2018 PE Legislators
Professional engineers are impacting policy at all levels of government. Learn about PEs who became legislators and their experiences, and gain insights into how NSPE members can advocate for the profession.
Rep. Dean Arp, P.E.
(R, District 69, North Carolina House)
Dean Arp, P.E., launched his public service career by serving on his local school board. After 12 years on the board, he believed he could have an even greater impact by serving in the North Carolina legislature. “Professional engineers are involved in the economic aspects, planning, design, construction, and rehabilitation of public works and the built environment,” he says. “PEs have a unique perspective and vital commentary necessary for good public policy regarding these matters.”
Arp fully supports professional engineers who are interested in running for legislative office and serving on advisory committees, public bodies, and commissions. He believes that a desire to protect the public is inherent in the profession and can be transferred into the political and legislative arena. “It is the foundation of our profession,” he says. “True selfless service in public office is a natural extension of who we are as PEs.”
During his three-term tenure, Arp has been the primary author of a $2 billion state bond that was overwhelmingly approved by voters and is an author of the Competitive Energy Solutions for NC Act, which provides the groundwork for green energy power at competitive rates. He serves as a chair of the Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Public Utilities Committee, and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Capital Improvements.
Arp advises PEs who want to run for public office to prepare for potential challenges within the political environment. Built into the system, he says, are checks and balances, which create a natural tension. “One of the greatest challenges PEs will face is to operate within that system with the built-in tensions,” he says. “I believe PEs should speak judiciously and not often, but always with technical excellence in the subject matter.”
Rep. Louis Blessing III, P.E.
(R, District 29, Ohio House)
Louis Blessing III, P.E., is serving his third-term in the Ohio House of Representatives. Currently, he leads the Government Accountability and Oversight committee and serves on the Finance and Ways & Means committees. During his tenure, he has helped to pass legislation that enabled computerized testing for the FE and PE exams and implemented requirements for engineering ethics to maintain a PE license.
Blessing believes engineers need to be more engaged in the political process. He says they need to understand that writing a treatise on an issue and presenting it well is not sufficient to persuade elected officials or even the public. “PACs, hosting events and forums regularly, meeting with legislators when they're out of session all go a long way towards engaging the political establishment,” he says. “Engineers should also regularly provide input to the public through opinion columns and social media.”
Any PE who is interested in running for office should learn the basic operation of government and form some positions in areas such as education and energy, Blessing advises. Having the ability to work well with others is a critical trait because “it’s impossible to work in a vacuum regardless of how much merit your ideas have,” he says. Joining a political party will also be a necessity for campaigning, raising funds, and getting endorsements.
“I understand that [serving in office] can often be a thankless job, but engineers should remember the saying, ‘If you're not at the table, you might be on the menu,’” he says. “If no engineers are in elected office for a given legislature then who do they think will directly stand up for them?”
Sen. Clyde Chambliss, P.E.
(R, District 30, Alabama Senate)
Clyde Chambliss, P.E., ran for a seat on his county’s planning commission when he saw firsthand that problems of waste, mismanagement, and outright theft were not being effectively addressed by his local government. This first step helped him to determine that going into public service was the right direction.
Currently, Chambliss is using his PE expertise to work with engineering and land surveying associations and the state licensing board on issues such as qualifications-based selection, the regulation of engineers and surveyors, and education requirements for surveyors. “My firsthand knowledge of these issues will hopefully allow these groups to see the other side and work toward a compromise that is acceptable to all,” says the principal engineer of Chambliss Engineering.
It’s important for PEs to engage on public policy with their state legislators, says Chambliss, because most legislators do not have a technical background. When PEs provide input into the legislative process, it’s critical that they are informed about the issues. A lack of education can harm the engagement process. Says Chambliss, “If we don’t know what we are talking about, we typically stay quiet, even if we are in an appropriate setting to voice our concerns. That is probably the best thing to do if we are not up to speed on the issues—but we must do better than that!”
According to Chambliss, if you’re a PE interested in seeking public office, you should surround yourself with people who have political experience. “Once an engineer has the proper background, he or she can always find a way to solve the problem,” he says. “But then the real work begins: convincing others that they should follow our lead. It is quite fascinating and fulfilling, actually.”
Rep. Bart Korman, P.E.
(R, District 42, Missouri House)
When Bart Korman, P.E. (R, District 42, Missouri House), first ran for a seat in the Missouri legislature in 2002, he lost. Yet, he was determined to not let that stop him. He learned the importance of fundraising and engaging the community through a grassroots campaign and found success in his 2010 race.
Korman believes that it’s very important that professional engineers share their views on public policy issues with legislators. PEs can greatly affect public policy, particularly on issues related to transportation, utilities, environment, public safety, and licensure, he says. “Public officials, for the most part, want reasonable and unbiased information prior to making decisions.”
Korman’s legislative successes include passage of a bill that established a peer review process for design professionals and a bill that created parity between contractors and subcontractors on public works projects. He has also brought his engineering experience to many conversations dealing with energy and transportation legislation.
Professional engineers should also participate in the legislative process by working with a political campaign or running for office, Korman says. Public bodies need a mix of people serving; there is usually a shortage of engineers. “Public service can be rewarding and frustrating; [PEs] should be prepared to face people that think differently and to realize that some decisions don’t seem logical,” he says. “They should also be prepared to compromise, to deal with the media, and to upset people from time to time. In politics, everything is a variable in the equation.”
The experience that engineers have with problem solving and working with various project stakeholders will help when they have to navigate the legislative process, Korman adds. “Lawmaking is similar to a project engineer dealing with an owner, architect, multiple regulatory agencies, and a budget.”
Download Korman's speaker presentation from the NSPE 2015 Annual Meeting:
The Path to Political Office—Encouraging Involvement in the Political Process.
