Wayne Hammon figured his next job would be another high-level post in government, springboarding from his record five-year run as Gov. Butch Otters budget director.
He was one of three finalists to be the University of Idahos lobbyist. But when former GOP Sen. Joe Stegner got the nod early last year, Hammon jumped to the private sector.
Now, he says, Im really glad Joe got the job.
In September, Hammon became executive director of the Idaho Associated General Contractors, which represents public-works and commercial-building contractors. He succeeded Mark Dunham, who suffered a stroke in January and stepped down in June.
Hammon says AGC is rebounding from a slump that reduced membership from 1,100 in the mid-2000s to about 620 a year ago.
Now, AGC has nearly 700 members, and Hammon predicts the sector will lead Idahos way out of the recovery. AGC annual dues range from $944 for a specialty contractor with construction volume below $500,000 to $10,200 for a general contractor with volume above $45 million. The association has 13 employees at offices in Boise, Coeur dAlene, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls.
Hammon, 41, is a sixth-generation Idahoan whose Mormon pioneer ancestors came to the state in 1849, ultimately settling in Rigby in the mid-1850s. The father of two girls, ages 3 and 1, Hammon is now a Methodist, an Elk and a young man with out-sized connections.
He spent almost four years working on Capitol Hill for Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig. For two years, he lobbied for the National Association of Wheat Growers. From 2001 to 2007, he ran the U.S. Department of Agricultures Farm Service Agency for the Bush administration. He left that job to become Otters numbers guy.
Q: The construction industry employs 5.5 million people nationally. Though modest gains have come in the last five months, the sectors unemployment rate remains over 11 percent. Now that the elections over, what are the prospects for construction growth in Idaho?
A: As a state, were well-positioned to take advantage of the recovery, which I believe is under way. I have faith theyre going to solve the fiscal issues in D.C. Its going to be slow, its going to be steady. I think Idahos going to be at the forefront of that. I think constructions going to be at the forefront of the Idaho recovery.
Ive seen the pipeline the (Idaho) Department of Commerce has been working on to attract new business. There are a lot of really exciting things.
In my old job, I met with a lot of bankers. Theres a lot of capital out there itching to be released into the marketplace. No matter how you feel about the election, at least now we know. That should, I believe, release some of that capital.
Q: Two years ago, Gov. Otters Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding said annual state and local highway funding was $543 million short of meeting annual preservation, restoration, capacity and safety needs. Nothing happened. Will AGC revive the effort it helped lead in 2008 and 2009 to raise transportation revenue?
A: First, we have a lot of old bridges and highways that have outlived their projected lifespan that are dangerous and need to be fixed. Secondly, the economic development aspect is key. Look at all the commercial stuff being built around the 10 Mile Road interchange. Thats a driver for the economy.
My members make money building roads and bridges and buildings. But theyre also very interested in helping the state grow, so yeah, were going to talk about it, though I understand it makes some politicians uncomfortable.
I think we can help build a coalition to get it done. I did a lot of work on the plan that failed. I was there. With that hindsight, we should be able to design a package thats more successful this next time.
But no, its not going to happen in 2013, for a couple of reasons. There are a lot of new legislators that need to be educated. Secondly, the plates full. Personal property tax repeal is going to take a lot of time.
Q: So, 2014 is the target?
A: I think it has a lot to do with the race for governor and whos in that race. If theyre successful at eliminating the personal property tax this year, they will have cut taxes significantly two years in a row. It may be time then to talk about public infrastructure funding. [Lawmakers cut the top income tax rates in 2012.]
Q: How do you manage the differing interests of your members who focus on road building and those in commercial construction?
A: Theres a lot less division between those two groups than I expected. Theyre very supportive of each other, because theyre not in direct competition. Where the competition comes into play is with two different highway guys, or two different building guys, who may be bidding on the same project.
We have very large members who do international projects, and we have other members who only do business in Idaho. Where theyre going to fall on any one of these policy issues is largely going to depend on the size of their company. They bring that to the table when they come to an AGC meeting, but they do a pretty good job of checking that and keeping the industrys needs at the forefront.
Q: You just completed your annual meeting last week. What are the leading issues for your members?
