Also, DuRant notes, legislative staff members change often, so it’s important to continue re-educating those on the Hill about industry issues.
Dammrich says boating’s issues generally are nonpartisan, which is positive for the industry. Items such as passage of the Sport Fish Restoration & Boating Trust Fund, for example, have bipartisan support, but the fund is attached to the larger reauthorization of the highway bill, which so far has not garnered enough support to pass both houses of Congress. “The biggest issue we face is the partisan-ness of Congress and the inability of them to get things done,” Dammrich says. “Our issues are not the challenge. … It’s the partisan nature of the way Congress operates these days that has made the environment very challenging.”
Currie says lobbying efforts continue in the wake of ABC, but admits that because of the coming election it could be difficult to get much done before the end of this congressional session. “ABC should have given us a boost on all of these [issues] and raised a little bit more awareness on the Hill,” he says. “The legislative process is very slow in this Congress. It’s probably even slower than usual, so we’re going to be persistent. That’s how you eventually prevail.”
Also at ABC
In addition to Hill visits, several groups held board meetings at ABC. A “Trailer Roundup” program was held, the annual BoatPAC reception raised more than $26,000 in PAC contributions and, at an opening luncheon, the Center for Coastal Conservation presented its inaugural Eddie Smith Manufacturer of the Year award to Grady-White Boats president Kris Carroll.
Attendees also heard from numerous speakers on issues ranging from the election to the economy. Speakers included Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.; Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.; Greg Ip, U.S. economics editor for The Economist; Jon Jarvis, National Park Service director; Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce for international trade; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; and Neil Newhouse, a pollster from Public Opinion Strategies and an adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
The NMMA also took the opportunity to recognize people who made contributions to the recreational boating industry during the past year with an Environmental Achievement Award. The award was presented to “NMMA members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, offering innovative and original advancements in research.”
Recipients were Rich Kolb, engineering manager (emissions, regulations, parts and accessories), Volvo Penta; Jeff Wasil, emissions certification engineer, Bombardier Recreational Products; John Adey, president, American Boat and Yacht Council; Brian Goodwin, technical director, American Boat and Yacht Council; Dave Munz, business development manager, Gevo; and Ryck Lydecker, assistant vice president of government affairs, BoatUS. The recipients collectively shared their expertise and successfully tested alternatives to gasoline blended with ethanol, showing promise for the next generation of renewable fuels. Last summer’s on-the-water isobutanol testing resulted in the advancement of an encouraging alternative to E15.
Next year’s ABC is scheduled for May 8-9.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.