By Claude R Marx
When Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was a board member at Heritage Trust FCU, he and his colleagues were focused on expanding the reach of the credit union and seeing how it could best serve its members.
These days, as a freshman member of the U.S House of Representatives, Scott has a broader frame of reference. Yet the philosophy he learned as a credit union member and volunteer guides much of his thinking.
"The idea of offering a hand, not a handout, which is the essence of the credit union philosophy, is important to me. When I got my first car loan from a credit union, they didn't just give me the money, they sat me down and taught me about the importance of being responsible with my finances," he said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office.
Scott, 46, was a board member of the Charleston, S.C.-based Heritage Trust FCU from 1993 to 2000, a time when the credit union revamped several parts of its operation, including the way it handled loans.
"We wanted to make decisions based on more than what members looked like on paper because we knew who they were. By taking a more complete look we served them better and we had a very low loan delinquency rate, 2%," he said.
Heritage Trust FCU President/CEO Jim McDaniel recalled that Scott "asked the right questions, and his experience in business gave us an important perspective."
In his current job, Scott still asks lots of questions. He is on the Rules Committee, which makes decisions about how every piece of legislation is going to be debated on the House floor. As a result, Scott has the chance to question committee chairs and has more influence than most first-term lawmakers.
"It's given me a panoramic view of the House, rather than a more specialized one. And the committee chairmen have to be nice to me," he quipped.
Though Scott is new to Congress, he's a political veteran. He was a member of the Charleston County Council from 1995 to 2007 and served a two-year term in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He won the race for an open seat in Congress last November. He received lots of support from credit unions, and Heritage Trust FCU held a fundraiser for him.
While legislating is serious business, Scott brings a quick wit to his work and isn't afraid to make fun of himself.
Asked to recall his days as a high school and college student-athlete and politician, Scott made no attempt to puff up his football playing skills.
"I was the most talented person that ever played, in my mind," he said.
These days he is carrying out moves from his political playbook and as a result credit unions have a sympathetic ally in a place where he can make a difference.