Get to Know Your Lawmakers

SEMA News—August 2017

LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS

By Eric Snyder

Get to Know Your Lawmakers

Relationships With Members of Congress Are Key to Protecting the Industry

  azadi
Al Azadi (left), the founder and president of Omix-ADA, provides U.S. Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA) a tour of the company’s Suwanee, Georgia, facility.
   

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” While there’s a good bit of truth to it, representing the interests of the automotive specialty aftermarket is a team effort. SEMA members and staff work together to build relationships with lawmakers in Washington and across the country, amplifying the industry’s voice.

Central to SEMA’s advocacy is demonstrating to members of Congress how the federal legislation they vote on impacts SEMA-member companies and workers in their congressional districts. This strategy is most effective when the elected officials are familiar with the companies and
their employees.

SEMA’s biennial Washington Rally provides member companies from around the country with an opportunity to meet with their members of Congress, but you don’t have to travel to our nation’s capital to have your voice heard. Lawmakers use the time during the weeks that Congress is not in session to meet with their constituents in their home districts.

Each member of the U.S. House of Representatives has at least one office in his or her district, and U.S. Senators often have multiple offices around the state that their constituents can visit. Lawmakers also use congressional recesses to tour businesses in their districts and states. Below are a couple of real-world examples.

Rick Love, vice president of Vintage Air in San Antonio, Texas, developed a strong relationship with U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) as a result of a 2010 SEMA Washington Rally meeting he had with Ashlee Vinyard, a junior member on the congressman’s staff at the time. Vinyard is now Rep. Smith’s chief of staff and was instrumental in getting the congressman to tour Vintage Air in 2014 and hold a town hall with the company’s employees in 2016.

love
Rick Love (right), executive vice president of Vintage Air, demonstrated one of his company’s air conditioning systems to U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) during the congressman’s 2014 visit to the company in San Antonio, Texas.
 
   

At the 2014 visit, Rep. Smith learned firsthand how Vintage Air added a complete evaporator and condensing coil manufacturing operation to its facility. Crucial to this expansion were business expensing tax deductions (Section 179 in the tax code), which help companies deduct the cost of new equipment in the year it’s purchased instead of depreciating the cost over time. Until 2015, this deduction had to be renewed by Congress each year, and the amount could revert to the pre-recession $25,000 cap. However, Congress made the deduction permanent at the $500,000 level, which encourages American companies such as Vintage Air to invest in the latest tools for manufacturing their products.

“The ability to show Rep. Smith firsthand how these important expensing deductions helped fuel our growth was invaluable,” Love said. “It was a message the congressman was able take back to Washington as he advocated for making these pro-business benefits permanent.”

Al Azadi, Omix-ADA founder and president, is another SEMA member who has used the Washington Rally to develop a strong relationship with his member of Congress. Azadi met with U.S. Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA) during the 2016 rally to discuss issues of importance to SEMA and Omix-ADA. In 2017, the congressman jumped at the chance to tour the company’s headquarters in Suwanee, Georgia.

  donnelly
SEMA developed a strong relationship with U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN, center), then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, during a 2010 visit to the Truck Accessories Group in Elkhart, Indiana.
   

After providing Rep. Woodall with a tour of Omix-ADA’s warehouse, offices and Jeep museum, the company’s management sat down with the congressman to discuss a variety of issues. They included a greater need for intellectual property protection, the negative impact of import tariffs on the industry, and the ever-increasing costs of healthcare expenses for small- and medium-size businesses.

“In the seventh district of Georgia, we’re fortunate to have committed corporate citizens like Omix-ADA who are willing to take the time to share their ideas and knowledge with me,” said Rep. Woodall. “When we partner in this way, it makes our voice in Washington that much more effective, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to see their operation and talk through the ways we can make their industry and our community even better.”

woodall
Al Azadi (left) and Rep. Woodall (R-GA) stop to chat while admiring Omix-ADA’s Jeep Museum.
 
   

Don’t be shy about opening your doors to your member of Congress. Making that connection helps them understand your business concerns.

If you would like to invite your elected officials to visit your company, SEMA’s government affairs office will facilitate the event. SEMA’s Congressional Site Visit Program has resulted in more than 40 members of Congress visiting member companies, leading to long-term relationships that benefit the business and the industry.

Meeting lawmakers and their staffs in the nation’s capital is also valuable. It’s not too early to start making plans to come to Washington next May for the 2018 Washington Rally.

Don’t want to wait until May? No problem. SEMA staff will be pleased to schedule visits anytime you are visiting Washington, D.C.

Congressional Site Visits: Behind the Scenes With Omix-ADA’s Founder and President Al Azadi

SEMA-member company Omix-ADA recently hosted U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) for a congressional site visit at its headquarters in Suwanee, Georgia. SEMA News caught up with company founder and president Al Azadi to find out what went into planning the congressman’s visit and what tips Azadi would give other SEMA members for setting up their
own tours.

SEMA News: What made you want host your congressman for a site visit?

Al Azadi: Omix-ADA employs more than 100 people in Rep. Woodall’s district. For that reason, we felt that building a good relationship with our congressman was important. Through SEMA’s Congressional Site Visit Program, we also learned that our elected representatives want to have a good relationship with us so that they can help with potential problems down the road.

SN: What can other SEMA-member companies gain by hosting their own visits?

AA: After getting to know Rep. Woodall, we feel that he genuinely wants to help businesses like ours. It was refreshing. If companies face unnecessary challenges, overreaching regulation or instances where the playing field is not level, our elected officials will be there for us.

SN: What issues did you discuss with your legislator?

AA: Rep. Woodall was genuinely interested in the issues that affect not just our business but also our entire industry. At the top of the list were the RPM Act and E15 ethanol. We also discussed the growing threat of counterfeit products and illegitimate distribution in our markets.

SN: How did you develop a relationship with your congressman, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA)?

AA: I first met Rep. Woodall through the SEMA Washington Rally event, where he showed genuine interest in our industry. From there, it was as simple as following up with his staff to extend the invitation.

SN: What advice do you have for SEMA members looking to host their members
of Congress?

AA: Just do it! Make your voice heard. It’s not difficult. SEMA has resources available to help. Believe it or not, most members of Congress want to get to know you and your employees.

SN: What kind of preparation did you have to do for the site visit?

AA: SEMA graciously sent Eric Snyder from its government affairs office. He helped make the event a success. We knew Rep. Woodall would appreciate a tour of our facility and our historic collection of Jeep vehicles. However, we also wanted to give him the opportunity to meet our staff, who mostly reside in his district.

The first half of his visit was a tour, which we used as a walking discussion on our industry and our challenges. The second half was a roundtable meeting, which was a great way to substantively discuss issues with the congressman and his staff.

For more information on planning your own Congressional District Site Visit, contact Christian Robinson in the SEMA government affairs office at christianr@sema.org.

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