In 1941, the electric cooperative program in Arkansas was in its infancy. As the cooperatives struggled to gain footing, they also faced pressures from opponents of the program, primarily large investor-owned utilities that didn't want the competition. To deal with this challenging time, the cooperatives joined together to create the Arkansas State Electric Cooperative, Inc. (ASECI).
That association is known today as Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (AECI). It is a non-profit cooperative owned by the state’s 17 electric distribution cooperatives and as it did at its inception, it continues to help the cooperatives in the political arena. That job is the responsibility of the Governmental Affairs Division, which is headed by Carmie Henry, vice president of governmental affairs.
"Any company that does what we do and has the assets that we have and operates the way we do has got to be involved in the political process," said Henry, who worked as an aide to former Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., before joining AECI in 1997.
At the state level, Henry and AECI represent all of the state's electric cooperatives.
"The electric cooperative may be in Ashley County, but we are projecting that cooperative to the Legislature," Henry said. "And we try to do it in a positive way and try to let the lawmakers know that we are out there serving people and they need to help us do that."
At the national level, AECI works hand in hand with NRECA to get the cooperatives' message to congressmen and senators. To make sure that the message is heard by both state and national lawmakers, Henry said the cooperatives have to work hard to develop good relationships with them. To develop these relationships, Henry attends conferences for lawmakers, as well as committee meetings that take place year-round. He provides information on bills to legislators during the legislative sessions and also hosts fundraisers for candidates. In addition, AECI co-hosts a political candidate school to provide candidates with tips on campaigning. And each spring, Henry coordinates the annual Legislative Rally to Washington for the state's cooperatives. During the rally, cooperative representatives meet with the state's congressional delegation to discuss issues of importance to the cooperatives and their members.
These relationships also help determine which candidates the cooperatives will support with campaign contributions from its political action committee, the Action Committee for Rural Electrification (ACRE).
"We are in governmental affairs to win issues, not to compromise away our beliefs, not to somehow get along to go along," Henry said. "We are not looking to draw the line in the sand on everything; we draw the line in the sand on things that are important to us. When we are right, we just stick with it and win."