Pork. Airports, highway projects, and other expensive projects lawmakers arrange for their constituency in exchange for votes, campaign dollars, and more.
It’s what one might expect on the menu when a group of 50 business leaders takes a pay-your-own-way trip to Capitol Hill. But not so, said Bob Balink, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of technology and international trade.
In this case, it’s the Chamber’s fourth annual Legislative Action Mission to Washington, D.C. The purpose of the trip is for local business executives to find out how to serve the government, Balink said.
The Colorado contingent is broken down into four teams: Army, Air Force, International, and Transportation/Business. Balink is chair of the Business Team. Each team met with appropriate counterparts in Washington to trade information and look for solutions.
The group had face-to-face meetings with some of the nation’s top lawmakers – including Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-MS. Lott is also chairperson of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“We’re definitely not here with our hats in our hands,” Balink said. “We’re saying, ‘how can we support your mission’ from our position as community leaders,” he added.
Chamber official Jeff Crank said he believes the trip is extremely valuable for Capitol Hill lawmakers and local officials.
“The meetings are important opportunities for federal agencies, foreign embassies and elected officials to explain their programs and positions, but more importantly, a chance for Colorado Springs community leaders to interact with them and let them know the issues concerning the Pikes Peak region,” Crank said.
Crank organized the event four years ago, realizing Colorado Springs was not strongly represented in military affairs in the Pentagon.
Militarily, the value of the meeting could be immense. The military is the driving force of the Colorado Springs economy. The Homeland Defense is of such critical importance since 9-11, that the location of a headquarters in Colorado Springs could result in a huge payoff. Location of such a defense would mean jobs and income.
“We think Colorado Springs is a great place (for the Homeland Defense headquarters),” Crank said.
Regarding Homeland Defense, Balink said, “Whatever we know today is only the tip of the biggest iceberg that ever existed.”
In meeting with Homeland Defense officials in Washington, Balink said the Colorado Springs contingent attempted to show that “we’re not just your ordinary group of citizens wanting to support you (federal government).” With NORAD as an anchor tenant in the nation’s current Homeland Defense strategy, reinforcing that position makes perfect sense, Balink said.
Finding a way to standardize homeland defense in 50 states is of critical importance. “Standardizing the information technology architecture is one of the biggest issues, and the discovery process is now underway,” said Balink. “We’re moving to another level with Homeland Security. It will get more important every day. We hope it doesn’t take another disaster to get back that sense of urgency.”
Additionally, the Colorado group met with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and on the final day will enjoy a breakfast with Senators Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and Representative Joel Hefley, all Republicans. Later the group will have lunch with, among others, Trent Lott.