Election 2008: The Choice

| October 19, 2008

Though a poll taken in July at etrucker.com showed Republican nominee John McCain substantially ahead of Democrat Barack Obama among respondents, a strong “lesser of two evils” sentiment exists among drivers toward the two major candidates.

By Todd Dills and Max Kvidera

This year’s presidential election is garnering the attention of truck drivers across the country like no other contest in decades. And it’s no wonder.

With America fighting wars on two fronts and economic woes at home – a sinking housing market, depressed freight volumes and soaring fuel prices to name a few – most people are looking to November with both anticipation and apprehension.

And, as ever, it’s the federal government that holds the ultimate regulatory authority over the interstate trucking industry, and thus the choice of the highest executive of the land commands significance with regard to any number of issues. From interstate highway development, funding and construction to the cross-border trucking program to health requirements for commercial driver’s license holders to idling restrictions, the president of the United States exerts tremendous influence on the direction regulators, Congress and the courts take in addressing new and lingering problems.

Though a poll taken in July at etrucker.com showed Republican nominee John McCain substantially ahead of Democrat Barack Obama among respondents, a strong “lesser of two evils” sentiment exists among drivers toward the two major candidates. Neither campaign responded to repeated interview requests from Truckers News, and their stances on many regulatory issues pertinent to truck drivers often must be deduced from their positions on other issues.

Still, for the cynical and apathetic souls who would say the presidential choice doesn’t matter, Tim Lynch, a senior vice president of the American Trucking Associations, counters: “There will be a president, there will be a secretary of transportation, there will be a secretary of labor and federal judges nominated. There are many decisions that will emanate from whomever gets elected president, and it’s not just who gets elected president but the philosophy of the candidate that needs to be considered.”

That philosophy, Lynch says, will have a “huge effect on everything that happens in this industry.” In that regard, much is at stake in this election. Following you’ll find analysis and viewpoints from key industry stakeholders, fellow drivers and other sources on core industry issues and each candidate’s potential to affect the business of trucking and the driver’s lifestyle.


The Madding Crowd
Fueled by high pump prices, a slew of big ideas for pulling through the energy crisis

The state of the nation’s energy policy can be summed up in a single statement, says Chattanooga, Tenn.-based owner-operator Michael Goodman. “We don’t really have any sort of energy policy,” he says. But with diesel prices having nearly doubled in just a year, owner-operators and fleets feeling the pinch are looking frantically for a solution.

McCain’s and Obama’s policies are similar, with exceptions. Both men favor a move toward alternative energy sources across the spectrum. In a June 18 News Hour With Jim Lehrer segment on energy policy, though, differences in emphasis were highlighted. Obama adviser Jason Grumet advocated moving more quickly to “get off of oil” entirely, and McCain adviser Doug Holz-Eakin urged more off-shore drilling to send a short-term message to energy markets, putting downward pressure on crude prices. Grumet suggested a reality check was in order for the American public. “Three-quarters of every barrel we produce in this country goes to benefit somebody else,” he told News Hour viewers. “The only way we’re going to regain any control of our own destiny is if we stop having this kind of silly debate about ‘it’s foreign oil versus domestic oil’ and recognize we have to get off of oil. Until we diversify our energy so that we are not dependent for 97 percent out of our transportation system on oil, we will be at the mercy of people who don’t hold our interests at heart. Our economy will be vulnerable; our national security will be vulnerable.”

Holz-Eakin countered that, long-term, the oil addiction is going to be harder to defeat than the Obama campaign might realize. He repeated McCain’s calls for more offshore drilling to bolster domestic supply, which were echoed in July by President Bush’s lifting the executive ban on drilling the offshore continental shelf. At press time, Congress was in recess and had not lifted the congressional ban.

Many drivers support further drilling, but the finely diced sentiments of the major candidates’ advisers don’t do much to impress most. In July, though, the specifics of hedge fund chairman and longtime oil investor T. Boone Pickens’ energy plan lit up both the national airwaves and trucking message boards. Pickens spawned an idea to roll out a massive wind-power effort in the central United States to replace natural gas-powered plants on the grid, with more private investment in natural gas-powered vehicles to partly replace the gas and diesel fleets on the road today.

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