For the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to accompany Gary and several of our members to the AICPA Council meeting held each May in Washington, D.C.
D.C. is one of my favorite places in the world despite all the Capitol Hill dysfunction. It’s beautiful, historic and I think there are people there truly willing to try to do their jobs. (I have to believe that or I would just cry.)
During the course of this meeting we get updates from the AICPA on a variety of professional issues. This year there was a focus on diversity initiatives, expansion of specialty credentials outside the U.S. and a daunting technical discussion of changes to the definition of attest. Our members who attend also make appointments to visit with our Indiana legislators, and that’s always an interesting experience.
Throughout the three-day meeting, we get to hear from a variety of U.S. representatives and senators that the AICPA works diligently to bring in. We also hear from pollsters, political pundits; what I call ‘nerd celebrities’ – people I get really excited to see that most people may not have heard of.
A good example would be Bob Schieffer host of the public affairs show Face the Nation – I love that show, I love that guy. He told the most amazing stories about his early days in journalism – scooping Barbara Walters on an interview, driving Lee Harvey Oswald’s mom from Fort Worth to Dallas on the day of the Kennedy assassination and ‘sort of’ impersonating a police officer so he could get an exclusive. His take on the current situation in Washington? He said there’s a lack of collegiality and that through gerrymandering many people get to Congress never having had to compromise. Because their districts are made up of people who think like they do and who donate to their campaigns, the need for listening to other views is limited. I felt this was evidenced by the number of legislators who spoke to the relatively diverse group representing CPAs from throughout the U.S. – they all started talking bipartisanship and getting things done, but almost always ended with outright name-calling in a way that makes it hard to believe they have any time to hear perspectives other than their own.
One Representative who spoke at the end of the Council meeting was Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.). He is a fiscally conservative Democrat (his words), a CPA and currently the youngest member of Congress. He told a story that struck me as hopeful. For his first attendance at a presidential State of the Union last February he invited a “date” to sit with him in an effort toward bipartisanship. He invited Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) who agreed as long as hand-holding wasn’t involved. He said they had a good time. He talked of sitting at the State of the Union in an area that was a sea of Tea Party members. It made standing to applaud the president from time to time rather – shall we say – awkward. But, he did it and when he told the story he had a smile on his face. He was part of a group of 40 Republicans and Democrats who donned “Stop Fighting, Start Fixing” pins at the State of the Union.
His words and his style hit me as extremely positive and I found myself encouraged. Then, a little voice inside said “he’ll get ruined.” Isn’t that terrible? I just couldn’t imagine he was going to be able to hang on to his optimism. I had to say something in that room of 300+ people so I walked to one of the microphones set up conveniently close to our table. I’m not sure why. It certainly wasn’t to see my face on the two gigantic screens on the stage (I hate that). It was because in that moment I believed him. I believed that he could make a difference and I wanted it to stay that way. I said thank you, but I also said “as you get more exposure you will get more opportunities. Please continue to walk the talk. And continue to stand in groups who don’t agree with you.” It’s only in this way that things will change. I hope he heard me. I think he did. I was seated near the door where he exited and he took the time to stop by, shake my hand and thank me. We shall see what happens, but I’m going to continue to think positively that Rep. Murphy and those like him are willing to try to do their jobs in Washington.