Shoe Leather

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor


Richard Johnstone

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 basis.

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 voting booth. 

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. 


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