FROM THE HILL
Hoosier State Confidential
SEMA News Sits Down with Rep. Greg Pence
By Eric Snyder
U.S. Representative Greg Pence (R-IN) recently sat down with SEMA News to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the industry. Rep. Pence is currently serving in his second term in Congress and is a member of the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee.
Are you concerned that politicians make decisions that impact your business, yet they do not understand what it is like to work in the private sector? If so, I have a feeling you will enjoy getting to know U.S. Representative Greg Pence (R-IN), who started working at a local service station in high school and enjoyed a successful career in oil and convenience store businesses before running for office in 2018. With a seat in his home congressional district open, Rep. Pence decided that it was time to join his brother, Vice President Mike Pence, to help our federal government chart a better path in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Pence is a native of Columbus, Indiana, which is about an hour south of Indianapolis. After graduating from high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology and philosophy from Loyola University of Chicago. Congressman Pence served four years in the Marine Corps before returning to Loyola, where he earned his master’s degree in business affairs. He also pursued postgraduate studies in environmental affairs at Indiana University before starting a career in the oil business as a sales representative for Union Oil Co. He went on to work as a territory manager with Marathon Oil Corp. before serving as vice president and then president of Kiel Bros. Oil Co., which operates a chain of more than 200 gas stations and convenience stores in the Midwest.
Rep. Pence (left) poses for a picture after taking a ride in an Indy car.
Rep. Pence is currently serving in his second term in Congress, representing Indiana’s 6th District, which is in the eastern part of the state and spans from Muncie all the way down to the Kentucky border. The Congressman is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, where he uses his private sector experience and common sense to shape automotive, energy, environment and healthcare policy.
Rep. Pence is proud of Indiana’s racing pedigree and the role the Hoosier state plays in motorsports today. The Congressman could not be more excited to be representing Speedway, Indiana, which will be in his district starting in 2023. Rep. Pence has spent many years around racing, as the oil companies he worked for sponsored race teams, enabling him to travel to races all around the country. He brings his passion for racing to the policy-making arena, serving as an original co-sponsor of H.R. 3281, the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act. Rep. Pence has been a strong advocate for protecting motorsports from government overreach.
Rep. Pence and his wife Denise live in Columbus, Indiana, and have four children and eight grandchildren. When he is not in Washington or spending time with family, there’s a good chance he’s out meeting with his constituents to find out about the issues that impact them and to see how he can help.
Now let’s go behind the scenes and hear directly from Rep. Pence.
SEMA CEO Mike Spagnola (left) talks to Rep. Pence at the Performance Racing Industry headquarters grand opening, held last May in Indianapolis.
SEMA News: What was your first car?
Rep. Greg Pence: My first car was a used ’64 Mustang that I bought from my neighbors. I had just turned 16 when I bought the car. It was seven or eight years old. It had three on the floor.
What I couldn’t stand about it was the neighborhood kid who owned it previously painted it with a can of baby blue spray. It was very uneven. Rubber blue tape across the top and the trunk. He thought that was cool.
SN: What was your favorite vehicle you have owned?
GP: My ’99 Jeep Wrangler that I still have. It has a black hard top and a soft top.
SN: What was your first job?
GP: I worked in garages from the age of 14 to when I went off to college, including after school and in the summer. I did mechanical work. Not the heavy stuff. But I could time a car and do brakes. I mostly assisted them until I got proficient in a particular vehicle or a specific thing.
SN: You have spoken about right to repair, including at a committee hearing earlier this year. Do you see an opportunity for a legislative solution?
GP: Yeah, I really do. I think we have to define both sides of the argument a little better. Right to repair impacts not only the automotive industry but it’s also now extended into many other facets. Even your washer and dryers are headed that way.
If I am forced to take a product I own somewhere, or if I am forced to gather the information about what I perceived was my intellectual property of a vehicle, then you should pay me for this. That’s what I’ve pushed for in committee hearings. In other words, you need to fully disclose that I don’t own this intellectual property, and I can’t make modifications or do certain things to this without that intellectual property of that vehicle.
Rep. Pence speaks with Kathryn Reinhardt, director of retail marketing for 4 Wheel Parts, at PRI headquarters.
Now, if it’s proprietary to the manufacturer and they want to charge me, that’s negotiable. We can discuss that. But there’s many cases where the consumer doesn’t know that it wasn’t their information. That is happening when you buy a new car today. Every manufacturer says the information on the vehicle belongs to them even if they sell it to somebody else. Full disclosure is important. If a company is going to keep all the information, then that’s an additional financial transaction we need to discuss.
