Lynn Strand has heard the concerns of truckers who chat on the CB: government regulations, taxes and rude drivers. n “You say it to the next guy and, yeah, he’s going to agree, but it does nothing to advance the cause,” says Strand, who owns a truck with her business partner, Bruce Taber, and also serves as her town’s treasurer. “They’ve got to tell it to the right people. If every trucker in this country sat down and wrote one letter, somebody would go, ‘There is a problem here.'”
Indeed, truckers have the potential to make a major impact on public policy. Writing letters, lobbying, serving in office or contributing to a campaign – speaking out as a lone voice or part of a united front – help to ensure that trucking interests get heard.
“After two months of listening to rock’n’roll for 12 hours a day, I needed something to feed my mind rather than numb it,” says Preston McConkie, who became interested in politics after he started driving a truck.
McConkie, of Ogden, Utah, tuned in to a radio talk show and quickly became addicted. He soon found himself dashing to the phone during fuel stops to dial in his opinions.
McConkie later attended college and wrote for his school newspaper. That led to an invitation to become a columnist for Ogden’s Standard-Examiner newspaper. He focused primarily on trucking issues.
“Communication is the only way truckers have to affect what is going on,” says the former owner-operator who now drives a dump truck.
This year, McConkie had a particular distaste for a certain Congressional candidate. He wrote a one-page letter detailing her background, found a benefactor to pay for postage and mailed it to every delegate in the district. The issue became front-page news, and the candidate got seven votes too few to be on the primary ballot.
McConkie says he has never gotten around to writing to members of the U.S. Congress and Senate about issues relevant to the trucking industry. But he believes that is the best way to impact what happens with federal legislation.
Tom Whitaker, executive director of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association, points to a recent Kansas success as evidence that members of the industry must be in contact with their lawmakers. Legislators had proposed increasing the registration fees for an 80,000-pound, five-axle truck by as much as $200. After an outpouring of concern from drivers and others, the increase was held to $10.
“Without their actually calling their senator or representative, we would never have gotten the message through that the industry is suffering right now,” Whitaker says.
It is important to choose battles carefully so that legislators know truckers’ priorities, Whitaker says. He believes the effort to stall the hours-of-service proposal in 2000 was one of the greatest accomplishments of the trucking industry.
“The drivers mobilized, the owners mobilized and the shippers mobilized to allow more time to develop a more reasonable proposal,” he says.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, suggests truckers find out when their lawmakers will be in their home districts and plan to speak with them.
“The most effective way to communicate with a lawmaker is to do it face-to-face,” Spencer says.
Some industry advocates direct their efforts to causes not directly related to trucking. Covenant Transport of Chattanooga, Tenn., places anti-abortion slogans on the back of its trailers. Trucking radio veteran Dave Nemo leads “The Road Home: Truckers Helping Children Find the Way.” That program provides truckers with large window stickers and posters for their trucks featuring photos of missing children, with contact information for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And gravel truck driver Frank Chimenti of Machias, Wash., is fighting mandatory prison sentences.
In 1995, when Washington’s “hard time for armed crime” initiative took effect, Chimenti supported mandatory prison time for teen-agers who use weapons while committing felonies. Then his 16-year-old son was sentenced to five years for first-degree burglary for his first felony.
“The first thing I did was say, ‘We will fight as hard as we can to do something,” Chimenti says.
Chimenti’s son had accompanied a 19-year-old during a break-in. The homeowner surprised them as they were leaving with five firearms. The confrontation ended without bloodshed, but Chimenti’s son’s case was automatically placed in adult court.
Now Chimenti says the law needs an overhaul. He has gotten support from the state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission, but so far no new state law has been passed.
Strand, the Wisconsin owner-operator, was town clerk in Bashaw, Wis., from 1981 to 1991. She decided to take some time off but was asked to take over tax collecting duties when the town treasurer position became available in 1997. She is now serving her fifth one-year term as treasurer.
“I like American history,” she says. “Town government is pretty much what this country was founded on. It’s the most basic unit of government there is.”
But her role also allows her to see the relative lack of public participation. Few people show up for typical town meetings, but if plans are announced to change a road, the gathering draws a capacity crowd.
“That’s the way it is throughout government,” she says. “People don’t care about things until something affects them.”
And that’s what drives many truckers to try to change trucking laws and regulations. Others use the letters to the editor section of newspapers and magazines to publicly share their opinions about issues ranging from regulations and taxes to the image of truck drivers.
