NAW Chairman’s Column, June 2017: “Distribution Needs Its Business Leaders to Be Politically Engaged”

John Tracy-NAW

Regardless of which way you voted, I think we can all agree that the 2016 federal election proved the power of engagement by individuals and organizations that weren’t as politically active in the past. You could also argue that the 2008 election of President Obama was similar, although significantly different individuals and organizations got involved during his first election.

I share this because, in the last 37 years of my career, I’ve been exposed to many situations where I have seen firsthand the power of political engagement by individuals and organizations that aren’t in the political process on a daily basis. NAW, for example, became part of the everyday landscape in Washington, DC, because this organization saw the importance of that engagement.

Most industries understand that they need a focused voice in Washington to help represent their interests. And some would say it’s even more important these days given the quantity and volume of voices that inundate the offices of our politicians on a daily basis.

The reality is that our politicians are asked to do what all of us in the distribution industry do every day: make tough decisions on where to prioritize a set of finite resources and in an environment where there are infinite demands on those resources.

This is particularly difficult for politicians. They are tasked with focusing on what is critical to the short- and long-term success of this country, as opposed to simply working on and reacting to the latest crisis or emergency.

Although we may not like the system, I think we all recognize that being engaged in a political process means, first and foremost, committing time to get to know our local and national representatives. I think every industry or trade association would tell you that grassroots work is the most powerful political voice, because it’s personal, meaningful and local to you and that politician, regardless of whether they are serving in a local or national office.

But we can’t stop there. As we all know, economics matter in the elections—meaning we have to get engaged financially as well.

I’d like to share one very specific example that shows how important engagement (both grassroots and financial) is in politics:

By most estimates, unions spent more than $400 million each cycle during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections to help get President Obama elected. This was in addition to what they spent on the other national and local elections, helping drive that agenda.

Some would suggest that labor unions collectively invested more than $1 billion in donations and in-kind work for the 2012 federal elections. They were also very effective in engaging their membership not only to vote, but to help get out the vote.

By almost any measurement, you’d have to admit that their efforts were successful and their voice in Washington, DC was louder than it had been in years—and it helped push their agenda more effectively than the previous 20−30 years.

This isn’t a criticism, it’s a compliment. They were actively engaged in the political process, and by most accounts, more successful in pushing their agenda during the eight years of the Obama administration than they had been in a long time.

One of our challenges in the distribution industry is being just as effective at driving that engagement in the political process, because what happens in politics matters to our business, our customers, our employees and all of our stakeholders.

NAW’s constituency encompasses 32,000 companies and 150,000 places of business. If we could engage one to three leaders at each organization and get each business to financially contribute a minimum, our voice would be one of the loudest in the country, both locally and nationally.

Political engagement is one of the many reasons why my company, Dot Foods, supports NAW and believes it’s a great value to our industry and a critical partner to every distributor. In addition to being an excellent source for networking, education and industry knowledge, I would argue that NAW is the leading focused voice in Washington, DC on behalf of distribution.

NAW represents all of us who are members directly. But NAW also has multiple line of trade associations that are affiliate members. Together NAW and its affiliate member associations can drive our collective agenda, communicate our priorities and concerns, and educate us on the issues that could impact our businesses.

Regardless of which side of the aisle you support, I strongly encourage you to keep abreast of the issues in Washington that affect your business and make sure that your voice is heard in Washington. The good news is NAW can help you. Through your engagement with this organization, you and your team’s contributions to NAW-PAC, and your attendance at NAW events where an industry update on the political issues pertinent to distribution is always part of the agenda, you will be connected. Learn more about the different ways that NAW’s government relations team conveys our industry’s views to the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, and keeps us informed, engaged, and ready to act.

Previous NAW Chairman Rick Schwartz did an excellent job last year highlighting the importance of exercising one of our most fundamental rights: the power to vote. I hope all of us are following Rick’s advice and encouraging all of our employees to vote in every election.

My suggestion is to take this one step further and actively encourage all of your employees, especially your leaders, to get actively engaged in the political process and help NAW to make sure that our industry voice does not get lost in the sea of voices.

Thanks for listening!

John Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board, and Dot Foods Executive ChairmanJohn Tracy, NAW 2017 Chairman of the Board, and Dot Foods Executive Chairman