SN: Right to repair most directly impacts companies that produce replacement parts and businesses that repair vehicles. For the automotive specialty aftermarket, many of our companies reverse engineer products to produce products that are interoperable with vehicles. We appreciate the importance of cyber-security, but it can’t be used in order to reduce competition and prevent modifications that consumers desire.
GP: Yeah, I agree. I’m running down the road of the intellectual property aspect of that. I understand cybersecurity, and I understand proprietary information. But if a business is simply trying to improve the functionality of a vehicle through their products, and they just need to get in there, that company is not taking anything from the manufacturer. But I’m concerned about them being locked out.
Manufacturers are saying that other businesses can’t touch their products, because it’s their information of how this vehicle functions. I don’t agree with that. This is one of our key priorities. And again, it’s not just the automotive industry now that this issue affects.
Greg Fornelli (right), president and owner of SRI Performance and Stock Car Steel and Aluminum, and Eric Snyder (left), SEMA’s director of congressional affairs, speaking with Rep. Pence.
SN: You worked in the oil business for a long time. Tell us more about your
GP: I’ve only been a politician for three and a half years. I’m 65 years old. I ran because my predecessor was going to run for Senate, and I was his finance chair for the state. And people said to me, “Why don’t you run? You’re semi-retired.” I said, “Okay.”
I grew up in the oil industry and working in gas stations as well. I worked for Marathon Corp. in Illinois, and then I joined a distributorship in southern Indiana in 1988. After that, I worked at Circle K as their national director of fuels.
I’ve got a lot of other little business experiences. I started trucking companies. I’ve got a real estate company and did some consulting for manufacturing after the oil industry. My wife and I also own antique malls.
My wife said to me many years ago, “You know what? I’d like to get in the rental business.” I said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” We live near a university, so we purchased some university housing. We were over there looking at some properties when we noticed that an antique mall came up for sale. It was 72,000 sq. ft., with all the renters under one roof. Then we started another one and another commercial property as years went by. I think it’s now been 17 years since we bought that antique market.
Antiques are more popular now than they have ever been since we’ve been in the business. I believe people are sick and tired of shopping online. People want to get out and look at stuff. We’re getting lots of young people who are going to antique stores. It’s kind of cool.
SN: House Energy & Commerce (E&C) Committee Republicans have taken a neutral position on the technology that powers motor vehicles, allowing individuals to determine whether they would prefer an internal-combustion engine versus an electric vehicle. Our readers would be interested to know more about the debate going on in the committee, since E&C has jurisdiction over automotive and environmental policy.
PRI President Dr. Jamie Meyer (right) introduces Rep. Pence at the association’s grand opening in May.
GP: Well, having been in the energy distribution industry for many decades, I can say that it’s now become more and more apparent that we can’t get the energy where it needs to be as we expand the EV market, right? I can’t get it to an apartment building where everybody’s parking their car. It’s very costly. Many houses have to be converted. When you talk to the generation line companies, they say “No, we can never get that much energy to that area.” This is particularly true if you start closing coal plants and not allowing natural gas lines to run. I call it a catastrophic plan.
The combustion engine is a lot cleaner than it ever was before. Gasoline is much cleaner than it ever was before. So is diesel. Let’s keep making improvements to that and not say, “Let’s get rid of internal-combustion engines.”
SN: Racing is a top priority for many companies in our industry. Tell us a bit about the race culture in Indiana.
GP: I live in the racing capital of the world. Now, some people would dispute that. There are other areas that think they are, but they’re wrong.
I’ll be going to Carburation Day on Friday [May 27] at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s always fun. There’s live music, bands and flyovers. You know, the fun stuff. I’ll be going to the Indy 500 in two weeks. I’ve got 16 tickets right across from the pits.
We have the drag-racing capital of the world. IndyCar, of course, is right there. Down in Speedway, the number of manufacturers in the technology that is happening is incredible.
SN: Tony Stewart’s from Columbus, Indiana, as well. Is he a constituent of yours?
GP: Tony Stewart is a southern Indiana boy. Smart guy. I believe he’s the biggest dirt track owner in the United States. We sponsored him back when he was in high school. To put our logo on his car, we gave him a 55-gal. barrel of 10-octane oil for the season. Back then, it probably cost $100. He was only in high school then.