There was a great deal said about change in the months leading up to the 2008 general election, and when the ballots were cast Nov. 4, the American people made it clear that change was indeed what they wanted. Besides electing Democratic Senator Barack Obama to the presidency following eight years of a Republican administration, the public distanced themselves even further from the GOP by giving the Democrats an additional five seats in the U.S. Senate and 17 seats in Congress.
Here in Michigan, voters’ attitudes were largely similar when it came to the state legislature – the Republicans lost another nine seats in the State House this year after losing the majority in 2006 – and our Congressional delegation was not immune to this sentiment either, but the bulk of credit union-friendly candidates endorsed by MCULAF/MCULLAF and/or the MCUL fared well. U.S. Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich, a long time supporter of credit union issues, cruised to an easy victory for his sixth term. Nine of our incumbent members of Congress and Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act (CURIA) co-sponsors retained their seats, although State Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, defeated U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and eight-term incumbent Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills, lost to former State Senator Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield. In the State House, 76 of the 80 candidates endorsed by the MCULAF/MCULLAF Board won their elections.
No small part of the desire for change in leadership this year, both in Michigan and elsewhere in the country, was related to the economy. With the massive credit crunch, housing and mortgage crisis and stock market rollercoaster putting serious concern about the U.S. financial system in people’s minds, many would like additional checks put into place that would prevent the kind of irresponsible lending that has brought about the current economic woes. The government was able to pull together a comprehensive financial rescue plan, but most Americans would rather avoid having to shell out tax dollars again for what they perceive as a “bailout” any time in the future.
While we in Michigan are fortunate to have the updated Michigan Credit Union Act combined with a state legislature and Congressional delegation that are largely supportive of credit union issues, we will still face the task of defending ourselves from the inevitable nationwide demand for further regulation of the financial services industry. There is no question that this will be a priority of the new Congress. Michigan credit unions have an excellent track record when it comes to grassroots lobbying efforts, but we must take this to a new level for what is sure to be one of the most important years for preventing burdensome regulations from being placed on credit unions in history.
It is vital that credit unions make a clear case that they have not been a part of the lending that has created an enormous problem for the U.S. economy. Through the CUNA and MCUL Governmental Affairs Conferences (GAC), Hike the Hill and Capitol Day, credit unions have an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with state and federal lawmakers, and it’s imperative they do so in order to explain how credit unions have not contributed to the economic problems in Michigan and the rest of the country, but provided solutions instead. Credit unions must continue to defend their tax exemption and lay out the value they have to their communities – through financial education, support for programs that benefit the economy, and the personal service and low rates and fees credit unions are known for. Credit unions have also not taken a cent of taxpayer money.
For the coming year, the importance of things like the CRI Aggregate Report and meeting PAC fundraising goals cannot be understated. Credit unions must work together to spread the message of our industry as a trustworthy and sound alternative to the types of financial institutions that have issued exotic mortgages and “liar loans” and should be the target of further oversight.