For some in this group of Virginians, it was Rayburn to
Longworth, back to a meeting room on New Jersey Avenue, then over to Cannon
and across the Capitol grounds to Russell. Others among these 50 electric
cooperative leaders made different rounds, with the full group ultimately
visiting in one day virtually every Virginia member of the House of
Representatives — or at least a staffer or two from each office — along with
Sen. Mark Warner and a top aide to Sen. Jim Webb.
“Rayburn, Longworth and Cannon” is not the name of a fancy
D.C. law firm, but each instead is an office building on one side of the
U.S. Capitol, together housing all 435 members of the House of
Representatives. On the other side of the Capitol are three Senate office
buildings, Russell, Dirksen and Hart, to accommodate our nation’s 100 U.S.
senators and their staffs.
On that Tuesday in early May, representatives of
Virginia’s member-owned electric cooperatives surely left lots of shoe
leather on outdoor sidewalks and indoor walkways, even as they left lots of
printed information with our state’s federal elected officials and their
staffs. This annual trek is made by representatives of the 900-plus electric
cooperatives that operate in 47 of our 50 states, as a way to reinforce
visits from legislators back home with visits to our legislators where they
actually cast the votes that affect us all.
These visits focus like a laser beam only on issues that
affect electric cooperatives and the 42 million Americans we collectively
serve. In the cooperative business model, of course, electric service is
provided at cost to all member-consumers; by local men and women employed by
each cooperative; and overseen by a locally elected board of directors.
So, for every cooperative, a constant goal is to make sure
that your power supply is affordable, reliable, safely delivered, and
environmentally responsible. Many of the proposed laws considered by
Congress, and many of the regulations contemplated by federal agencies,
affect your electricity supply in one way or another. And on these issues,
your electric cooperative leaders work hard to represent your interests
before both state and federal elected officials, on a totally nonpartisan
This year, the 2,600 electric cooperative leaders from
across the country who journeyed to Washington to visit legislators on
behalf of the folks back home focused primarily on financing, asking
legislators to maintain a strong electric cooperative loan program through
the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. These loans, paid
back with interest, are used by cooperatives to build and maintain the
infrastructure that helps us successfully deliver reliable power at cost to
the doorstep of your home or business, every day.
Electric cooperatives have been successful businesses for
75 years because the owner and the customer of the business are one and the
same. And electric cooperatives have been successful advocates more often
than not on issues at a state and federal level because the cooperative’s
customer-owners are also the elected official’s constituents.
And notwithstanding the growing cynicism about our federal
government, or the at-times deserved criticism
directed from all quarters toward our nation’s elected officials, a powerful
fact has remained true through more than two centuries in these United
States. And that is this: The most effective advocate in influencing elected
officials is the one who has the power to reelect, or reject, them in the
While grassroots advocacy done well has always been
effective, it may well be stronger than ever, thanks to the array of
communications outlets — from email to texting to social media — that
provide potent platforms to the masses in this very plugged-in, very wired,
republic of ours.
And, yes, electric cooperatives use some of these 21st
century forms of communication with legislators, but we also believe in the
value of a more time-tested approach.
Because, as compelling as a tweet, or a text, or a blog,
or even an email or postcard can be, an old-fashioned recipe mixing a little
time, a lot of energy, and a dash or two of shoe leather, can lead to a form
of communication as old as humankind, yet still the most effective of all: a
conversation, in person, face-to-face, whether among neighbors, with family
members or friends, or between elected officials and those who elected them.