Biz Leaders Express Hopes, Concerns re Trump
On the eve of the inauguration, business leaders are looking ahead to what the new administration portends. Lifelong Republican Richard Hunt, President & CEO of the Consumer Bankers Association, is consistently ranked among the top industry leaders and "people to watch" when it comes to business advocacy in Washington. We caught up with him after a speech to Women in Housing and Finance.
You represent most of America's well-known banks. What do your members think of the election results?
To say it was a shock on election night is 100% true. What we have found from our membership is a thirst for information. We’re doing more membership calls and more communication than ever, because [Trump’s victory] was so unexpected. So even though we think it’s in the best interest of the banking industry for the Republicans to be in control of the House and Senate, and for a Republican to be in charge of the White House, this is not a typical Republican, this is not going to be a typical Republican president. The fact that we have a president that tweets nonstop is in and of itself different for everyone. We have our work cut out for us. It is better than the alternative, no question, but it’s a different set of problems and concerns. But most of the people in the banking industry know this is an opportunity to right-size, balance regulation. We’re not trying to eliminate the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] CFPB or Dodd-Frank, we’re trying to perfect it all. We need to have good consumer protection. We’re looking at the next 20 years of regulation. Not just the next two years of a political life.
One thing that’s breathtaking is the unconventionality of the appointees. It’s one thing to say, “These people from Goldman Sachs are really going to understand the financial sector.” But what about policy? These are big bureaucracies to run. Governing is difficult.
Historically, Washington and the establishment in industry usually know the winner of the presidential race pretty well. We know their philosophy, we know their close aides, we know what their agenda is going to be. So yes, this is 180 degrees from that scenario. Of the 20 people President-elect Trump has put forward, I may know two. This is totally run out of New York, not Washington. That is different for us all, as well. The one thing I would say about the appointments so far, most of these people come from job-creating industries. Most of his nominees have been in the private sector and understand what it means to meet payroll. They’re not academics, they’re not philosophers, they’re not from think tanks. I do believe this, though. This president has a very close inner circle. I think this president is going to control things more so than a lot of other people may have in the past. Although he says he’ll be a CEO-type president. I hope he relies on [House Speaker] Paul Ryan, I hope he relies on [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell. These people have been working on various plans from health care to tax reform to financial regulatory reform for most of the last seven years. So most of the plans are ready to go. I hope Trump doesn’t come in here and try to change all these plans. I hope he does act like more of a CEO than hands-on.
You’re a big fan of Paul Ryan.
I am. He is one of the only, if not the only member of Congress, to whom I would say, “Paul, whatever you decide on any issue, I would support.” Because I’ve known Paul since he came to Congress and before he came to Congress. He put his head down. He’s a very studious individual, became very substantive. He’s not a political hack. And sometimes we were mad at him for not doing the political end of things, like raising money for the party or raising money for himself and helping out. He had more fun studying that anything else. So he would sit down with members of Congress and even staffers to pick their brains about the tax code, about health care. Fun to Paul Ryan is holding meetings at union halls. That’s what he likes to do on weekends, besides hunting and fishing, pulling for the Green Bay Packers. He’s just a very studious individual.
You spent some time in Congress.
Yes, as a staffer. Don’t insult me by saying I was a member.
How is it different on Capitol Hill now?
It’s night and day different. Cable news has changed everything.
How did you get interested in politics?
I think when you’re from Louisiana, you’re born with it. It was part of our everyday life. We all knew our mayor, we all knew our governor.
Was it a mix of Democrats and Republicans?
It was all Democrats.
So why did you become a Republican?
Jimmy Carter is the simple answer. I hate to say that it was a negative. But I saw Jimmy Carter. I didn’t like where the country was going, and this guy came along named Ronald Reagan. I saw my mother refinance her house with a 13% mortgage rate and go and celebrate it by buying a cake at Piggly Wiggly because we could now afford it. Ronald Reagan had the vision that we could have less government not more. We should have more entrepreneurs, not less. Let the small business person get out there and take a risk. Let the government get out of the way. That’s been my core philosophy. So my entire family – every single one of them historically were Democrats. In the decades since then nearly everyone has turned to the Republican Party, because the Democratic Party went left on them.
You’re married to a Democrat. Some people might say that that sets a good example, because it shows an openness to a different philosophy.
That's a stretch. We’re not extremists. I wouldn’t call myself a Ted Cruz Republican. She is not a Nancy Pelosi Democrat. But it was very interesting at my house on election night.
Does it help you to be married to somebody who comes from a different political perspective, to inform your own thinking?
You have to understand each person’s point of view. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to take it. But you should at least understand where they’re coming from.
Scott Fisher, Managing Director at Treliant Risk Advisors, asked me to ask you where you got your love of the Redskins.
(Richard laughs.) You mean the Cowboys.
He said the Redskins.
I hate to use the word the “hate.” That’s as far as I’m going to go…I think it’s the obligation of every American to be a fan of America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.
Tell me about your parents.
My mother worked as a nurse in the emergency room for 31 years and my father was a flight instructor, teaching people how to fly. So I grew up in a single wide trailer on the grounds of an airport next to the prison farm. I loved every minute of it. I didn’t know we didn’t have it nice. I thought everyone lived that way -- having prisoners as your friends, playing basketball with prisoners, and flying every day.
Have your politics changed over the years?
I don’t think so. I love people who take risks. My sister was an air traffic controller who got fired by Reagan. She remains the only Democrat in the family. She opened up her own small business – exterior/interior gardening. She’s been running it for 30 years. She says every single day is a struggle. It’s tough to be a small business person in this climate. Health care, minimum wage. So I’m very proud of her. She’s also one of my heroes in life.
So your politics haven’t changed at all.
Maybe my tactics have changed. Understanding the other side. I thought it was black and white, you’re either a Democrat or Republican. Maybe more of an appreciation of where the Democrats are coming from. I get it, I just don’t agree with it.
Do you have any advice for President-elect Trump and his government?
Compromise is not an ugly word. You don’t have to look at the other person as your enemy. You don’t have to tear someone else down to succeed. And you better have a thick skin in this town. This is politics. This is governing. It’s not easy. It’s hard. Someone might have a difference of opinion with you. So be it. You just move on…
Thank you, Richard.
You can follow Richard Hunt on Twitter at @cajunbanker and learn more at ConsumerBankers.com.