Organized, vocal bankers key to legislative success

By Colin Barrett, President/CEO, Tennessee Bankers Association

“Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” One of the lasting legacies of many political leaders is the memorable quotes that they leave behind. Hardly a day goes by in Tennessee politics when the phrase, “It matters who governs,” isn’t uttered. This phrase, attributed to former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, speaks to the impact that elected leaders have on our state and country. 

While we may agree that it matters who governs, the influence of an organized and vocal constituency can have an even greater impact than that of our elected leaders. 

At TBA, our legislative influence works best when our lobbyists and bankers work collectively. Our lobbyists have a reputation for being the experts on banking issues, a needed skill considering very few state legislators have banking experience. They are also known for their integrity and ability to fairly and accurately provide both sides of an issue. 

The influence our legislative team yields is also directly related to the strong relationships bankers have in their districts. Bankers are the community leaders and local influencers, and their connections to their communities is what allows our team to represent the industry so well. This partnership has never been more on display than it was this year in Nashville when merchants pushed legislation to get out of paying interchange fees on sales tax.

In Amy Heaslet’s column on page 9, you will learn more about this particular battle and why it is important to continue to engage your House and Senate members. Amy often says that it is easier to pass your own legislation than stop someone else’s, and this is a great example of that. And quite frankly, we would not have been able to stop the merchants’ legislation without the strategic alliance between the TBA and our bankers.

While our team was at the Capitol urging lawmakers to oppose this legislation, Tennessee bankers were reinforcing that message at home explaining the negative impact this would have on their banks. 

Any industry, business or cause can have lobbyists working the halls of the state legislature. But what sets the banking industry apart is that legislators see firsthand the role you play in your community. Your grassroots efforts have led to our success over the past 130 years. However, it is something we cannot take for granted.

M&A has decreased the number of banks in Tennessee by more than 30% in recent years. And there is no indication that trend will slow down. It is important that more bankers, not just bank leadership, engage with TBA on legislative issues facing the industry. And we need your help in doing that. If you have bankers that would like to participate in our legislative efforts, please have them sign up for our action alerts. Additionally, invite them to join us for the Friday calls we hold bi-weekly during the legislative session.

If we are to succeed on the state level, whether it is addressing interchange or any other issue that comes our way, it is going to take every banker in Tennessee. I hope you will join us on this important mission to serve our industry and communities.

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