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Let Your Voice Be Heard

BY AMY DREW THOMPSON

MORE OFTEN THAN NOT OUR NATION’S eligible voters don’t bother to show up on Election Day. Historically, presidential elections see the highest voter turnout in the federal realm overall; in fact, 2008 had the highest percentage of participating Americans since 1968. But before you are overcome with tearful patriotism, you should probably know that number was approximately 57 percent.

WERE YOU AMONG THEM?
If not, you should be, says Stephen Sandherr, AGC’s chief executive  officer and a man with a deep grasp of the issues he says are of vital importance to the construction industry, which, he notes, has a very informed membership. “You have a couple of silos here,” says Sandherr, who compressed the topics into something
of an “AGC Christmas list” for the purposes of the piece. “One is dealing with what the right tax, budgetary and investment strategies the government should be taking to generate economic growth — which, in turn, would provide for more opportunities for contractors.”

The second, he says, is regulatory overreach. “It’s about how we’re defending the industry from a zealous regulatory agenda put forth by the administration … I’d like us to work to stop the overreach, where if they can’t achieve something through legislation, they try to get it through regulation.”

Well, “Christmas” is nearly here. And a more informed and motivated membership, Sandherr believes, will make AGC’s voice that much more resonant at the polls.

WISH LIST
Few people, or industries, ever get 100 percent of what they’re hoping for when it comes to legislation or candidates, but that doesn’t mean you can ink them for posterity. What policies would most benefi t AGC’s membership? Overall, candidates who score well on issues that include the following are the ones AGC’s
officers are confident you’ll be taking a serious look at:

 Development and support of initiatives that will jump-start privately funded construction in order to enhance U.S. competitiveness and create jobs.
 Strong support of infrastructure investment programs that address things such as highway, transit, rail, aviation, drinking and wastewater, navigation, and flood control.
 Support of permanent reduction of state taxes on family-owned businesses.
 Restoration of stability to multiemployer pension plans.
 Support of climate-change policies that preserve the nation’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.
 Support of comprehensive national immigration reform.
 Opposition of all efforts to use government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal construction projects.
 Strongly in support of repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act that increase employer costs and reduce coverage options.

It’s a mixed bag, encompassing legislation and regulation. The latter is among AGC’s most pressing priorities and the realm of some of its most impressive recent achievements. “[We are concerned about regulation] in a number of areas,” says Sandherr.

“The administration is trying to limit the ability of employers to discuss what the negative impact of a union shop would be to employees.”

There’s also the project labor agreement issue, one in which the AGC has been very effective in limiting the government’s reach. “Things are good on that front in that we’ve been able to basically hang the president with his own words,” says Sandherr, citing an executive order in which federal agencies are asked to consider imposing a project labor agreement on projects in excess of $25 million.

“Every time we see a project where offi cials are pushing PLAs, we send out a very detailed eight-page letter asking a series of questions designed to force the agency to justify whether that proposed PLA meets the task.” In 45 of 46 separate incidents, the agency has decided that it cannot.

Though proud of its successes, Sandherr realizes that continued vigilance is mandatory, and of his “Christmas list” cites infrastructure as the one he’d most like to see under the association’s tree come November. “I’d love to see a tax and budgetary agenda that promotes private-sector economic growth,” he says. “I believe it would increase opportunities for construction.” He sees the recent passage of the highway bill as good news, “but it demonstrates the challenge that’s before us, and that’s fi nding adequate resources of revenue to pay for the infrastructure we need.”

CONGRESS: HEALTH CARE RED FLAGS
In the House and Senate, a number of races are heating up. A good indicator of which candidates might better serve the membership, says Sandherr, is his or her voting record on the Affordable Care Act, recently upheld by the Supreme Court.

“In my view,” he says, “somebody who voted for the health care bill has demonstrated a couple of things: [he or she is] looking for the government to have more infl uence and control in health care decisions and [that person is] looking for people in the health care system to be considered beneficiaries as opposed to consumers.

“[These candidates] don’t understand how this will impact hiring decisions by businesses,” he says, opining a belief that many employers will simply decide not to offer health insurance at all. “And I think it is significant that we have a lot of very small businesses in our membership,” he says, noting the 50-employee threshold that mandates businesses offer health care. “I think [if Affordable Care is implemented] there will be a lot of 49-employee
construction fi rms.”

Sandherr acknowledges that it is often Republican candidates who embody what he believes are AGC-friendly, pro-business policies. However, he says, it’s essential to embrace those on the other side of the aisle when prudent, citing “rare breed” Jim Matheson of Utah as one such politician. Matheson is currently running for a seat in the House of Representatives.

“When we find a Democrat who votes with business, we should support [that candidate] — because if you don’t, there will be less and less of them who support your side.”

Ultimately, of course, Election Day is about getting out there and having your voice heard.

“Our members are smart enough to know who to vote for,” says Sandherr. “They make their own decisions
based upon the facts we try to present.” But he is adamant about the importance of getting involved. “If you don’t
vote, don’t complain about the results.”

AGC’S POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE (AGC PAC)
“AGC PAC is dedicated to the protection, preservation and furtherance of the private enterprise system and the strengthening of American free institutions, and in particular, the protection and advancement of the construction industry. To further these objectives, it works within the federal election process through direct involvement in supporting and opposing candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the Offi ce of the President” says David Ashinoff. As the new director of PAC and advocacy for AGC, he adds that this is accomplished by educating the membership “on the importance of political activism and through the financial support of construction-friendly candidates.”

A PAC, says Sandherr, is the way AGC contractors can get involved in the political arena — and it’s important. “We ask [our membership] to contact members of Congress when a key vote is coming up; we ask them to vote, to get their employees to register to vote and to make sure the construction industry’s voice is heard on Election Day and afterward.”

AGC PAC is member driven. It is governed by the PAC Contributions Subcommittee, consisting of national co-chairs, regional coordinators, state chairpersons and past PAC chairpersons.

“This group also votes on disbursements to federal candidates and various political committees with the advice and input from chapter and national staff,” Ashinoff adds.

“You’d have to be in a coma not to recognize the significant amount of money in politics,” says Sandherr. “It’s coming from all sides and everybody needs to have skin in the game. I highly encourage our members to help us support candidates who are going to be pro-business and pro-construction. You can’t leave it for somebody else to do.”

In the 2009-2010 election cycle, AGC PAC contributed close to $1 million to 253 congressional candidates. Of those contributions, 77 percent went to construction-friendly Republicans. The remaining 23 percent went to construction-friendly Democrats. Additionally, 85 percent of the candidates AGC PAC supported were successfully elected to Congress. AGC PAC hopes to continue building on this electoral success. So far this cycle, it has contributed more than $664,000 to construction-friendly candidates with many others seeking its endorsement and financial support.