Among the nearly 120 floral industry members who braved the snow for CAD: Oscar Fernandez, Equiflor/Rio Roses; Corrine Heck, Details Flowers; David and Pat Armellini, Armellini Express Lines; Sharon Roeser, Alex Atwood and (front and center, bent over) Liza Atwood, Fifty Flowers; Patricia and Glenn Sprich, Baisch & Skinner Wholesale; Jodi McShan, McShan Florist; Jamie Kitz, Sakata; Norman Northen, TMFA, and Diana Nordman, Texas State Florists Association, Mollie Meulenbroek, Studley Flower Gardens; Chris Drummond, AAF, Plaza Flowers; Susie and Nicole Palazzo, City Line Florist Inc.
A major snowstorm didn’t stop dozens of retailers, wholesalers and growers from traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to share their story with lawmakers and advocate for industry issues on Capitol Hill.
In fact, the Society of American Florists’ 37th Annual Congressional Action Days drew its highest attendance in more than a decade, with 119 participants from 30 states and 35 first-timers.
The big turnout — even in the face of bad weather — said a lot about the dedication of floral industry members and the importance of CAD, which gives business owners the chance to connect directly with lawmakers and key staff on issues that affect people across the supply chain, according to SAF’s President-Elect Bill LaFever, PFCI, of the Bill Doran Company in Rockford, Illinois, who welcomed attendees by reminding them that, especially in a charged political environment, real-world, personal stories matter.
“Civil discussions lead to meaningful change,” he said. “Lawmakers can’t make decisions without hearing from a broad swath of people.”
This year, the SAF delegation focused its energy on three core issues, tax reform, immigration reform and industry research funding, asking their lawmakers to:
Support comprehensive tax reform by simplifying the tax code and reducing rates, but excluding imported floral agricultural products from a border adjustment tax.
Oppose stand-alone mandatory E-Verify legislation, including S.179, the “Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act,” which SAF’s Senior Director of Government Relations Shawn McBurney said would “cripple our agricultural economy.”
Include a $250,000 increase for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative in their formal requests to the Appropriations Committees.
Before heading to the Hill on Tuesday, attendees heard from experts on these issues as well as Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates, a D.C. area consultant and frequent CAD speaker who helps business owners prep for a role outside of their daily lives: lobbyist.
Stay tuned for more coverage of CAD – but enjoy this quick recap of some of the visits made by CAD attendees, including Alan Tanouye, of Floralife, to Capitol Hill.
Still, as SAF Board Director (and longtime SAF attendee) Skip Paal, AAF, noted, floral industry members’ most important job during the two-day event was storyteller, not policy expert.
“We don’t have to be the experts,” Paal, the head of Rutland Beard Floral Group in metro Baltimore, told the crowd. “Our stories matter.”
Jamie Kitz of Sakata Ornamentals agreed, saying on Tuesday morning that there was a “buzz in the room” as members prepared to head to the Capitol.
“We’re all a little nervous and also very excited,” she said. “It is crucial that we all go to the Hill and represent our businesses and industry.”
“Do not be intimidated,” said SAF’s Senior Director of Government Relations Shawn McBurney. “Congress relies on you for information. They want you to tell them about your business.”
“We don’t have to be the experts,” Skip Paal, AAF, the head of Rutland Beard Floral Group in metro Baltimore, told the crowd. “Our stories matter.”
Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates helped attendees practice their pitch before the meetings on Capitol Hill. She cautioned SAF members that they might end up walking alongside junior aides on the way to other meetings, or getting only a few quick moments — but she also said that with a strong argument and great story, every second counts. Another tip from Vance: Always follow up. Invite lawmakers to your business, she said.
“It’s so important for you to go to the Hill and make sure members know what’s important to you,” emphasized small business attorney Jessica Summers, of Paley Rothman
Joe Bischoff, Ph.D., one of SAF’s lobbyists with Cornerstone Government Affairs, explained the ins and outs of Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative funding; CAD participants asked lawmakers on Tuesday to support a “modest” increase that would restore the fund to earlier levels. “[FNRI] is a partnership be industry, the academic community and the federal government,” he said. “We’re not just asking for money from the government. It’s about leveraging dollars.”
Jim Carter, vice president of government affairs at Emerson, a diversified global manufacturing and technology company based in St. Louis, Missouri, and a tax reform adviser on the Trump Transition Team, briefed attendees on tax reform on Monday. “This administration is more attune to checking off campaign promises than others,” he said. Tax reform is something [President Trump] campaigned on. I would be shocked if we didn’t have something this year.”
While trade was not a key issue for CAD this year, because the new administration is focused on trade, Alice Gomez, one of SAF’s lobbyists with Cornerstone Government Affairs, made a brief presentation on the president’s position on high-profile agreements, including NAFTA, which could ultimately affect floral industry members.
The Colorado puts what it learned into a practice roleplay session. From left: Dave Legge and Dave Gaul, AAF, DWF Wholesale Florist; Lee Sorensen, Brad Beck, AAF, and Dwight Larimer, AAF, PFCI, Design Master color tool, Inc., and lobbying strategist Stephanie Vance.
After being briefed on the top three issues, attendees met with their state delegations to map out a strategy for their meetings. A few of the delegates from Virgnia and Maryland: Paul Brockway, Conklyns; Wesley Hook, Rutland Beard Floral Group, and Kaitline Radebaugh, AAF, Radebaugh Florist & Greenhouses.
The Illinois delegation – the largest state delegation at CAD — had appointments in about 20 different congressional offices.