Kirk Bailey Q&A: OIA beefs up its presence and influence in nation’s capital

In May, the Outdoor Industry Association hired Kirk Bailey as its vice president of government affairs, opening up the first office for the trade group in Washington, D.C. SNEWS caught up with the industry's new man on Capitol Hill at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

In May, the Outdoor Industry Association hired Kirk Bailey as its vice president of government affairs, opening up the first office for the trade group in Washington, D.C.

Bailey will coordinate OIA's advocacy efforts nationwide, overseeing its engagement with political candidates and educating and mobilizing the industry to be effective advocates for the outdoors.

An attorney with more than 14 years of experience, Bailey has worked for senators, representatives, city officials and organizations on government relations, advocacy and strategy.

He tells us that the outdoor industry needs to make a greater push in politics and suggests how to go about it.

Why is it important for OIA to have an office in Washington, D.C.?

The Congress and federal government make decisions every day that impact outdoor industry companies and employees, whether they know it or not. Congress imposes taxes on our products as they come in to the United States, they cut funding for parks, trails and waterways that reduce recreational opportunities for our customers, and they set rules on internet commerce that impact large and small outdoor retailers, to name only a few examples. OIA's government affairs staff serves as the industry's eyes and ears in Washington and identifies how and when to engage the industry. Without our efforts, the industry would be missing important policy developments, if not flying blind.

What outdoor messages are most popular with politicians today and why? What outdoor topics aren’t resonating well with most of Washington? How can the industry improve those messages?

In this difficult economic environment, politicians are concerned with jobs, jobs, jobs. Fortunately, OIA’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Report highlights the fact that our industry directly supports more than 6.1 million U.S. jobs, which is a message that resonates well in Washington. We must tell this story. Outdoor companies can help by meeting with their public officials, hosting elected officials at their place of business and making the case that the outdoor industry is a significant economic sector and an American success story. In addition, participation by youth in outdoor activities is particularly popular among members of Congress and policy-makers, primarily because everyone can agree that children playing outside is a good thing. Ironically, the Congress continues to cut recreation and public lands programs that serve those very youth.

What issues does the industry need to pay better attention to?

All of them. On the trade front, we need the industry's help advancing a balanced trade agenda that represents the diversity of our membership, from domestic manufacturers through those who utilize global value chains, and one that doesn’t suppress job creation, stifle innovation or increase the cost of outdoor products for American families. On the recreation side, we need the industry to be fierce advocates for a national outdoor recreation system that supports our $646 billion industry and 6.1 million jobs.

What can outdoor retailers, manufacturers and reps do to help with those issues?

As something of a newcomer to the industry but an experienced lobbyist, the first thing I've noticed is a relative lack of political and policy engagement from an industry that is so large and passionate. We all need to raise our game. I need to make it easy for the industry to engage and help members target the right policymakers at the right time. Retailers, manufacturers, reps, employees, even customers need to respond, engage with their elected officials, and be the face of the outdoor industry. While I can access policymakers, they really want to hear from their constituents. So, my question is: When will you meet with your senator or representative, and how can I help?

Can you name names ... from your point of view, who are the biggest outdoor supporters in Washington?

The outdoor industry is fortunate to have many strong supporters like Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio); as well as Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), and Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.). There are many others who deserve equal recognition. With each of these champions, the industry has developed a true working relationship that started with industry leaders from their states and districts. Despite a strong cadre of supporters there is considerable work to be done educating Washington policymakers about our industry. In fact, any member of Congress who enjoys being outside — whether hiking, fishing, cycling, camping or hunting — can support our industry’s issues and we need to cultivate them as future champions for the outdoor industry.

--David Clucas


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