Friends on Capitol Hill

By Blankenheim, Michael | Independent Banker, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Friends on Capitol Hill


Blankenheim, Michael, Independent Banker


Backed by community banking, Hefley and Nelson know and fight for Main Street America

With a respect for community banks nurtured by deep heartland roots, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Sen. Benjamin Nelson (D-Neb.) are typical ot the political leaders ICBPAC supports through campaign donations.

As an example, Hefley is working hard with community bankers across the nation to raise federal deposit insurance coverage levels. With ICBA's enthusiastic support, the eight-term Colorado Republican plans to reintroduce a bill this Congress that would raise coverage levels to about $200,000 per account and index coverage levels to inflation. "I hope bankers join me in a crusade to accomplish this," he says.

Hefley wrote the proposal after Colorado community bankers visited him in his Washington, D.C., office about the dire need to increase the insurance that hasn't been raised since 1980. Hefley says he moved on it quickly, in part, because he views independent banks and thrifts as "a community's lifeblood."

Growing up during the depression in Oklahoma, part of the western Dustbowl, Hefley says community bankers helped many of his neighbors avoid foreclosure on their homes and farms. "The bankers knew you by first name and made decisions on the spot. They'd stretch the situation so you could keep your place."

Nebraska's freshman Sen. Nelson, the state's former governor, has a similar opinion of community banks also gleaned during his youth.

As a Nebraska small-town boy after World War II, Nelson each week put money from his paper route into a passbook account at his hometown community bank. "It was a small amount of money, but they were big dollars to me," Nelson says. "That's how I got to see earnings on invested money grow. A community with a strong community bank has a future because there's local capital for local investment."

Like Hefley, Nelson believes increasing deposit insurance is an issue needing close examination. And indexing the amount of deposit insurance to inflation is a possible longterm option, he says. "It should get a serious debate. The growth of wealth requires the number to increase to be competitive with other investment opportunities."

ICBA Executive Vice President Kenneth Guenther says Hefley and Nelson are straightforward, down-to-earth, and keep community banking, business and agricultural issues high on their agendas. They are just two of the approximately 180 winning candidates ICBPAC supported during the 2000 election cycle.

"Rep. Hefley is on point for community bankers nationwide through his efforts to increase deposit insurance," he says. "As Nebraska's governor, Sen. Nelson showed us time after time that he appreciates the vital link between agriculture and community banking. Supporting him was an easy call."

Statesman and Gentleman

Colorado community bankers de

scribe Hefley as a statesman and gentleman. Considering he has deposit insurance as a battle cry, that may not be surprising. But even the Colorado press, not known for treating politicians kindly, uses similar terms of endearment.

In an editorial endorsement, one Colorado newspaper states that even after 14 years in office, Hefley retains a "sharp appetite for public service." Unlike many of the tight 2000 election races across the country, Hefley ran unopposed once again. He consistently receives more than 80 percent of his district's votes.

Doug McClure, president of Rocky Mountain Bank and Trust, says Hefley is "the antithesis of the insidethe Beltway congressman." "He doesn't play games," McClure says. "If he can support you on an issue, he will. If not, he'll tell you up front. He votes Main Street, not Wall Street."

Born in 1935, Hefley grew up in Oklahoma and first came to Colorado as a cowboy and ranch hand. He has been an executive director of Big Brothers and developed an expertise in community planning. …

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