Two big focuses of the Norman Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. with the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation were infrastructure and vaccines — topics punctuated by national politics.
Each year, the city chamber travels to D.C. for their annual fly-in. While at the nation’s capital, the Chamber meets with members of the delegation to voice their concerns and needs as well as to listen to what the delegation has to say regarding what is taking place at the capital and how it is affecting Oklahomans back home.
Scott Martin, CEO and President of the Norman Chamber, said about 10 members went on the trip which he felt was successful.
Martin wouldn’t say whether or not he supported the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package currently in the House that passed the Senate in a bipartisan manner. But he did say he supports an infrastructure package that’s completely paid for.
The state chamber has endorsed the bipartisan infrastructure package.
“On the infrastructure piece, number one our list was trying to round out the 2012 City of Norman bond election that was passed because there’s still one project left on that list, 36th Northwest and we need $11 million dollars to make that happen so we were advocating for that,” Martin said. “Secondly, there’s the an I-35 Corridor study that Norman has partnered on with City of Moore and also the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and within that particular corridor, we’re very interested in seeing the resources brought to bear to totally reconstruct, I-35 at Indian Hills in addition to the other projects in the corridor.”
“Lastly, the Regional Transit Authority is an important project that we’re supportive of so with all of the discussion happening on the nation’s capitol right now about infrastructure this was a timely week to come.”
Both of Oklahoma’s two senators, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, both Republicans, voted against the bipartisan infrastructure package. In the house the majority of the state’s delegation is also against the package with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyanne, being the only member of the delegation yet to make his stance on the package public.
But Martin said he still has confidence congress can come together and pass something both Republicans and Democrats can agree on “whether it’s up to $1.2 trillion, or maybe a little bit less.”
“They all expressed support for a real infrastructure package and a significant investment in that. So I don’t know what the right number is, but we’re confident there’s a number out there that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on and do the right thing for our nation, our state and our city,” he said.
In regards to the vaccine rule that was announced by the Biden administration, Robert Castelberry, a member of the chamber, said that it would drastically hurt Norman’s businesses. The rule announced by the administration would require businesses with more than 100 employees to require employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or test weekly.
Castleberry wanted to convey this point to the legislators, he said.
“We talked about some of the ramifications of the vaccine mandate and how that affects employers with more than 100 employees who will have to lay people off,” Castelberry said.
Lankford said he heard the chamber’s concerns and was trying to implement legislation to hinder the mandates.
“There were numerous questions about Biden’s vaccine mandates and the consequences of his demand,” Lankford said in a statement. “I have made many calls to the Administration, written letters, and introduced bills to stop the mandates and protect their American right: freedom.”
Martin was sure to emphasize that he and the chamber are not anti-vaccine and that he encourages everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. But he also said he thinks a vaccine mandate on businesses is going to hurt an already-struggling economy trying to come out of the pandemic and should be rethought.
Both Castleberry and Martin were very appreciative of the delegation taking time out of their schedule to meet with them and talk with them about the issues affecting the community. Castleberry said he is very happy with how the delegation responds to the issues that Norman is facing and understands what needs to be done in order to help solve those issues.
Even if they don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, the delegation is always willing to listen and try to find common ground to help the business community, he said.
“Our legislators are really pretty good, especially Inhofe, Lankford and (Tom) Cole,” Castleberry said. “They really know Norman, really like Norman and they’re very receptive to what we say.”
Congressman Cole, R-Moore, said he enjoyed having his constituents back up in D.C. after having to take a year off due to the pandemic.
He said fly-ins such as the one the Norman chamber participated in this week are “truly beneficial” for his work in Washington” on behalf of his constituents and Oklahoma.
The chamber’s fly-in meetings in Washington are usually held in the spring months but was postponed due to COVID-19. The Norman chamber instead decided to join the State Chamber of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce on their annual fall visit to D.C.
Cole said he was glad the meeting was possible this year.