Commissioner Gonzales goes to Washington

By Colin Barrett, TBA President

While our focus these days is on regulatory relief, both through Congressional and regulatory actions, our team is also closely watching the 2018 statewide elections that are already getting underway.

What makes this election interesting is the unprecedented turnover that will take place in Nashville. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has been nominated by President Donald Trump for federal judgeship in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron will step down to run for Mayor of Rutherford County. And Senator Doug Overbey, a longtime sponsor of TBA banking legislation, has been nominated for U.S. Attorney for East Tennessee. Even Thelma Harper, the state’s longest serving State Senator, is pondering retirement.

In the state House, Speaker Beth Harwell has announced she is running for Governor, resulting in political maneuvering for the speakership. Minority Leader (and former TBA Chairman) Craig Fitzhugh has announced his run for Governor. Rep. Joe Pitts, a banker with Planters Bank Inc. in Clarksville, is stepping down from his seat as well. Several other House members are running for Congress, State Senate, and local offices. In total, 19 members of the state legislature have announced they are not running for re-election, and the 2018 primary is still a year away.

But the big race, and one that many of you are already watching, is the race to succeed Governor Bill Haslam. As of right now, the field is wide open. In addition to Leader Fitzhugh, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has officially entered the Democrat primary. The Republican primary is poised to be even more crowded with State Senator Mae Beavers; 6th Congressional district Congressman Diane Black; former Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd; Speaker of the House Beth Harwell; and businessman Bill Lee having entered the race.

And while the Governor plays a vital role in the direction of the state, the position rarely has direct impact on Tennessee banking legislation. Our primary state legislative efforts fall to the 33 Senators and 99 Representatives serving in the state legislature who vote for or against legislation that directly impacts banks and bank customers throughout the state.

However, our next Governor will be in a unique position to benefit the banking industry, and not just in Tennessee. That is because he or she will have the opportunity to reappoint TDFI Commissioner Greg Gonzales. What makes this different from previous administrations? Gonzales was appointed on May 1 as the Chairman of the State Liaison Committee (SLC) of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, making him a full voting member of the Council. And this makes him the most influential banking advocate outside of the Beltway.

When originally created through the Financial Institutions Regulatory and Interest Rate Control Act of 1978, the FFIEC included the heads of the Federal Reserve, FDIC, NCUA, and OCC. As part of the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB and the SLC were added to the Council. The Council makes recommendations for regulatory adoption that range from cybersecurity to HMDA to appraisals. And with new appointments expected at the Fed, FDIC, OCC and CFPB in the coming months, Commissioner Gonzales could become the most tenured person on the Council.

To say that my faith in Commissioner Gonzales is greater than that of our federal regulators would be a gross understatement. Gonzales has proven himself again and again as a champion of Tennesseans and the Tennessee banking industry. His belief in “common sense regulation” and that regulators should make it easier to serve your customer, not more difficult, is a unique perspective in Washington, and one that we need to preserve. His calm but confident approach has earned him the nickname of The Velvet Hammer by his colleagues at the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

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