Reid Ribble knows what it’s like to be frustrated with Congress. For three decades he was president of the Ribble Group in Kaukauna, Wis., a commercial and residential roofing company. He is also a former president of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). He knows firsthand the ways government can make it tougher to run a business. Eventually Ribble got so fed up with the way things worked in Washington he decided to run for Congress and change things from the inside.
In 2010, running as a Republican, Ribble was elected to the House as the representative of Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District. Congressman Ribble recently took some time out in between votes to talk to Roofing Contractorabout his road to Congress, his priorities on the Hill and his current re-election effort.
Ribble points to his family as the motivation behind his decision to run for office. “For me, it all starts with the fact that I now have grandchildren,” he said. “And I am concerned about the future for my grandchildren. We all recognize that we are on an unsustainable trajectory with our nation’s debt and deficit spending. And it didn’t seem to me that my voice was really being heard.”
“I looked at the problem like a business guy does,” he continued. “There are 535 members of Congress. This, at the end of the day, is a people problem. My member of Congress is part of the problem, not part of the solution, so I can choose to do one of two things: I can do what I’ve always done — write checks to political candidates to try to take this person out, or I can get in the game myself. And I just felt it was time for me to pick up the mantle and go do this myself. For the sake of my kids and my grandkids and every future generation of America that’s looking for leadership out of this country, I decided to try and do this.”
Running for Office
Fundraising is the most difficult part of campaigning, noted Ribble. It’s especially difficult for someone who has never run for office before. “A lot of people pooh-poohed me, didn’t believe I could do it,” he recalled. “I was fortunate that I had so many friends in the roofing industry that knew me and knew of me that helped me get kick-started and offered advice and counsel.”
Ribble believed the public was just as cynical about politicians as he was, so his strategy was to connect with voters by being truthful with them. “If people ask me a question, I answer in a genuine, honest way,” he said. “If people ask my position on a topic, I answer them honestly. I’ve found that even when they disagree, people appreciate the fact that you were honest with them.”
When the votes were tallied, Ribble was victorious — and the really hard work began. “I was lucky enough to win my election, but it really is the fact that I believe our responsibility as the adults in our society is to pass on a country to the next generation of America that offers more liberty, more prosperity and more economic opportunity than the country we received from our parents. And I have to tell you, I don’t meet many people who believe we are going to do that. In fact, most people believe we are not going to do that. And that’s a shame. And I could no longer personally sit on the sidelines and watch that happen to my grandkids. I couldn’t do it.”
When he arrived in Washington, he realized the situation was even worse than he imagined, and Congress was at the heart of the problem. Ribble found the people charged with fixing the nation’s problems were mired in a system that was dysfunctional and filled with “busy work.” “I didn’t realize how ineffectual Congress itself is,” he said. “The first thing we have to do is fix the problems institutionalized within Congress.”
He pointed to the fact that Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano reports to more than 100 committees as an example. “How does she get any work done? And how does Congress get any work done? The operation of Congress has to be fundamentally changed.”
Along with fellow Republican Scott Rigell and Democrats Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Ribble has formed a bipartisan committee named the Fix Congress Now Caucus to explore ways to improve the institution. “People ought to be offended that the Congress can’t even pass a budget. How is it that we can all get paid but not pass a budget? These are the structural problems that need to be corrected.”
“We believe that the Congress owes the people a budget each and every budget cycle and therefore we have sponsored legislation that says, ‘No budget, no pay.’ If the congress doesn’t pass a budget, members of Congress don’t get paid. Now these are the types of things that get all my colleagues nervous, but they are the types of things that we need to talk about.”
Legislation and Regulation
Ribble noted his experience as a roofing contractor has made him cautious when it comes to legislation. “I spent a lifetime being legislated and regulated against,” he said. “One of my criticisms of government is there is too much regulation. Part of my core philosophy is that we don’t need more legislation and regulation.”
