Examining the Fresh Faces in Congress
The Future Is Now
What do a car dealer, a former Navy SEAL commander and a financial advisor have in common? They were all recently elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. As a result of the November midterm elections, a lot of new faces have arrived in the nation’s capital. Fifty-eight first-timers were elected to the House of Representatives and 13 to the U.S. Senate. Among them are the future champions of the automotive specialty-equipment industry. While sorting through all of the new names may seem daunting, here are a few to keep an eye on.
Newly elected U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) is a bona fide car guy. Not only did he attend the 2013 SEMA Show, but he also counts his restored ’38 Cadillac Series 65 as a prized possession. Prior to his election to Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Zinke served in the Montana State Senate. There, he was a member of the SEMA-supported State Automotive Enthusiast and Leadership Caucus.
Service has always been a staple in Zinke’s life. Before seeking public office, he was a decorated member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six. In Congress, Zinke serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees land-use and off-road issues. The SEMA government-affairs office looks forward to working with him to ensure fair access to federal lands for responsible off-roading.
When U.S. Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) announced his retirement from Congress, there was cause for concern. For nearly two decades, Campbell had been a faithful champion of the industry at both the state and national levels. Losing his voice was potentially a major blow to SEMA members in his district in Orange County, California. Fortunately, his successor comes to Congress already familiar with the industry.
Last November, Mimi Walters (R-CA) was overwhelmingly elected to represent California’s 45th Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Walter’s district is home to more than 50 SEMA-member companies. Prior to her election, she served in the California State Senate, where she was also a member of the State Automotive Enthusiast and Leadership Caucus. There, she introduced SEMA-supported legislation that eased the state’s length restrictions on motorsports semitrailers. The state had previously limited such rigs to 53 ft. Thanks to Walters, the limit is now 56 ft.
U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) knows a thing or two about the auto industry himself. A former Virginia lieutenant governor, he’s the owner of several car dealerships that bear his name in the state. In fact, he’s the former chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.
Since joining Congress, Beyer has aligned himself with the New Democrats Coalition, a group that prides itself on pursuing pro-business legislation. He has also indicated that one of his top priorities will be bringing much-needed reform to the country’s intellectual property rights laws. The government affairs office looks forward to working with him to accomplish that goal.
If you’re looking for car guys, Michigan is always a good place to start. SEMA staffers are excited that former three-term Congressman Gary Peters (D-MI) is now a member of the U.S. Senate. While representing much of Detroit in the House of Representatives, he was a strong advocate for the auto industry. As a member of the Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus, this former financial advisor has seen SEMA’s footprint in Michigan firsthand.
Perhaps the most noted Michigander in Congress was Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who was known for his fierce support of the auto industry during his 58-year career in the House. His successor has also spent much of her life fighting for the auto industry.
Newly elected Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) knows quite a bit about cars, having worked for General Motors (GM) for more than 30 years. In addition to running GM’s government and public affairs operations, she worked as a consultant to the American Automobile Policy Council. She also happens to be Rep. Dingell’s wife. While she has been helping to craft policy in Washington for many years, she will now be able to affect change from inside the halls of Congress.
Last, but certainly not least, is U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). At 40 years of age, he brings a fresh perspective to the Senate after serving two terms in the House. He will be a strong ally for the off-road-vehicle community.
While in the House of Representatives, Gardner sponsored legislation to empower states to develop land conservation management plans that considered public access and use. Before coming to Congress, Sen. Gardner served in the Colorado State Legislature and worked as a senior aide to U.S. Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), who now chairs the American Motorcyclist Association. The Senator also knows a bit about small business. He grew up working at his family’s farm-equipment dealership. As a result of this experience, he understands the unique challenges that small businesses face.
The start of a new a Congress brings the promise of new opportunities. The slate is wiped clean and all legislation must start from scratch. While SEMA is sorry that some of its friends and allies in Congress have not returned for the new session, we are encouraged that the 2014 election ushered in several capable lawmakers, a number of whom have been long-time supporters of the automotive industry and small business. We look forward to working with them in the next two years to encourage policies that will help SEMA members grow their businesses well into the future.
SEMA PAC President’s Club Spotlight: Paul Van Woensel
Paul Van Woensel is the president of Engine & Performance Warehouse, which is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. He joined the SEMA PAC President’s Club in 2006.
“Of all the political organizations from which I receive information, the SEMA PAC is the most valuable,” Van Woensel said.
“It keeps me and my business focused on the legislation and political races that impact the automotive aftermarket industry.”
For more information on SEMA PAC, please contact SEMA PAC and Congressional Relations Manager Christian Robinson by phone at 202-783-6007 x20, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.