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National Restaurant Association - Political involvement eases political access

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Political involvement eases political access

With a background in beverage production, Kevin Settles didn’t intend to be involved in daily restaurant operations when he bought into Bardenay Restaurants and Distilleries 14 years ago. He set up the distilleries, worked with bar staff and helped with the books.

But by the end of the second year, Settles had bought out the other partners, brought costs under control and became a hands-on operator.

“I’m glad that I did,” he says. “I really enjoy it.”

Since then, he’s added two locations to Boise, Idaho, company and employs about 180 people. The National Restaurant Association board member recently became chairman of the Restaurant Political Action Committee.

For Settles, getting involved in politics was almost a family obligation. His mother volunteered at the polls, and politics was a regular topic for discussion around the house.  But he took participation a step further when he became a business owner.

When he moved to Boise, got involved in the Idaho Lodging & Restaurant Association. Bardenay’s primary location is three blocks from the state capitol, and Settles began testifying on restaurant issues, such as taxes or alcohol regulations.

“Now I’m a well-known commodity,” he says. “I can be called at moment’s notice to testify in front of a committee.”

Lawmakers also took notice of his involvement on the NRA Board of Directors and the political action committee.

“Although all citizens are supposed to have access to our election officials, my access and quality of visits to elected official improved after I became an active member of Restaurant PAC,” Settles says. “They seemed to realize that if I cared enough to be part of the PAC, I also cared enough to be educated about our issues. In the case of the Restaurant PAC, it is well-known and respected, which helps even more.”

As he got to know lawmakers, he was invited to participate on several statewide committees: the governor's beverage alcohol licensing commission, the governor’s task force on health care exchanges and the Human Rights Commission.  The task force spent a lot of time looking at the advantages and disadvantages of state health care exchanges. Eventually, its members decided to recommend the state form a health care exchange so small business owners could join together to get better rates on health insurance. 

Settles saw it as a way to minimize the impact of the federal health care act. “We’re less than a year away from being saddled with this additional requirement,” he says. “Our state historically has the lowest (health insurance) rates in the nation.”

Settles says restaurant operators need to do whatever they can to mitigate burdensome and expensive employer requirements of the health care law. He encourages other restaurateurs to attend the NRA Public Affairs conference so they can talk to members of Congress about the impact of many provisions on their businesses, including the definition of a full-time employee. Currently, the law defines a full-time employee as someone who works an average of 30 hours a week in a month or the equivalent of 130 hours in a calendar month.

“That’s an aspect we can work on,” he says.

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