Craig Mackey Q&A: Greater merged efforts are needed to promote outdoors in Washington

Lobbyist says the biggest challenge is the balkanization within industry.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. 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

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Craig Mackey has been in politics and government affairs for 33 years.

He's represented outfitters and guides, including Outward Bound, the American Alpine Club and the American Mountain Guides Association. Engaged with the Outdoor Industry Association since its inception, he served as OIA’s director of government affairs before moving onto his next challenge earlier this year.

He is currently co-director of Protect the Flows, a business coalition working to keep the Colorado River healthy and flowing, and working with the Nantahala Outdoor Center to reinvigorate the Ocoee Whitewater Center, site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events.

A lot of Americans, including some in our industry, think “lobbying” is a dirty word. How do you deal with those sentiments?
Let’s take that one head-on: Every group, business or industry is a “special interest.” And, if you are not protecting your interests, you are not doing your job. Ninety percent of what a lobbyist does is educate elected officials and staff on your industry and issues. As the saying goes: “In D.C., if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” Outward Bound holds concessions contracts in national parks. When Congress rewrote the laws regulating service providers like the lodge in Yellowstone, my job was to ensure Congress knew non-profit outfitters like OB and NOLS were impacted by their work. Lobbying is all about building relationships. People think lobbying equates to money and, yes, corruption. Money plays a huge role in politics, but corruption is rare. As a lobbyist, my reputation is everything. If I mislead an official or their staff, the door to that office may well close forever.

Recreation and conservation should be bipartisan issues, but lately there has been a lot of gridlock. What’s the best way to unite the two sides of the aisle?
Our biggest challenge is the balkanization in our greater industry. We stay siloed by our interests and trade shows: Shot, Ski, Bike, OR shows. This fractured approach does two things: 1. The industry ends up competing against itself, and 2. Elected officials can pick and choose or work with the groups they know. Republicans lean toward habitat conservation, hunting, fishing, boating and motorized. Democrats lean more to resource protection, wilderness and open space. OIA’s work on the recreation economy has had a unifying effect. To get our seat at the table, the greater outdoor industry must present — and policy makers must see us — as one large, sustainable, American industry. We are making progress on that front. Recreation on the Colorado River alone equates to 230,000 jobs. Let’s add it up, go to Washington or Sacramento, and tell the story.

Tell us about some of your nonprofit work with the National Forest Foundation or other outdoor groups.
NGOs and non-profits play increasing roles in managing our public lands and waters and providing quality outdoor experiences. I represent and collaborate with many public lands organizations. I helped write the Leave No Trace principles — 20 years and going strong for LNT. At the Forest Foundation I sit on the Grants Committee, providing funding for trail and habitat restoration or youth corps work on our forests.

What can — or should — outdoor retailers or manufacturers be doing locally to engage on policy matters?
The place to start is locally — and most companies/people in this industry do support a land trust or trail day. The keys are seeing those efforts as critical to your business, thinking strategically and taking the next step. The next time your employees go build trail, invite a newspaper reporter, the mayor or your local congressional staff to join you. Talk about the industry and your business and what makes them thrive.

What’s one of your favorite things about coming to Outdoor Retailer?
That’s easy: the energy and innovation in this industry. Two years ago, I helped bring Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to OR. He is one of us — grew up in the slot canyons of Utah, 20 years with Outward Bound, world-class climber. Mark thought he knew this industry. Two hours on the floor opened his eyes to the energy of today’s outdoor industry.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy the outdoors, and how has that informed your career?
The backcountry. My grandfather taught my dad to canoe the wilds of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada. My dad taught me. On July 4, I was in Colorado’s Flattops Wilderness with my wife and 19-year-old daughter. Priceless. My career has been about protecting special places and making sure people are able to enjoy them, hopefully in a responsible manner. I am proud of my work lobbying with outfitters, guides and this industry. America’s public lands and waters are the envy of the world. They are assets to be managed, enjoyed and passed on. Find a way to engage your business and employees. We will all profit.

--Megan Mulligan

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