FROM THE HILL
Making Capitol Connections
Legislative Caucuses Remain Crucial to SEMA’s Success
U.S. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA, right) is one of several lawmakers who enlisted in both the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus and Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus. Rep. Valadao visited SEMA-member company KW Automotive in 2014.
In Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the country, it’s all about who you know. Strength is often measured by the size of your Rolodex, especially when seeking to advocate on behalf of the American automotive specialty-equipment industry. Through a variety of programs initiated over the years, the industry has connected with some of the most important contacts: politicians.
You’ve seen the numbers. The industry is a vital economic engine that should automatically command respect beyond Rolodex connections. Consumer sales of motor-vehicle performance, appearance and technology products topped $36 billion last year, while providing jobs for more than one million Americans. The American car hobby is thriving, with consumers craving the newest and coolest cars, both recent models and older vintages. Having a powerful voice in Congress and state capitols is critical to keeping that engine running smoothly.
The American auto industry celebrated its centennial in 1996. To mark the milestone, SEMA helped formed the Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus to pay tribute to America’s ever-growing love affair with the car and motorsports. Twenty years later, the Congressional Caucus continues to raise the industry’s profile in the nation’s capital.
Today, the bipartisan Congressional Caucus is helmed by Representatives Bill Posey (R-FL) and Sandy Levin (D-MI) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Jon Tester (D-MT) in the U.S. Senate. Thanks to their leadership, the group is growing faster than ever before. In the past year, more than a dozen new members signed up to show their support for the industry.
U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) participated in the 2014 SEMA Washington Rally. LaMalfa is an ally for the automotive aftermarket industry in the House of Representatives, just as he was in the California State Legislature.
In 2015, members of the Congressional Caucus worked to defend the industry and enthusiasts. From efforts to block the sale of 15% ethanol gasoline, which can cause damage to millions of older vehicles, to ensuring off-highway vehicle access to federal lands to sponsoring legislation that creates a simplified regulatory structure for companies producing up to 325 replica cars a year, the caucus members are on the front lines fighting for automotive businesses.
Many of these caucus members are gearheads, while others simply want to help small businesses that create jobs for the people they represent. These industry defenders have also fought for critical small-business tax breaks to be made permanent, which helps SEMA members recuperate the costs of their investments.
Relationships with these congressional allies often start long before they arrive in the nation’s capital. In fact, many come to Washington well acquainted with the automotive aftermarket, thanks to the SEMA-supported State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus. Currently led by West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell (R), these state-level legislators have been responsible for a range of pro-industry legislation, such as titling and registration for custom cars and street rods, reducing the tax burden on collector-car owners, implementing common-sense exhaust-noise testing programs and emissions exemptions, allowing single rear license plates, and abolishing ethanol requirements in gasoline.
The State Caucus, now 700 members strong and represented in each of the 50 states, was formed in 2005 and is a vital tool for SEMA’s local advocacy efforts. As many products are regulated at the state level, caucus members help protect the industry and enthusiasts by raising the motor-vehicle hobby’s profile in state legislatures.
As noted, some state lawmakers eventually come to Washington. Posey made that leap in 2009. He is not only a tried-and-true car guy, but he was also a founding State Caucus member. While in the Florida state legislature, he sponsored SEMA-model legislation in 2007 to amend the vehicle titling and registration classification for street rods and created a new classification for custom vehicles. A year later, Posey introduced legislation to provide an exemption from commercial motor carrier regulations for vehicles that occasionally transport personal property to a motorsports facility.
Current and former members of the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus gathered again this past November to meet with SEMA staff and enjoy the 2015 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The caucus, comprised of more than 700 legislators in all 50 states, is serving to further raise the automotive hobby’s profile in the state capitols. In attendance were (standing left to right) Assemblyman Brian Jones (California); Representative Howard Mosby (Georgia); Senator Jim Patrick (Idaho); Delegate Danny Hamrick (West Virginia); Delegate Scott Cadle (West Virginia); Senator Mark Maynard (West Virginia); Representative Stan Blake (Wyoming); Representative Tom Reeder (Wyoming); Representative Raye Felder (South Carolina); Representative Chip Campbell (South Dakota); Assemblyman Paul Anderson (Nevada); Senator Ted Gaines (California); (seated left to right) Representative Josh Byrnes (Iowa); Former Caucus Chairman Bill Reilich (New York); Caucus Chairman Delegate Gary Howell (West Virginia); Former Caucus Chairman John Brueggeman (Montana) and Senator Mark Manendo (Nevada).
Other state legislators have made similar jumps. Tester was once a State Caucus member. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Cook (R-CA), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Ryan Zinke (R-MT) were also among the hundreds of State Caucus members.
While SEMA’s government affairs office maintains an ongoing relationship with all caucus members, SEMA members are encouraged to build relationships as well. Toward that end, SEMA has established a site visit program in which the government affairs office will help arrange meetings with lawmakers or visits to member-company facilities. Many of these legislators regularly attend the SEMA Show, at which the association hosts a networking dinner in their honor. Visit www.SEMAsan.com for a complete listing of members.
The 2016 elections are just around the corner. You can help send more car people to Washington and state capitols by registering to vote and heading to the polls. A voter information tool at www.semaSAN.com/SEMAvotes provides information on upcoming election dates and registration deadlines in each state. You can also have an impact on the electoral process by becoming SEMA PAC (Political Action Committee) Approved for free at www.SEMAPAC.com. There is never any obligation to contribute, and you’ll be supporting the car people in Washington who have the industry’s back.
To learn more about the state and federal caucuses or how to recruit your elected representatives, contact SEMA PAC and Congressional Relations Manager Christian Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.