The Agents Advocacy Coalition committee elected Fred Holender, CLU, CPCU, ChFC, MSFS, of Lawley Insurance in Buffalo, as its new chair. Fred—whose term as the political action committee’s chair began Oct. 1, 2021—is a past president of PIANY, he is involved actively in the association’s Government Affairs Committee and he is a Gold Club Agents Advocacy Coalition donor. He is an active participant in the district office visit program during which independent agents meet with their local state representatives to discuss PIANY’s legislative priorities. All of the political knowledge Fred has gained through his involvement with PIANY makes him an excellent choice to lead Agents Advocacy Coalition.
Recently, PIA Northeast PAC Coordinator & Public Policy Analyst Katherine Slye-Hernandez, Ph.D., chatted with Fred to learn more about him, his political experiences and his goals for Agents Advocacy Coalition for the 2021-22 administrative year.
Q. What are your goals for your term as chair of Agents Advocacy Coalition? How are you looking to make a difference?
A. Agents Advocacy Coalition was formed to raise funds to support delegates and candidates who impact the insurance industry’s legislative initiatives. I believe that we should make a concerted effort to not only raise funds, but also to raise people. They can go hand-in-hand, but if we can show that we have a large percentage of our membership contributing to the PAC—regardless of the amount—we can make a meaningful impact in Albany. The more people involved, the greater the funding, which results in the opportunity to support more candidates.
We are coming into an election year, and we want to support those who support the independent agency system. We have to stand up for ourselves first—if we don’t support our own industry, how can we ask others to support us? I’ve been an independent agent for 47 years. Although the tools we use in business have changed dramatically, the issues we face every day have not. Our job is never finished.
Q. You have a lot of experience working with the PIANY Government Affairs Committee and the district office visit program. What experience do you think will help you the most as you lead Agents Advocacy Coalition this year?
A. I began making individual district office visits in 2008 when I was asked to join the Western New York Regional Advisory Committee. The late Henry Kaye, CIC—a past president of PIANY—invited me to join him on these visits. Tony Kubera—a PIANY past president from Western New York—also encouraged me to get involved. I found that visiting delegates in their local offices offered us the opportunity to present PIANY’s agenda away from the chaos of lobby Tuesdays in Albany. The Western New York region includes 12 Assembly members and six senators. I make it a point to arrange face-to-face visits with each of them, whether in person or via video conferencing, which we have done often in 2021.
My approach is to present the PIANY legislative priorities from one of two perspectives:
- If we are asking for support of an industry initiative, there is always a compelling public policy benefit.
- If we are asking for support for the agent community, it always is revenue neutral.
Many legislative aides have told me that they enjoy our visits because we never ask for funding. We are never shy about asking for sponsorship or cosponsorship of the bills we prioritize, and many times we receive that support.
These experiences reinforce the value of having an active PAC. Even though Agents Advocacy Coalition cannot give to all of its delegates, the relationships I formed are never impacted adversely by where Agents Advocacy Coalition prioritizes its distributions.
Q. Can you talk a little about your personal experience in Buffalo politics?
A. My personal experience is limited to acquaintances with local politicians whom I meet through business connections, or at local receptions and fundraisers. I have never run for public office; nor do I intend to do so. I feel I can make a bigger impact by working with people on specific issues, regardless of party affiliation.
Q. You often say Upstate New York agents should care about downstate insurance issues, and vice versa, even if they do not experience them personally. Why do you think that is important, especially as we come into the 2022 election year?
A. Insurance legislation and regulation tends to be enforced globally, even if it was enacted due to a regional issue. If we want to add to or clarify a piece of legislation—such as our hurricane trigger definition bill—we have to speak with one voice, even though it is primarily a downstate issue. If we want to reduce or eliminate the impact of an existing regulation, as we successfully did with the anti-arson application requirement in Buffalo and Rochester, the fact that we have made progress upstate can help move the needle downstate.
We never know when we will need statewide support and it is important that we are supporting the entire agency force consistently, regardless of the impact of any specific issue.
Q. What would you say to someone who asked you why they should donate to Agents Advocacy Coalition?
A. I began supporting Agents Advocacy Coalition in 2012 when I became a PIANY committee member and learned about the role of the PAC. My participation was reinforced as I became more involved with local District Office Visits.
Donations to Agents Advocacy Coalition are pooled with other agents’ contributions, thereby leveraging our impact considerably more than an individual contribution to a single legislator. It behooves our industry to speak consistently with one voice.
Q. Does Agents Advocacy Coalition support candidates from both parties and what does the PAC committee consider when deciding which candidates to support?
A. Agents Advocacy Coalition supports candidates of any political party. The key determinant of whether it will support a specific legislator or candidate, is the person’s support for the insurance industry and industry bills. Additionally, we consider leadership of individuals—are they on either chamber’s insurance committee? Are they involved with party leadership?
Generally, Agents Advocacy Coalition supports campaign committees (e.g., Democrat/Republican Assembly/Senate campaign committees), more so that the party can decide where the support is best utilized.
Q. What is something most PIANY and NY-YIP members don’t know or understand about Agents Advocacy Coalition that you want them to know?
A. Agents Advocacy Coalition is not a lobbying organization. It supports the efforts of the PIANY Government Affairs Committee, the Roffe Group (the association’s lobbyist) and our PIANY member volunteers who meet with New York state Assembly and state Senate delegates.
Also, Agents Advocacy Coalitions is a state PAC—it does not support national or local candidates.
Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez, Ph.D.
Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez received her Ph.D. in political science from the State University of Albany, Albany, N.Y., in May 2020. She also has her Master of Arts from SUNY Albany and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Elmira College, Elmira, N.Y.