Your Guide to Key Races, Hot Topics, and Why You Need to Get Involved

The mid-term elections are right around the corner, and while every election is important, the results on Nov. 6, 2018 will have far-reaching implications for Wisconsin's banking industry. This article highlights the most significant races and topics to watch and explains how you can help defend and promote our industry. 

Key Races

In Wisconsin, the three most important races for bankers to watch are: 1) the gubernatorial race between current governor Scott Walker (R) and State Superintendent Tony Evers (D); 2) the U.S. Senate race between current State Senator Leah Vukmir (R) and incumbent Tammy Baldwin (D); and the 6th Congressional District race between incumbent Rep. Glenn Grothman and business executive Dan Kohl (D). Each of these races has significant implications for the banking industry. 

"I've learned that 'all elections are local,'" said WBA Chair-Elect Mark Meloy, president/CEO of First Business Bank, Madison and Board liaison to the WBA Government Relations Committee (GRC). "The closer things are to home, the more important they are." Outside of local municipal elections, it doesn't get closer to home than the governor's race, and bankers should consider the current status quo when they go to the polls. At the state level, things have been good for banking and business in general, particularly regarding the state's financial picture, Meloy explained. "That didn't come without some pushback from all sides, but it is important work that had to be done." A Walker victory will lead to more of the same. However, Jeff Schmid, SVP/CSO at Fox River State Bank, Burlington and GRC Chair, doesn't believe that the gubernatorial race's outcome will have a significant impact on the industry unless Democrats also manage to flip either the State Senate or the Assembly. "I don't think the State Assembly or Senate will flip, so having a Democratic governor will not change the Association's legislative agenda," he explained. "We'll maintain the status quo."

The race between Vukmir and Baldwin is significant on its own—while it's a long-shot, a Vukmir win would strike a major blow to the Democrat's mission to flip the U.S. Senate. "The Vukmir/Baldwin race for Senate is important," Schmid explained. "It has a higher-level raise, and Vukmir is an underdog. Even the pundits were shocked right after the primaries that she closed the gap with Baldwin quickly in the polls." If the Democrats do manage to flip either the U.S. Senate or the House, much of the recent progress with regulatory and tax relief will be in jeopardy. 

Similarly, the importance of the race between Grothman and Kohl hinges on whether the outcome will help flip the House. The 6th District historically votes conservative, but there has been a shift in recent years. Also, Kohl comes to the race with some unique advantages due to his family name (he is the nephew of former senator and Bucks owner Herb Kohl). "Kohl has name recognition and a lot of financial outside interests, so that's a seat that could flip in the House of Representatives," said Schmid. "Grothman has been a huge advocate for the banking industry, and Kohl will not be." 

While less likely than Republicans maintaining control in both houses, if either the State Senate or the Assembly does flip on November 6, it is more likely to be the Senate, according to Jon Turke, WBA director – government relations. "There are four state Senate races people are watching, and of the four Howard Marklein is the most vulnerable," Turke said. That is particularly significant for the banking industry because Marklein (R-Spring Green) serves as Chair of the Committee on Revenue, Financial Institutions and Rural Issues. 

Hot Topics

This midterm, the hot topics in the financial services industry won't surprise anyone: regulatory relief and tax reform top the list, followed by fintech regulation. The key factor most likely to be overlooked, however, is that past regulatory and tax wins are vulnerable if bank-friendly lawmakers don't stay in office. "If we don't get 'B for Banker' lawmakers elected those laws won't get passed or implemented," said Gary Kuter, senior vice president at Capitol Bank, Madison and a GRC member. "Just because we got a little bit of relief with S.B. 2155 doesn't mean we don't need to stay involved."

From Meloy's perspective, keeping pro-banking candidates in office will help prevent the pendulum from swinging too far back into overregulation, like it did just after the recession. "Regulation is not harmful, but overregulation is," he explained. "Coming out of the Great Recession, we saw the application of a lot of redundant and unnecessary regulation, so the clawback we've achieved in the past couple of years has been a good step. We don't want to go backwards." 