Rep. Rocky Miller, P.E.
(R, District 124, Missouri House)
Since 2012, Rocky Miller, P.E., has served in the Missouri House of Representatives. He was motivated to run for office because he wanted to be a part of fixing a serious problem. “I was unhappy with the reporting of water quality at Lake of the Ozarks, and I saw this position as an opportunity to make myself be heard and correct what was being reported,” says the founder of Miller Companies in Osage Beach. “I believe I have been successful in setting the record straight and protecting this tremendous natural resource.”
During his tenure, Miller has passed legislation to require the Department of Natural Resources to give a valid economic and environmental reason for changing sewer permit limits, which he says has already saved many small towns and projects from unnecessary changes that would have cost a lot and done very little. He also influences policies as chair of the Utilities Committee.
Miller believes that it’s important for PEs to share their views on public policy issues. He’s a firm believer that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. He advises PEs to reach out to their legislators, and not just when they have an issue. “Be vocal, get to know your legislator,” he says. “If someone calls out of the blue, I will probably give that person less weight than someone that has taken the time to meet me.”
Any PE that wants to serve, Miller says, should be ready to compromise to get a result that is close to what he or she wants. “PEs are problem solvers and that is very important in governance,” he emphasizes. “You will be shocked how the simple act of problem solving is foreign to some.”
Rep. Sannie Overly, P.E.
(D, District 72, Kentucky House)
Sannie Overly, P.E., was motivated to seek public office because she had a strong desire to advocate for public education. But her professional civil engineering background has also proved to be valuable in addressing the state’s transportation infrastructure needs.
During her 11-year tenure in the Kentucky legislature, Overly has served on the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation as chair and was responsible for crafting the House’s six-year road plan. She was the first woman to lead that committee and the first on the committee to hold both engineering and law degrees. She has also served on the Small Business and Information Technology Committee.
Overly believes that it’s extremely important for PEs to share their views and work to address public policy issues. “Become active in professional organizations with legislative committees,” advises the partner of Overly & Johnson LLC in Paris. “Also, get to know your individual legislators. Relationships are important.”
Overly encourages any PE interested in public service to take a chance and seek public office. “As engineers, we have unique skills, education, and knowledge that play a critical role in developing public policy in many areas,” she says. “In my experience, having PE credentials are an asset, not an obstacle, in a campaign for public office.”
Rep. Dennis Paul, P.E.
(R, District 129, Texas House)
Dennis Paul, P.E., was motivated to run for elected office because he had a strong desire to serve his community at the state level. He believes his professional engineering knowledge and experience yield respect from his colleagues in the legislature, particularly when dealing with infrastructure and flooding concerns “They listen when I discuss these issues,” he says. “PEs bring a good thought process of ‘let’s review these issues completely before voting’ and asking a lot of questions to get to the facts.”
Paul would like to see more PEs run for elected office because they are badly needed. He is currently the only licensed professional engineer serving in the Texas legislature, which has 181 members. “As a part-time legislator, you must learn to balance state work and office work,” says the president of Paul Engineering Inc. in Houston. “Their PE experience will serve them well, as we are problem solvers at heart!”
It’s also important for PEs to engage with legislators, says Paul, about infrastructure projects, government spending, and government in general. Legislators appreciate the facts of an issue and like to hear solutions, he says. “We [PEs] have great minds that are trained to identify problems and solve them. Also, if we don't speak for us, someone else will.”
Rep. Scott D. Stone, P.E.
(R, District 105, North Carolina House)
Scott Stone, P.E., has found that his engineering background has greatly benefitted his ability to navigate some of the critical issues that need to be addressed during the legislative process. He sits on various committees that regularly deal with technical issues, such as the Environment Committee, Transportation Committee, Energy & Public Utilities Committee, and the House Select Committee on North Carolina River Quality. “I was able to ask questions of the Department of Environmental Quality that no other member knew to ask,” says the president of American Engineering. “Last year I authored legislation that will significantly impact the efficiency of the construction permitting process across the state.”
It’s essential that PEs share their views on public policy issues, Stone believes. There is a vast array of topics that are discussed on any given day in the North Carolina legislature, and most legislators are experts in only a few, he points out. “Information and input can shape a vote. This isn’t even lobbying; it is providing facts where there might otherwise be a void of information,” he says. “If you can be accessible and provide quick feedback on important issues, you can have significant impact on public policy.”
Stone believes that PEs who want to run for office will discover that they are more qualified and even better prepared to be legislators than some members currently serving. He advises, “Get involved in the local political party, meet other elected officials, ask questions, and do your homework on the main issues of the office and your district.”
Rep. Kevin Vaughn, P.E.
(R, District 95, Tennessee House)
Kevin Vaughn, P.E., embarked on a public service career by running for a seat on his local school board; he currently serves on the board as vice chairman. When a state representative position opened in his district, he decided to take a chance. He won in a general special election in 2017. To his new role, Vaughn brings his experience as a professional engineer, which involves being a trained problem solver—not afraid of pressing the boundaries of what is achievable. “That kind of background is uncommon across the public,” he says. “In addition, engineers are some of the most respected professionals in the workplace. Their opinions will be heard and respected.”
Vaughan says that among the lessons learned from running for public office are the high costs associated with a campaign and the impact that it had on his schedule. Yet, he still believes that more PEs should seek a public office position. “I would encourage them to fully understand the requirements of [campaigning], and then if they feel compelled, go for it,” he says. “The same attributes that we use in our daily professional lives as registrants should make us better legislators.”
What can PEs do to be more effective in providing input into the legislative process? “Understand that legislators want to hear from constituents, especially those that are thoughtful and offer reasonable perspectives and proposed solutions,” says Vaughan. “Stay current on issues and share your thoughts when you have something to offer to the public debate.”