2006 National Elections: Changing of the Guard
2006 National Elections: Changing of the Guard
The Nov. 7 election that sent more than 30 House and Senate Republicans packing won’t likely stop progress on the National Association of REALTORS®’ legislative agenda.
“Our issues have always had wide bipartisan appeal,” says Jerry Giovaniello, NAR chief lobbyist, “so we are very well placed to see progress on keeping banks out of real estate, working to get affordable health care coverage for small businesses, and ensuring adequate availability of insurance in disaster-prone areas.”
A number of NAR-supported incumbents lost their bid for reelection, but NAR also chalked up some key wins. In Illinois, freshman Melissa Bean, a Democrat, solidly retained her seat in the state’s Eighth Congressional District. Bean, a staunch supporter of REALTORS®’ issues, was considered one of the most at-risk Democrats because of her short tenure in the House.
“Rep. Bean has been a great ally,” says John Harrison, chair of the REALTORS® Political Action Committee, which contributed funds to Bean’s campaign and also gave her support through the NAR Opportunity Race program and Independent Expenditure program.
Under the Opportunity Race program, NAR sends REALTORS® educational and get-out-the vote materials in support of an RPAC-backed candidate in their district. The Independent Expenditure Program is aimed at the general public. In Bean’s district, the IE program funded radio ads and direct mail.
Bank fight continues
Bean was part of a Democratic sweep in the November elections. The Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in a dozen years, claiming 29 new seats, including that of key NAR supporter Anne Northup, R-Ky. Two days after the election, Democrats won a majority of the Senate as well, after a close race in Virginia went to Democratic challenger Jim Webb.
Northup, who lost narrowly to newspaper publisher John Yarmuth, has been a champion of keeping banks out of real estate. Each year she has authored legislation that put a one-year hold on a proposal by the U.S. Department of Treasury and Federal Reserve that would allow banks to own real estate brokerages and property management companies.
NAR conducted a get-out-the-vote drive and media campaign touting Northup’s efforts to protect consumers by keeping banks out of real estate—but the campaign wasn’t enough. Northup was edged out, winning 48 percent of the vote to Yarmuth’s 51 percent.
“Rep. Northup has been a courageous leader on our behalf,” says Adorna Carroll, RPAC fundraising chair. “We’re proud of our support for her.”
NAR leaders are hopeful that the pieces are in place for Congress to keep banks out of real estate permanently. The Community Choice in Real Estate Act (H.R. 111), the NAR-backed bill that would prohibit bank-owned brokerages, had 259 House cosponsors in early November, well more than a majority.
What’s more, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who’s in line to chair the House Financial Services Committee, is expected to allow the bill to come up for a vote in the committee. The committee’s outgoing chair, Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, has repeatedly blocked a vote on the bill.
“All we’ve ever asked for is a chance to have the bill voted on by members of Congress,” says 2007 NAR President Pat Vredevoogd Combs.
Another backer of NAR’s goal to keep banks out of real estate, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), currently chairs the Senate Banking Committee. However, with the Senate now under Democratic control, he’ll become the ranking member on the committee and lose his chairmanship.
Changed landscape on health plans
Among the seats that changed hands in the Senate was that of Missouri Republican Jim Talent. NAR had tapped its Opportunity Race and Independent Expenditure programs on behalf of Talent, a backer of NAR-supported small-business health plans. But the senator lost a squeaker to Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill. With 98 percent of the Missouri precincts reporting, McCaskill had 49 percent of the vote to Talent’s 48 percent.
“Sen. Talent believed affordable health insurance for the small-business person was long overdue,” says Combs.
With Democrats controlling the House and the Senate in 2007, the environment for securing passage of small-business health plans will be very different than it was this year, when lawmakers in the Senate narrowly missed getting the bill up for a vote. Still, NAR leaders believe lawmakers won’t be able to ignore the needs of tens of thousands of independent contractors and small businesses seeking access to affordable insurance.
“Making affordable insurance available to our small-business people isn’t a Republican or a Democratic issue,” says 2006 NAR President Thomas M. Stevens.
On the positive side, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who helped move small-business health plan legislation near passage, won his race, receiving strong support from REALTORS®, NAR used television commercials and direct mail to urge Nebraskans to cast their vote for Nelson, calling him a legislator with a reputation for working with senators from both sides of the aisle.
The new leadership
In both the House and the Senate, lawmakers supportive of NAR’s legislative agenda are positioned to oversee crucial committees. In the House, in addition to Frank heading up the Financial Services Committee, Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is expected to chair the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
“Rep. Rangel has a history of staunch support for tax laws that recognize the importance of home ownership in our economy,” says Giovaniello. “We look forward to working with him.”
Because Florida Republican Clay Shaw was defeated, Jim McCrery, R-La., is likely to be the tax-writing panel’s ranking minority member. McCrery will also bring a commitment to protecting a fair tax environment for real estate, NAR analysts say.
Finally, with Ohio’s Oxley retiring after this term, Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., and Richard Baker, R-La., are the two top candidates to lead the minority on the Financial Services Committee. Bachus is a solid supporter of many NAR initiatives; Baker has made his mark as a watchdog over secondary mortgage market giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
To see which candidates NAR supported in the elections, visit the Current Links at REALTOR.org/realtormag.
Antitrust battleground evolves
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has denied NAR’s motion to dismiss the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against its Internet listing display policy. NAR remains confident of prevailing as the case proceeds, however. “We’re in for a hard battle, but we’re committed to preserving brokers’ rights and the integrity of the MLS,” NAR’s 2006 President Thomas M. Stevens said after the decision in October.
NAR argued for dismissal because the government sued over provisions in a policy that had been rescinded and replaced by one that’s clearly competitive. In the revised policy, the “opt-out” provisions, which the DOJ singled out as a concern, allow brokers to decide unilaterally whether to authorize the display of their listings on competitors’ Web sites.
NAR does see signs that the federal government wants to work with it on other anticompetitiveness concerns. In October, after a handful of local MLSs entered into consent decrees with the Federal Trade Commission to change their handling of exclusive-agency listings on publicly accessible Internet sites, the FTC agreed to discuss the issue with NAR. “We’re happy to learn that the FTC is looking to work with NAR on this,” says Stevens.
The consent decrees, including one entered into by the Austin (Texas) Board of REALTORS® earlier this year, require MLSs to stop removing exclusive-agency listings from some Internet data feeds created for posting on public Web sites. The FTC claims that exclusive-agency listings are commonly used by alternative brokers to give sellers the right to sell their own home without paying a commission.
The FTC is pursuing antitrust lawsuits against two other MLSs—one operated by a REALTOR® association and the other operated privately—that are maintaining their policy on exclusive-agency listings rather than entering into consent decrees.