Rural Missouri - May 2018 - 10
Co-ops on Capitol Hill
Missouri's Electric Cooperatives joined
thousands at NRECA Legislative Conference
by Zach Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
lectric cooperative representatives from across the country headed to
Capitol Hill in April to deliver messages of importance to members of
Congress on behalf of the co-op member-owners they represent back
in their home state. More than 2,000 participants - including 60 from
Missouri - rallied at the 2018 NRECA Legislative Conference on behalf of coop priorities to reach beyond political party lines and work together for the good
of electric cooperative members back home.
The April 8-10 conference provided CEOs, directors and staff with pointers
from Washington insiders and briefings from NRECA legislative staff to use during meetings with their lawmakers. The Missouri delegation met with their local
representatives and with both U.S. senators, Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill.
"The decisions that get made in Washington D.C., they matter and they affect
all of us," said Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative
Association. "They affect our long-term commitment to our communities that
we are trying to serve. These decisions that affect our co-ops here are being
made every day and they are made in the context of who they hear from in the
Matheson told attendees that despite the sometimes polarizing and volatile
political environment of the times, electric co-ops are still effective in Washington. Referring to the electric co-op "grasstops" network of more than 800 CEOs
and 7,300 directors, he added that co-op leaders have forged trusted working
relationships with legislators on Capitol Hill. "Elected officials know co-ops,"
Matheson told the audience. "They know us because of you and your direct
advocacy with members of Congress."
During a legislative briefing for Missouri's delegation, Caleb Jones, vice
president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, added that it
is important for co-op leaders to spend face time with legislators to keep them
aware of how laws made in Washington affect their constituents.
Below: During his final week as CEO of Co-Mo Electric, Ken Johnson and family were honored for his
appointment as the administrator of the Rural Utilities Service with resolutions from Missouri's General
Assembly. Joining them are NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, far left, and AMEC Vice President Caleb Jones, right.
Right: U.S. Rep. Jason Smith met with co-op leaders from Missouri's 8th Congressional District.
RURAL MISSOURI | MAY 2018
Left: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed more than 2,000 rural electric cooperative
managers, directors and staff during the 2018 NRECA Legislative Conference. During the conference, he
commended electric cooperative responses to hurricane relief efforts in 2017 and recognized National
Lineworker Appreciation Day. Above: U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt speaks with Missouri's delegation.
"One of the most effective tools for whenever you go to speak with members
of Congress are real-life stories," Jones said. "They want to see the impact of
their decisions. They like to know that what they do out here affects us back
This year, discussions with legislators included requests to improve the
quality of life in rural America by enhancing key programs in the 2018 Farm
Bill. This includes supporting the role of electric co-ops not only as generators and distributors of electricity to their member-owners, but also as organizations that boost economic development in their communities. Co-op leaders asked that Congress enhance the Rural Utilities Service Electric Loan and
Guaranteed Underwriter, Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant and
Rural Energy for America and Rural Savings for America programs.
A major step toward improving quality of life is the deployment of rural
broadband. Rural America needs internet speeds as fast as those found in
urban centers. To address the high cost associated with bringing broadband
to areas of low population, additional funding through a combination of grants
and loans is needed. Missouri's delegation urged Congress to continue prioritizing bridging the digital divide by establishing a permanent loan-grant program at USDA's Rural Utilities Service and dedicate significant funding for RUS
loans and grants in fiscal 2019. Co-op leaders also thanked Missouri's senators
and representatives for supporting the RUS Electric Loan Program.
The role of electric cooperatives in the deployment of rural broadband also
was a central point in Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue's address to the
nation's co-op leaders. He applauded the efforts of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative
CEO Ken Johnson to bring broadband to rural people in central Missouri and
voiced enthusiasm for his new role as administrator of RUS. Citing the focus of
programs such as Operation Round Up, the response of electric cooperatives
to hurricane relief efforts in 2017 and his own experiences as a co-op member,
Secretary Perdue further praised the role of electric cooperatives as stewards
of their communities.
"That kind of commitment to your community is exactly why I have argued
all over America that electric cooperatives should be an integral part of what
I believe is the rural electrification of the 21st century and you might believe
and understand that I'm talking about the expansion of rural broadband and
high-speed internet access," Perdue said. He added that USDA is working to
distribute $600 million in grants and loans for deploying rural broadband.
Harkening back to the birth of the nation's rural electric cooperatives in
1936, Perdue said that rural America now faces a similar challenge in the lack
of broadband availability. He stated that 80 percent of 24 million households
lack high-speed internet, which is necessary to establishing quality of life,
healthcare access, effective education and other vital services.
"You've got the potential to do the very same thing in the 21st century,"
Perdue added. "Just as you transformed America in the 1930s, there's the possibility of an even bigger revolution in rural e-connectivity."