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Tulsa Leaders Meet In DC on Federal Highway Renewal

Tulsa Leaders Meet In DC on Federal Highway Renewal

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Journal Record: Tulsa World: Lobbying trip encourages Tulsa chamber leaders
February 27, 2009

TULSA – Although the nation’s political winds have definitely changed course, putting Oklahoma’s congressional delegation in a largely minority position, Tulsa Metro Chamber officials returned from this week’s Washington, D.C., lobbying trip strongly encouraged – but with much still to do.

“We wanted to be down there when they finished the stimulus package,” said chamber President and Chief Executive Mike Neal, who over the last 20 years has participated in 30 or more such trips. “It was very important that we convey a message, that we build relationships. This is still very much a relationships-driven business.”

The road trip marked the first under the “One Voice” program, a coordinated federal, state and local policies platform adopted by nearly all metro Tulsa governments and chambers.

Seventy executives participated in the Tulsa Regional Washington, D.C., fly-in, doubling the number in last year’s inaugural trip. They met with all seven Oklahoma lawmakers, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, former Oklahoma governor and current American Council of Life Insurers President and CEO Frank Keating, former U.S. representative turned political consultant J.C. Watts, and others.

“We felt it went very, very well,” said Neal, who returned from the three-day trip Wednesday night.

With many Washington executives still settling into their jobs across all branches of government, Neal said it was too early to tell how the political environment will mature. But he praised U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, the lone Democrat in Oklahoma’s otherwise Republican entourage, for maintaining close working relations with his cohorts in the now-minority party.

“We are really blessed in that we have an extremely cooperative, very collaborative state delegation,” he said – one with positions on several key committees, including the Senate appropriations and public works panels and the House transportation, financial services, agriculture, armed services and natural resources committees.

“That is enormously critical to us as they work on crafting the new federal highway bill and other legislation,” said Neal.

Through the renewal of several key acts and budget moves to adequately fund long-mandated improvements, the chamber hopes to win support for rebuilding Tulsa’s Interstate 244 and 44 bridges, establishing Arkansas River low-water dams, completing maintenance and other Kerr-McClellan Arkansas River Navigation System needs, and many other infrastructure needs.

While the chamber will not return to Washington this year en masse, Neal expects to lead smaller teams back several times this year to lobby for needed programs or policies.

“In this environment, this is going to be a very, very busy year in Washington,” he said. “For me personally, I imagine I will be there eight or nine times this year.”

As for the fly-in, he projects the annual event will draw 100 participants in 2010.

“When you do it together, they’re going to be much stronger,” he said. “Governor Keating, Representative Watts, they praised the One Voice program. They wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner.”

Participants in the Tulsa Regional Washington, D.C., fly-in paid for their own transportation costs and room and board, as well as a $500 registration fee to the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Many stayed at the Hotel George, within walking distance of the Capitol.

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