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Q&A: Louisiana Retailer Talks Business and Politics

dennisstineDennis Stine is president and CEO of Stine Lumber, which operates 11 stores in Louisiana and one in Missouri. He served as a Louisiana state legislator for two years and, for four years, was the commissioner of administration, which is the chief financial and administrative officer for the state. Stine has worked with two governors to create budgets.

Hardware Retailing (HR): How did you get involved in politics and why?
Dennis Stine (DS): First my younger brother, Tim, won a city council race. Prior to that, I never really thought about politics. My legislative district was represented by a blue-collar legislator because of the fact that we had a very large union membership in our district. The legislator that was elected had resigned to take an appointed position, leaving the seat vacant.

Many people asked me to run, and so I ran. I served only a couple of years. Then I was appointed to the position of commissioner of administration. As commissioner, I oversaw 12 departments of state. The job involved building the executive and capital outlay budget for the state and included handling the insurance, purchasing, accounting, state lands and several other departments.

HR: What is your current involvement in politics?
DS: I am not currently involved in politics. My brother Tim—who won my legislative seat and served eight years—and I do go down to the legislature each year to debate bills affecting our industry. We did this the past two years during three special sessions and two regular sessions, advocating for businesses.

HR: Why do you think independent business owners should get involved in politics?
DS: I think they can do an effective job helping lawmakers understand the many challenges faced by businesses.

HR: What are some of the cons to working in government?
DS: It takes a lot of time away from the business. Tim and I are fortunate to have four brothers who are all in the business. It was helpful to have family members who supported the company while we were in Baton Rouge doing the state’s business.

Also, in politics, you risk upsetting people. There is some backlash for you and your business if you don’t vote the will of some people. People can get upset if you don’t vote their wishes. You might get an editorial comment and letters to the editor and things of that nature. One thing about being a legislator is that all votes are either up or down. You’re not going to please all the people all the time. Frankly, a legislator has to have thick skin. This is not for the meek of heart.

HR: What do business owners uniquely contribute to government?
DS: A businessperson deals with so many things that affect regular life. For example, they deal with finance and accounting issues. Through the years, I’ve seen a lot of legislators that don’t have that skill set. Those legislators that don’t have those skill sets have an incredible learning curve or they’re very narrow in what they can do. A businessperson, I think, has a much more rounded knowledge of how the world works and how government works.

HR: How do you recommend getting started in local government?
DS: I would start by not wanting to advocate for your business. I think you have to be an advocate for your community and do the right thing and, by doing that, I think it’ll not only be good for the person running for office but also for the community. There is some pain to being an elected official. It can be costly running for office. It also takes a lot of time.

You have to be certain your business can withstand your absences from the business or you have the ability to do many tasks at the same time. You’ll deal with concerned citizens while working at the store. However, people from the building material and hardware industry are very electable because they serve working people every day and they get to know their needs.

HR: In what ways has your involvement in politics made you a better retailer?
DS: I think you see a cross section of the state’s population. The members of a legislature are really a microcosm of the state. You have teachers, farmers, business leaders and people of all walks of life. By working with them, you begin to understand how our state is shaped.

You learn many things that can aid you in business—the understanding of budgets, the understanding of how tax policy is created, the understanding of how government works, the ability to help people.

About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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