Looking to the future, regulatory concerns are a primary topic for bankers to keep an eye on, both for the traditional banking industry and emerging competitors. The outcome of the midterm elections will impact the political environment in which future heads of regulatory agencies are appointed, which could set the course for years of rule interpretation and application. "How we vote now could either prevent or set a course for future overreach for what affects us as bankers," Meloy explained. The fintech arena will also be heavily impacted by the political environment set up by the November 6 midterms. "At the federal level you have several regulatory agencies vying over who will oversee the fintech companies, and in the meantime those companies are competing with community banks on products and services," Schmid said.

Get Involved, or Else… 

Watching key races and hot topics isn't enough, however. The stakes are higher than that. Bankers need to get directly involved in the political process in order for the industry's agenda to move forward. There is a wide variety of ways to be an advocate for our industry, but one of the most effective is to form or continue a relationship with your representatives. "If you're not sitting in front of your legislator talking about what's important to your institution, somebody else is, and it might be a credit union," said Schmid. "You need to occupy the seat in front of your legislator and control the narrative. They'll listen to you, so explain what you need in order to serve your community." Forming and maintaining personal relationships with your representatives also amplifies the impact of WBA's advocacy team. "It's good for legislators to have relationships with bankers in their community," Turke said. "We can go in and talk to them every day, but it's much more impactful for them to have a constituent who they can rely on for information about banking issues."

Another important way to get involved is to become educated about the candidates who will appear on your ballot and their stance on key issues. "If you don't have time to research, then rely on your bank's Advocacy Officer for advice on how different candidates will impact the industry," Kuter advised. If you're not sure where to start on your research, Kuter poses this question: "In order to get the banking agenda through, which representatives do we need in office?" You can also rely on WBA's Advocacy Team for up-to-date information about the upcoming elections. Sign up for The Pundit for email updates and/or reach out directly by calling 608-441-1200. Then, use your newfound knowledge to take on the role of educator at your institution. "Promote education for your fellow employees, your board, your family, and your friends," Schmid recommends.

Political fundraising is another critical piece of industry advocacy. "In order to get our message out on the street and among everyone else, those political candidates who are 'B for Banker' need resources," Schmid explained. "Make an investment in our future." WBA offers two different solutions for bankers to contribute their political dollars. Wisbankpac is WBA's registered political action committee (PAC), and contributions are dispersed as-needed to pro-banking candidates from both parties. The Alliance of Bankers Political Conduit is like your personal political bank account and requires you to direct funds before they can be dispersed (to candidates of your choice). "If you don't want to think about it, your solution is WBA's PAC," Kuter explained. "If you want more control, then it's the Conduit." And yes, political donations really do have an impact on whether bills good for banking become law and bills bad for banking do not. "When making decisions, legislators look at who's visiting them at the capitol, who's contacting them from their district, and who is donating their campaigns," Turke explained. "It's not money alone and it's not grassroots alone, it's a combination of the two." 

Finally, no banker can call themselves politically active without voting on election day. Voting is one of the most important and fundamental ways to be an engaged citizen, so encourage your coworkers, friends, and family to vote on November 6, too. It's not always about partisan competition, either. "We need to work with both sides of the aisle in order to get our legislative agenda done," said Kuter. "It's not D or R," Meloy agreed. "It's a privilege to vote and have your voice heard." 

It's every banker's obligation to help defend the industry, and voting on November 6 is the simplest way to do that. "On election day, go to the polls and take care of business," Meloy urged. "Make a spot on your calendar for it. It's the worst thing to get to 7 p.m. and realize you haven't gotten to the polls. Plan for it and then do it."

Advocacy Resources for Election Day and Beyond

  • The Pundit – WBA's advocacy-focused electronic publication, emailed to subscribers on an as-needed basis (typically bi-monthly). Sign up at www.wisbank.com/Profile (members-only, login required). 
  • Election Day logistics – Visit http://myvote.wi.gov to find your polling place, view a preview of your ballot, and more. 
  • Industry information and more – Visit www.wisbank.com/advocacy for links to all of WBA's many advocacy resources and informative articles.
  • WBA Advocacy Toolkit – Visit www.wisbank.com/members/advocacy/advocacy-toolkit (members-only, login required) for links to digital downloads of all of the components in the Advocacy Toolkit, such as a 2018 Elections Summary, 5 Easy Steps to Find Your State Legislator, sample letters to legislators, and more.