Each year on the day we visit Capitol Hill, REALTORS® from the Peach State have a luncheon with our senators in the Russell Senate Office Building. We are fortunate in Georgia, we have the only REALTOR® in the senate as one of our senators. Senator Johnny Isakson is an invaluable asset to not only Georgians, but to the entire real estate industry. During a time in our history when real estate is at the forefront of our economic situation, Johnny is often sought out by members from both sides of the aisle on any issue involving housing, we have a ‘seat at the table’ with Johnny representing the REALTOR® Party. Senator Saxby Chambliss is our second senator and a long time personal friend of Senator Isakson’s, dating back to their college years. These two senators work great together and Saxby often jokes with comments such as ‘When it comes to housing issues, I just do what Johnny tells me to do.’ Of course Senator Chambliss says that tongue-in-cheek, but it demonstrates the relationship and how much he values Johnny’s direct insight into our industry.
Our luncheon was kicked off by Georgia Association of REALTORS® (GAR) 2013 President Robin Lance by thanking all of us for making the trip to DC and taking time away from our businesses. Rhonda Nesmith, 2013 GA RIAC Chair, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance followed by 2013 GA RPAC Chair Linda Durrance giving us the Inspirational. Last up from GAR was Linda Cook, 2013 GA RPIC Chair, again thanking us for coming to DC, reminding us of the importance of why we were here, and some last minute tips for meeting with our Congressmen.
Part of the luncheon is the networking we do with our peers from all around the great state of Georgia. At my table was Jennifer Lundy, GAR Manager of Political Affairs, Shannon Klein, Legislative Correspondent for Senator Isakson, Shaun Graham, Southeast Mortgage, and REALTORS® Susan West, Cherokee AOR 2013 President, and Bill Miltiades from the Savannah Board. The conversation ranged from UGA football to tour advice to housing issues, and it was great to get to spend some time with the senate staff to help foster our relationship.
Senator Chambliss was scheduled to talk with us first but he was called into a committee meeting, so Senator Isakson kicked things off. Senator Isakson led off with a brief discussion of meetings with POTUS, the ‘group of 12′ recently mentioned in the media have been meeting with the president to discuss the budget. He then discussed the Qualified Mortgage and the Qualified Residential Mortgage, and concluded with discussion of the GSEs. It is so refreshing to hear an elected official speaking our language and demonstrating such a deep understanding of our industry and the issues that revolve around our industry.
A quick summation of Senator Isakson’s general comments: every tax treatment on the table should be evaluated on a cost vs benefit analysis, we need to incent the private sector to get builders building again, and my biggest take away was a bit of advice for us as we met with our Congressmen…don’t focus on ‘Don’t take our MID,’ instead focus on what the impact of not having it will be. Put it in numbers, to include things such as number of mortgage holders in our district, how many of those take the MID, and what financial impact the reduction or elimination of the MID would have.
Senator Chambliss was able to join us and explained why he was late. As we all know, the senators can be called upon at anytime for a vote, a committee meeting, etc. and we have to be flexible. In this case, Senator Chambliss sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and as you can imagine, those items directly impact our national defense and this was a situation where they needed to address a few items that have been going on with media leaks. The biggest news the senator shared with us is the passing of a water bill, which will help the Port of Savannah.
The relationships we have with our senators are quite strong and our annual luncheon resembles more of a reunion than a meeting.
Georgia had 176 REALTORS® attending the Midyear Meetings with the majority making the trip to Capitol Hill to meet with our Members of Congress. We met with our two Senators in a luncheon in the Kennedy Caucus Room at the Russell Senate Offices Building. Prior to the luncheon, we had a few meetings with our Congressmen scheduled and then after lunch, the rest of our meetings with our Congressmen took place. I attended meetings with Congressmen Jack Kingston, David Scott, John Lewis, and concluded the day with a meeting with my Congressman, Phil Gingrey. All of the meetings I went to were well-attended and very good, productive meetings.
