Insight Agent Issues Insight The importance of a congressional relationship By Jamie Biesiada / June 19, 2017 Share 1 -- Agents form relationships on a daily basis with clients, suppliers, colleagues and peers. But one kind of relationship that can serve not only themselves, but also the industry overall, is a relationship with a lawmaker.Earlier this month, ASTA held its annual Legislative Day, and 100 ASTA members traveled to Washington to meet with their senators and representatives to discuss key industry issues. ASTA this year focused the members' talking points on the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, the FAA reauthorization bill (and making sure agents don't have to make additional disclosures when selling air tickets) and removing travel agencies from a so-called Department of Labor "blacklist" that prevents them from utilizing an overtime-pay exemption.One of the agents' goals was to explain the issues to legislators and discuss how they affect their constituents and the industry. But the other, arguably more important, goal was to build a rapport with their legislators that could continue into the future. ASTA provided training and support on Legislative Day, but there is no reason every agent, regardless of whether or not they attended the event, can't cultivate a relationship with their member of Congress."It's all about relationship building," Mike McGarry, CLIA's senior vice president of public affairs and government relations, told the agents at Legislative Day. "There are a lot of ways to communicate with members of Congress. You can send an email, you can call them, you can send snail mail to them, but going to their office and meeting with them in person and putting a face on the industry and making that constituent connection for them is vitally important."Luckily -- especially for West Coast-based agents -- building those relationships is not geographically limited to Washington. "Every district in the country has at least one district office," said Roy Schultheis, chief of staff for Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida.Schultheis also addressed the agents at Legislative Day, and he stressed that relationships with lawmakers shouldn't start and end at that event. He encouraged the agents to meet with the legislators' staff in their home districts. Those relationships are "extremely valuable," he said."We have 435 members of Congress, and they all represent a small piece of this big country," he said. "Since time is such a limited resource for them, they need to be able to justify, 'OK, well, I'm going to focus time and energy on working this particular issue and see this get across the finish line. How does this tie back to my district?'The agent, as a constituent, is that link, he said.ASTA has developed resources to help agents illustrate their industry's importance to lawmakers, which can be found on the Advocacy Toolkit portion of the Society's website. The toolkit includes printed material that agents can leave with legislators, like explanations of ASTA's policy priorities.There are also state-by-state fact sheets. For instance, according to the Maryland fact sheet, the state has 276 retail agency locations. The agency industry provides 1,139 full-time jobs and has an economic impact of $55 million. A larger state like California unsurprisingly has larger numbers: 2,234 retail locations, 11,353 full-time jobs and an economic impact of $575 million.Eben Peck, ASTA's senior vice president of government and public affairs, emphasized the importance of building relationships through meetings."The goal of these meetings is pretty simple: tell our industry's story and connect it to the Congressman's district ('all politics is local,' after all)," Peck wrote in the ASTANetwork magazine. "When the time comes to present a legislative 'ask' to the Congressman's office -- vote against this bill, cosponsor this one, etc. -- at least we will have laid the groundwork of a basic education about how our industry works."Full listings of current senators and representatives can be found online. Each legislator's name is linked to their website, which includes the addresses of their in-district office or offices, as well as contact information.