Ribble pointed to recent changes in OSHA’s fall-protection directives as an example. He opposed the new residential fall protection directive, but notes he would have supported it had the rule included an exception for repairs. “In this case, the organization designed to make the workplace safer actually made it more dangerous,” he said. “They were promulgating a rule that increased the risk of danger.”
He explained that in a situation such as a minor repair of a chimney flashing, for example, instead of taking 10 minutes, the job could include hours of setup. “It’s all about exposure minutes to risk,” he said. “If you increase the time it takes to do the job, you increase the risk of danger.”
More often than not, according to Ribble, government just gets in the way of economic growth. “The administration — now this goes to the executive branch — has promulgated roughly 85,000 pages of new rules in the last year,” he said. “In the last year. And so when you look at the number of new rules and regulations, every one of those requires a business owner to respond to it. I often hear my colleagues across the aisle who disagree with me say the problem isn’t rules and regulations, the problem is demand. And the point that I try to make to them is every time you add a new rule, a business owner has to respond to it. You could use that OSHA fall protection rule as an example. If a repair that costs $100 prior to the rule costs $400 after the rule, there are fewer people who can afford that repair just by virtue of it costing $300 more. So every single rule has a price component to it because every cost is passed on to the consumer.”
Those costs add up. “And we now have this cumulative effect over decades of time, tens of thousands of pages of new rules and regulations that have built up and raised the cost of projects including roofing to consumers. So there are fewer consumers who can afford the current roofing. So that’s why demand is affected by rules.”
Spending and Taxes
Ribble wanted to serve on the committees that had the greatest impact on his district, and was fortunate in his assignments. He currently serves on the Budget Committee, Agriculture Committee and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
He points to the deficit as a top priority. “We’re in a spending-driven crisis,” he said. But Ribble isn’t averse to examining the revenue side of the equation as well.
“We have to put the country on a path to sustainability,” he said. “We also have to reform the whole tax code. And I mean throw the whole code out and start over.”
He urges contractors to get involved and make their voices heard.
“I’ll tell you, it’s meaningful to me when someone tells me the government has been so intrusive that I’ve had to take two or three days of work away from my business to come here and appeal to my member of congress. Yesterday I was with a group of national electrical contractors association that came in to see me and I was struck by how large the group was and the fact that they felt they had to come here in order to get the government off their backs. And the message they delivered to me was ‘Can’t you people just leave us alone?’ And that’s a similar message I hear when the roofing contractors come. The government has intruded so much on virtually every aspect of society. If members in the roofing industry came and shadowed me for a day, they would be struck by how many different industries and trade groups and constituencies show up. So the government’s got their fingers in virtually everything.”
“That’s not to say there’s not a place for government,” he continued. “There is a place, and our Constitution defines what the role of the government is. And the closer we can live within that framework, I believe, the better off all of us will be.”
Message to the Roofing Industry
Ribble’s message to his friends in the roofing industry is this: “Don’t get discouraged, get involved. Don’t be dismayed by what you see, but take action to make it better. Do something. Help some candidate, some member of Congress, help me. Be engaged in the process. Don’t get so cynical that you no longer think anything can happen, because when cynicism drives everything you do, then nothing will happen. Cynicism leads to complacency and apathy. Even though I’m cynical, I’m constantly measuring my cynicism and trying to direct it and drive it to help me cause things to change. And so, now is the time. Now is literally the time to help save this country. And there is nobody better able and better prepared to be engaged in this struggle and this work than the small business owners of America who are really the lifeblood and life stream of this economy.”
Ribble is currently running for re-election, and conventional wisdom is that winning the first re-election campaign is even harder than getting elected the first time. His goals, however, are the same. “I just want to make life better for everybody — a little bit better — and maybe tomorrow maybe we can make it a little bit better still,” he said.
“Every American can do something, including supporting individuals they feel have their interests at heart. If we change the people in Congress, we can correct things. Help me do those things that Americans want done.” For more information about Congressman Reid Ribble, or to offer support for his re-election campaign, visit http://ribble.house.gov/.