SEMA News—May 2020


By Colby Martin

Ignited We Stand

Unearthing Common Ground With Elected Officials

Rep Cisneros
U.S. Representative Gil Cisneros (D-CA) celebrated Independence Day at a local car show.

One of the major perks of working at SEMA has been exposure to a wide array of interesting personalities. Like so many, I grew up inspired by the countless influential talents found in the automotive field. The well-known faces and brands are usually linked to a unique style of craft, innovation or entertainment. While I don’t always share their tastes, I can appreciate their unique expressions. At the end of the day, a common thread unites us enthusiasts: the love and dedication for all things four-wheeled.

In my role as the SEMA Action Network (SAN) director, the “who’s-who” roster includes folks I never considered meeting: elected officials. I had falsely assumed that nobody in government shared my sense of fun with four wheels prior to this position. Through in-person experiences with lawmakers and staff, my perception has been proven wrong. Lawmakers such as Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) have previously attended the SEMA Show and the Washington Rally, but it wasn’t until recently that I had the chance to personally interact with our industry’s legislative allies. It turns out that cars and trucks transcend just about every line—even political parties! It’s been so refreshing to meet lawmakers in my home state who have a similar affection.

California Assembly Member Tim Grayson (D) represents the 14th district in the California Assembly, which includes parts of Contra Costa and Solano Counties. Assembly Member Grayson was one of the driving forces behind legislation to immediately restore law enforcement’s ability to issue fix-it tickets, providing car owners with 30 days to correct suspected violations of California’s exhaust noise limits. For his effort, he was awarded the Stephen B. McDonald Legislator of the Year award at the 2019 SEMA Show.

Assembly Member Tim Grayson (second from right) was recognized for his efforts in the California legislature to promote policies and legislation that support the automotive aftermarket industry. During the 2019 SEMA Show, Assembly Member Grayson accepts his award from West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell (left), national chairman of the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus, SEMA’s Christian Robinson (second from left) and Daniel Ingber (right).

I first met Assembly Member Grayson, as well as his wife Tammy, at the 2018 SEMA Show. It didn’t take long to recognize a kindred spirit. He was excited about the possibility of taking a hot lap in an exhibition Cobra outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. In fact, Assembly Member Grayson believes that his own ’67 Ford Mustang Fastback is a “bipartisan car.”

“My colleagues may have never sat in a muscle car or even heard one run,” he said. “And then, all of a sudden, they hear that car roar in the basement of the Capitol. It gets their attention—and some of them become very passionate. It causes us to lay down our differences and to appreciate something that is complete Americana all the way.”

When U.S. Representative Gil Cisneros (D-CA) recently paid a visit to my workplace, I was interested to learn about both his life experiences and his passion for Corvettes; now this was a politician speaking a language I could understand! In 2018, Rep. Cisneros was elected to represent California’s 39th Congressional District, which is home to SEMA’s headquarters in Diamond Bar, California. A first-time elected official, Rep. Cisneros served 10 years in the Navy, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander. He served in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield and later worked as a shipping and production manager for Frito-Lay before being elected to Congress.

As an automotive enthusiast, Rep. Cisneros has been an advocate for the automotive aftermarket during his time in Congress, serving as an original cosponsor of the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act and as a member of the Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus.

“Growing up, my dad and I bonded over our love of cars, and I have many fond memories working on his old ’56 Chevy,” Rep. Cisneros said. “Although I was a proud Corvette owner, I’ve since been forced to trade it in for a minivan following the birth of my twin boys.”

Norma Torres
U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA, center) posed for a photo with SEMA staff.

Even though U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) is my member of Congress, I was unaware that she had her own meaningful connections with the industry. As a constituent in the 35th Congressional District, I’ve sent her office many personal messages on automotive issues. I’ve learned that, when given the opportunity, she’ll proudly mention that she enjoys driving a ’66 Ford Mustang that her husband Louis restored. With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before she made her way to the SEMA Garage, also at SEMA headquarters.

During her SEMA Garage tour, Rep. Torres was especially interested to hear about Project Underdog, in which local youth customized and displayed at the SEMA Show a ’72 Maverick, with guidance from Fast & Furious star Sung Kang. Project Underdog brought Rep. Torres back to the days when she drove a 302-powered ’74 Maverick. Hearing her recount colorful tales to my co-workers and me about time behind the car’s wheel left a lasting impression.

Prior to being elected to Congress in 2014, Rep. Torres worked as a 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department for nearly 20 years before deciding to run for elected office. Her distinguished career in public service includes service as mayor of Pomona and on the city council, in addition to the California State Assembly and Senate.

Upon her election to Congress, Rep. Torres embarked on a Job Creation Listening Tour, meeting with more than 200 business owners, employees, education professionals and local economic leaders. Rep. Torres then introduced a bill to direct the U.S. Department of Labor to help fund pilot projects that provide education and training programs for jobs in advanced manufacturing. Rep. Torres’s bill, the JOBS Act, would connect educational institutions with manufacturers to give workers the training and skills they need to find jobs in growing industries—a top SEMA priority. Additionally, Rep. Torres supported the automotive aftermarket by cosponsoring the RPM Act and pushing the U.S. Department of Transportation to complete a rulemaking to allow the production and sale of completed replica vehicles.

What’s the big takeaway? While you may not have party affiliation or policy views in common, put them aside and give a fair chance those elected to represent you and your neighbors. Make an effort to connect on topics that are revered equally. Rep. Torres summed up the sentiment nicely:

“Visiting the SEMA headquarters in Diamond Bar was like taking a trip down memory lane,” she said. “It was great to be around people who have the same passion, love and enthusiasm for hot rods that the greater Inland Empire and I share.”

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