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Catching up with the RBLC advocacy subcommittee

By By Nicholas Upton

Advocacy is a slow moving, confusing process. Jeff Gabriel is the first to admit that. He and the Recreational Boating Leadership Council advocacy subcommittee he co-chairs are looking to give the boating community some more insight into the process.

He said advocacy is hugely important to the industry, shaping the conversation and education government bodies on boating issues big and small.

“The advocacy task force is just to focus on issues in the advocacy world. That can be federal; but also with the agencies: Coast Guard, the EPA, the DHS – you name it and someone is either trying to help us or take a shot at us,” said Gabiel. “Unfortunately a lot of the times they’re taking a shot at us, and sometimes they don’t even know they’re shooting at us – that’s worse; a friendly fire kind of situation.”

To that end, Gabriel, who took over the RBLC subcommittee about a year ago, created new way for stakeholders in the industry to get updates on the advocacy efforts the National Marine Manufacturers Association is taking on.

“I’ve initiated a monthly call that I’m inviting, quite frankly, anybody that wants to participate,” said Gabriel. “The second Monday of every month, we’re going to have a working lunch.”

The call will be “a clearing house for the boating community to get together on a monthly basis, hear what’s going on federally, state and local, identify issues that some of us don’t know anything about. “

Understanding the issues is key to the advocacy process to keep up the pressure.

“The whole idea behind the American Boating Congress; the whole idea behind the RBLC; the whole idea behind this call on varying levels is to bring the community together to bring our collective power as an economic powerhouse in this nation’s economy to bear on the political wheels,” said Gabriel.

Gabriel said keeping people in-tune makes also adds some much-needed transparency to the grueling process.

“Advocacy takes a long time, and it’s a frustratingly slow process, and it’s oftentimes like Candy Land, five steps forward, three steps back,” said Gabriel. “So it’s hard.”

The huge issue of the Renewable Fuel Standard and ethanol issues in particular is one of those grueling topics that Gabriel hopes to keep people updated on.

“Ethanol remains one of the hottest topics. And I think there is a bit of advocacy fatigue with respect to ethanol in the community,” said Gabriel. “Even the people that deal with it all the time will say, ‘I haven’t seen anything change. I still have folks coming into the marina for repair with the same issues over and over again.’”

The call and other tools allow busy dealers, manufacturers and other stakeholders to keep tabs on the big (and small) issues without investing too much energy.

“Somebody that is running a marine dealership or a marina, they don’t have time for this. That’s what we’re here for,” said Gabriel who says tapping into the larger community through the call and the Boating United Advocacy Tool gives a place to air their grievances and get back to work. “All of these are the touching points where they can suspend selling boats for thirty minutes and share their story. And we can continue working with them on it.”

Creating new touching points helps keep issues like ethanol, trade law and boating rules moving along. And when the issues come up in daily life, stakeholders will have some extra insight into the issue and some talking points.

There is plenty of success on the ethanol issue in particular to share, Gabriel said.

“The reality is, you have well over 219 members of the House, bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats now are cosponsors – so they are publicly supporting a bill that rolls back the renewable fuel portion of the law that would pull the foot off the throttle of this increased ethanol. And that’s a big deal,” said Gabriel.

He said the community’s pushback against the standards was mostly about educating government bodies about the problems the boating industry faced.

“When we started this ethanol business back in 2006, when we heard about the increased ethanol supply damaging engines -- I can tell you for a fact -- there might have been two members of Congress [that knew about the issue]. That was it,” said Gabriel. “At that time they never would have known about this issue, even that it was an issue. But it’s a slow process -- I’ll admit that to anyone.”

For all those sick of hearing about ethanol, Gabriel is confident that the process is finally coming to a head.

“We’ve generated so much political support, we’re at the point that something has to start to happen,” said Gabriel.

The 2014 RBLC advocacy calls are slated for July 14, August 11, September 8, October 13, November 10 and December 15.

Gabriel said the call will touch upon four issues, then open for questions, new issues and extended conversation for anyone who chooses to remain on the line. Each call will last about 30 minutes.

The inaugural call will focus on four issues: ethanol, work on the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, and an update on the Magnuson–Stevens reauthorization efforts and a European Union trade preference treaty that the NMMA is working on.

Gabriel said he hopes that people will come with questions.

“They’ll be some people on the call that will say, ‘Jeff, What is that?,” said Gabriel. “That’s great! I can give you a capsule in two minutes of what it is and why it’s important and where we are in the process of advocating.”

Ultimately, the goal is to keep momentum for the big push at the annual American Boating Congress.

“ABC really helps focus the attention of the community, and that gets the attention of public policy makers because this is a major industry that makes a lot of money and provides a lot of jobs,” said Gabirel.

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring the various committees in the RBLC including youth boating, diversity and marketing. Look for updates on affordability and education soon! 

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