At the Big I Legislative Conference Emerging Leaders Luncheon on April 27 in Washington, D.C., Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa) chatted with Charles Symington, Big I Senior Vice President of External, Industry and Government Affairs, about his experience as an independent agent, the value of InsurPac in catapulting emerging leaders into leaders and how Big "I" members can more effectively advocate for issues crucial to the independent agency channel.
The Emerging Leaders Luncheon kicked off the first in-person Big I Legislative Conference in three years. The event recognized “the achievements of our states and individual agents for their excellence in the political arena," Symington said. “But it's also to bring in those quintessential rising stars from Congress. We have a perfect example of one of those members today in Congressman Randy Feenstra."
As a former independent insurance agent, Rep. Feenstra credits the relationships he built when serving his local business community and from being a member of the Big I as essential for his work in politics.
As an insurance agent, building relationships with clients and businesses provided the foundations that “really perpetuated me to run for office," Rep. Feenstra told Symington. “I ran for county office, state office and the federal office. But then there's those people that surrounded me, from that small business to the families; they knew me and they trusted me, saying, 'Hey, look, he did a great job at the insurance agency. I trust him.' And that's how they advocated for me."
While serving in the Iowa State Senate, Rep. Feenstra took on the challenge of running against incumbent Steve King for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the wake of King's widely-condemned remarks, Rep. Feenstra described how a colleague brought him into a conference room filled with a dozen Iowa business owners who asked him to run for the seat.
“That was a challenge taking on an incumbent," Rep. Feenstra said. But he noted he didn't take on the challenge alone. “I had all these relationships, especially with the Big I and different agents."
“When you start running for federal office, those are all the people you need—you need those connectors," he said. “And the Big 'I' was one of the first organizations who supported me."
Both the clout of InsurPac and the Big I Iowa grassroots campaign propelled Rep. Feenstra into office as a voice for independent agents and small businesses. “We had agents financially supporting me, door knocking, getting involved," Rep. Feenstra said, adding that the Big “I" is “probably one of the best organizations for interconnectedness."
Rep. Feenstra and Symington reminisced about their first meeting when Rep. Feenstra came to Washington, D.C. to get InsurPac support. “Charles, it's so critical that you got in," Rep. Feenstra said. “You were one of my first meetings and I'll never forget that. The relationship and the bond we have today is just phenomenal."
As far as priorities for his first term, “I sit on the agricultural committee," Rep. Feenstra said. “I have one of the largest agricultural communities in the country." Another key issue is producer price transparency, as well as managing the $30 trillion in national debt.
Looking ahead, a passion for Feenstra lies in the area of the House Committee on Ways and Means. “I was chair of Ways and Means in the Iowa Senate," he continued, pointing out that as a former small business owner, many issues discussed in the Ways and Means Committee impact not only agencies but the businesses they insure—from like-kind exchange to capital gains.
It's so important that we look at those things," Rep. Feenstra said. “And then you go downstream, whether it be trade—a lot of trade issue policies happen in Ways and Means—and then also health, most health policies happen in Ways and Means."
In his work on Capitol Hill, Rep. Feenstra partners closely with the Big I federal government affairs team. “We like to say that the Big I plays above the rim when it comes to advocacy," Symington said, referencing the departments unrivalled three-prong advocacy approach: grassroots campaigns, InsurPac fundraising and the Big I government affairs team who are constantly working with Congress in the interests of independent agents and brokers.