The relationships we build with our Congressional Representatives is what this is all about, and this year we sat down and just had a conversation with each of them, we only really discussed one Bill (HR 1077), with the majority of our time spent on general discussion of the issues. The comments from the Congressmen I met with, were along the lines of, they all stand beside us on the issues we were discussing. Most of them asked us some really good questions, as they truly tried to understand the issues we face each day as the ‘boots on the ground,’ and several were quite knowledgeable on many key issues we discussed. It was obvious our work prior to arriving in DC had been successful.
Some of the highlights of the day included a great talk with David Scott, a co-sponsor of HR 1077, where he insisted on every one of us having a chair, saying ‘I can’t have my REALTORS® standing up.’ It was clear to us Congressman Scott not only had a deep understanding of the issues, but he also had a great deal of care and concern over the issues, citing several events he has helped sponsor back home to help struggling homeowners and job seekers. Other comments made by Congressman Scott included, ‘REALTORS® are very important and should have a seat at the table,’ and ‘I am with you 100%!’
Although the meetings with Jack Kingston and my own Congressman, Phil Gingrey, went very well and was a demonstration of the very strong relationships we have with them, my highlight was the visit with Congressman John Lewis.
Congressman Lewis has a long standing supportive relationship with us REALTORS® and he went out of his way to be a superb host during our visit. Our meeting got started a couple of minutes late due to the Congressman being held up in a meeting so we began our talk with one of his staff, and Representative Lewis joined us a short while later. We had a 17-year old high school student along with us, and she presented the Congressman with our talking points, it was shared with everyone she had a passion for history and had studied abroad in Germany. Hearing this, Congressman Lewis shared a story with us about him going to Germany and touring a JFK Museum there, where he found a picture of himself and several other Civil Rights Leaders in the Oval Office with JFK and Lyndon Johnson, a picture he had never seen before. The museum curator arranged for the Congressman to get a copy of the picture, which is included below. When we were done talking about issues, the Congressman insisted upon us going to his office for a group picture. However, when we got to his office, it quickly became a living history lesson and we were a captive audience. Every picture on his wall and in his office, the Congressman was able to share the names of every single person in the picture, where the picture was taken and the date it was taken, an amazingly sharp man. In the corner, at the front of a stack of pictures is the picture he had discussed with us a few minutes prior, the picture he had seen for the first time in the JFK Museum in Germany. We all gathered for a large group picture in his office and then he guided all of us out to his balcony which has an incredible view of the Capitol to the left and the Library of Congress to the right. He wanted all of us to get pictures with him with the Capitol in the background and then he took a lot of his valuable time to ensure we had all of our questions answered and we all got any pictures we wanted. I think many of us realized just how special it was to have this experience with one of America’s Living Legends, and we were all impressed with his graciousness, and how humble he is about the events he took part in during the Civil Rights Movement. Some of the comments the Congressman made during our visit included, ‘you have all been such great friends,’ and ‘you will have my help and continued support.’
It was a long day on the Hill, but our meetings were extremely productive, I even heard at least one of our Georgia Congressmen made a commitment to sign on as a co-sponsor of HR 1077. It was a very good day of relationship-building, discussing the issues surrounding housing and economic recovery, with the addition of a co-sponsor being the icing on the cake.
The focal point of the NAR Midyear Meetings is our annual visit to ‘The Hill,’ where we meet with our respective Members of Congress. The relationships we foster with our elected officials never begins or ends with our trip to DC each year, this is simply a culmination of all of our efforts throughout the year. Many association leaders at the local, state and national levels are routinely meeting with our elected officials throughout the year at various functions, meetings in their District offices, and to present RPAC Checks. We all come together in May each year to reinforce our position on various issues, to show in numbers, how big of a voice the REALTOR® Party has.
Our incredible NAR government affairs staff always do a superb job of getting us properly prepared for our visit to the Hill. Before we even depart from our communities around the country to converge on DC, our state associations and national association are sending us tons of information so we are well versed on the issues we are going to discuss with our Congressmen, updates to any legislation we are working on, etc. Then on the morning of the Hill visits, the NAR staff hosts the NAR Federal Priority Issues Briefing to give us our ‘Talking Points,’ we are given some additional background on the issues and any last minute updates, then we are on our way!