A: A lot of the jobs that are going to be created in the next 12 to 24 months will be in construction. So how do we get these people back to work?
Having sound fiscal policy helps. Eliminating the personal property tax will help. Making sure that Idahos open for business, friendly to business. Well be supportive of new economic-attraction tools sought by the Department of Commerce.
Making the business climate successful helps my members. Every business that moves to Idaho needs a place to locate, and my members are going to build that for them.
Q: AGC lobbies, provides health insurance, environmental and safety training, plan-room services, and even bowling nights, charity golf tournaments and summer outings to spots like Sun Valley. Whats your core mission?
A: Its not something you can embroider on a shirt. Our members join for a wide range of reasons, so we offer them a wide range of benefits. At our core is being that voice for Idahos construction industry in advocacy and providing an opportunity for them to network together.
Q: While leaning Republican, AGC traditionally has supported incumbents, including Democrats. What qualifies a candidate to earn AGCs endorsement?
A: Politics didnt come up that much in the interview process. But we do tend to support incumbents. We supported [Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick in 2010]. This year, the only one of the four in the congressional delegation that got a check from AGC of America was [Republican U.S. Rep.] Mike Simpson, who was the only one who voted for the federal transportation bill.
Were interested in doing business with people interested in doing business with us. Were interested in advancing infrastructure funding. Were interested in advancing good business policies for the state, and there are both Democrats and Republicans that do that.
Q: You have 15 years of service in government. You were a finalist for the job of lobbyist for the University of Idaho. Not long after that, you came to AGC. Why did you leave government?
A: I spent over five years at the budget office, longer than any of my predecessors. After about three years, you get that weight on your shoulders. At that point, there were a lot of job offers, but I felt like I couldnt leave in the middle of a recession. We were still laying off people, we were still cutting budgets. I felt like I was helping captain the ship and I had to stay through the storm. There are people who may argue the state would have been better off without me, but I felt obligated to see it through.
During the U of I process, I learned I didnt want to be just a lobbyist. I put my mind on an association where I wasnt just the lobbyist, where I was in charge. I have great members. These people have an energy about them that you just dont see in government. Every morning I walk by the picture of Harry Morrison. He built the Hoover Dam! These are the people that belong to the AGC. A member of mine built the Stueckle Sky Center [at Boise State].
Q: When you were at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you helped implement President Bushs order that the executive branch make changes similar to Sarbanes-Oxley. [A corporate-reform law known as Sarbanes-Oxley, enacted during a 2002 wave of business scandals, increased penalties for corporate fraud, required CEOs and chief financial officers to certify the accuracy of financial statements and strengthened the role of independent board members.] Youve said that Sarbanes-Oxley improved accounting transparency and reduced error rates. But the law took a lot of hits from Republicans on the campaign trail. If you were king, what changes would you make?
A: The goal of that reform is very admirable, but like most things, the federal governments found a way to make it more complicated than it needs to be. In a rush to fix Enron, to close the doors after the horses escaped, they made very detailed prescriptions that were outdated almost as soon as they were published. If I were king for the day, I would try to take that principle and give people more flexibility in how they meet those goals.
I would use the OMB guidelines as an example. Theyre less prescriptive than Sarbanes-Oxley, but theyre more prescriptive than anything theyd done before. It was more focused on internal controls than it was external reporting. So much in Sarbanes-Oxley is written towards external reporting. It gets down to whose name appears on which page in your annual report. Thats overreaching.
Q: Youve got a great resume for an Idaho candidate: A Republican who grew up on a farm, showed horses at state and county fairs across the West, with two degrees from BYU and all that government experience. Your mother-in-law and aunt served in the Legislature. Might we see you running for public office after youve banked some money to support your young family?
A: I remember having my picture taken on top of the Rotunda with Larry Craig, looking out over the Mall. He told me, Wayne, if you ever want to run for office, you have to move home. I had those aspirations at the time.
I dont know if its a function of age, or having kids, but Ive seen firsthand what happens to people who put their names on the ballot. I dont think I want that for my family. Its not a dampening of my desire to be involved or to make a difference. One of the great things about AGC is I feel Im still making a difference for Idaho.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics