Grassroots Involvement

Co-ops Urged to Political Activism

By Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: May 1st, 2013

Members of electric cooperatives need to be encouraged to harness the political power of their numbers to help achieve mutual goals in their communities.

Tim Smith of North Central EC, (left) Curtis Wynn of Roanoke EC and Duane Frankart East Central Oklahoma EC agree that the key to growing ACRE membership is asking for member involvement. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

Tim Smith of North Central EC, (left) Curtis Wynn of Roanoke EC and Duane Frankart of East Central Oklahoma EC agree that the key to growing ACRE membership is asking for member involvement. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

“We need to be involved before the fact and not after the fact,” said Duane Frankart, board president of North Central Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Attica, Ohio.

“We’re elected by the members, and we understand the importance of participation in the democratic process,” said Frankart.”We believe in the program.”

Frankart was one of three presenters at “Co-op Owners for Political Action: Maximizing Your Political Impact,” a forum held April 30 during NRECA’s 2013 Legislative Conference. All the participants spent time focusing on strengthening the Action Committee for Rural Electrification, or ACRE®, program among their membership.

They stressed the importance of including political participation in every co-op’s program.

“We asked, ‘Would you consider joining this program?’” said Tim Smith, CEO and general manager of East Oklahoma Central Electric Cooperative. The Okmulgee-based co-op launched a concerted effort to build its ACRE membership following last year’s legislative conference.

“Thirty members signed up at our annual meeting,” said Smith. “If 30 members were to sign up from more than 800 co-ops, that would represent quite a bit of political clout.”

The presenters also stressed the importance of keeping ACRE participation affordable. In some cases, that’s accomplished by offering a voluntary check-off to consumer-members who have agreed to participate, so that contributions are spread over incremental periods.

“Our average donation is $25 per member,” said Smith, who is also NRECA’s Oklahoma director. “That amounts to $2.08 per month.”

Panelists also said building awareness of the issues facing electric cooperatives is important to keeping consumer-members engaged and committed to the goals of a co-op’s political action program.

“We make the tie between rising costs and the political environment,” said Curtis Wynn, president and CEO of Ahoskie, N.C.-based Roanoke Electric Cooperative, and an NRECA national director. “We need representatives that are representing our interests.”

Besides promoting the program in newsletters and statewide magazines, the presenters also stressed the benefits of including important co-op issues in talking points during community presentations.

They also said calls to action, including emails to elected officials or regulators, are available from NRECA and can be tailored to the needs of individual co-ops.

“Whether your [ACRE participation] goal is 1 percent or 5 percent, it is doable,” said Wynn. “We have to be willing to ask members to participate.”

Click here to see a gallery of photos from the 2013 Legislative Conference.

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