In September, Ralph Sutter of Pahrump, Nev. wrote a letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal in response to comments by Mayor Oscar Goodman. At a hearing concerning Yucca Mountain, Goodman said that he would personally arrest the driver of any truck carrying nuclear waste.
“Apparently the mayor chillingly forgot that we have a Constitution, and even the ancients knew that you don’t kill the messenger (in this case the truck driver),” Sutter wrote. Sutter went on to say that perhaps Goodman didn’t really mean that he would jail the driver forever, as he contended.
“It’s so easy for people to think that their vote or their opinion doesn’t count and that you have to play the cards you’re dealt,” says Derek Brown, communications director for the Alabama Trucking Association. “That’s not necessarily true.”
Brown says that truckers need to spend time talking with their representatives and senators about working as truck drivers.
“One of the big problems the industry faces is increased taxes,” he says, and trucking is too often considered “a source of unlimited resources.”
Many associations offer help with contacting elected officials. Any contact – by e-mail, letter or in person – is vital, says Whitaker.
“It doesn’t take very long to do an e-mail,” he says. “It doesn’t take long to call the legislator when they’re home, show them your truck and talk about the issues that are important to you.”
There’s no guarantee that your political involvement will get the results you want, but it can. And you can bet that when trucking’s voice is silent in the public arena, other interests will take advantage of you and your industry.
Trucker Lyn Adams wants to use statewide office partly to advance trucker financial and safety causes.
DRIVER AND HIS WIFE EAGER TO UNLOAD LIBERTARIAN VIEWS
Lyn Curtis Adams bounds from his black 2002 Ford Explorer full of energy and ready to talk politics. It’s a new passion for him, but one at which he believes he can excel. The only thing that gets him more animated is talk of his 1-year-old daughter, Brenda Lyn. Just don’t call him a politician.
Adams, of Montgomery, Ala., is running for lieutenant governor on the Libertarian ticket. His wife, Kellie, will join him on the ticket as a candidate for Montgomery County revenue commissioner.
Lyn Adams says he is ready to breathe new life into what he believes is a system that rewards career politicians at the expense of taxpayers. He sees his platform as a combination of common sense and innovation.
“It’s like you hear on the CB all the time,” Adams says. “Truck drivers say we need a truck driver in office to listen to our interests.”
Adams, 34, has been a truck driver for 10 years. He went to driving school in 1992, after bouncing from job to job, because he believed that trucking would provide him with a steady career. He drives for Loftin Brothers in Montgomery, which handles deliveries for Alabama Beverage Control Board liquor stores.
“He’s a Christian, nice, well-groomed young man,” says Jack Loftin, owner of Loftin Brothers. “He has modern ideas that fit in on every subject.”
Loftin, who says he was an active volunteer in all of George Wallace’s campaigns, was encouraging when Adams mentioned his desire to run. If Adams doesn’t win, he at least will build name recognition that will help in future races, Loftin says.
Adams says he felt inspired to enter politics after his wife, Kellie, 23, was robbed at gunpoint while working at an ABC store. He says he realized that people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses – such as growing marijuana for personal use – are sometimes sentenced to longer sentences than people involved with violence.
“I was never even registered to vote before that,” Adams says. “But the government’s involvement in the trucking industry had been in my mind.”
If this trucker wins political office, he will be in good company. U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., keeps his commercial driver license up to date and was one of the two drivers who trucked the Millennium Christmas Tree to Washington, D.C. The late Cliff Long of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was a Bonneville County commissioner for 15 years and owned and operated an independent trucking business. Nevada Assemblyman Don Gustavson is a truck driver. Many other truckers have held office, and others are seeking election this year.
Adams hopes to use the office to bring casinos to Alabama and to develop “more reasonable” criminal sentencing guidelines. He also wants relief from taxes and regulations for truck drivers and carriers, and believes the state should require driver license applicants to watch a film about co-existing on the road with truckers.
“Some people say it won’t help,” he says. “I know it won’t hurt, and it might help just a little bit.”
Kellie Adams says she believes her husband would bring honesty to office and won’t try to broker deals to get others to support him.
“He’s basically saying, ‘I’ll do the best I can,'” she says.
The office sought by Kellie Adams appraises and collects taxes on all real and business personal property. She says she opposes property taxes.
“If it were up to me, I would get rid of them,” she says.
Kellie Adams faces incumbent Sarah G. Spear. Lyn Adams will compete against Republican Bill Armistead and Democrat Lucy Baxley.
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