With all the media coverage of the presidential race, it's easy to overlook the Senators and Congressman who represent your interests in Washington. But this month is a perfect opportunity to make sure they know just what those interests are.
Congress is in its August recess right now, which means they're in their home districts, a prime time to communicate with them.
Why should you bother? Senators and representatives who understand - or don't understand - trucking issues can make a big impact on Capitol Hill. Here are some examples from just the past year:
· Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has determinedly attacked the trucking industry's safety record.
· A number of senators have called for suspensions of the federal fuel tax, including Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
· Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan support ending federal oversight of the Teamsters union.
· Legislation to stop the hours of service reform process has been supported by bill by the likes of Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., and Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah.
· Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., and Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced a bill that would call for mandatory fuel surcharges to be passed on to owner-operators.
Todd Spencer, vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn., says it's easier than you might think to get the ear of your elected officials. In fact, the day we talked, he said he had eaten lunch with his local congressman at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
"As drivers and small operators, we have to be especially attentive and involved in the political process, or our views and concerns will be misrepresented by others in our industry," Spencer says. "And that means communicating with lawmakers."
With everyone in the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate up for re-election, most of your elected officials are in campaign mode and are open to talking to their constituents in the hope of getting their votes.
"This is an opportunity for any trucker to visit with a lawmaker at home, or close to home, about issues that are on their minds," Spencer says. "It's as simple as picking up the phone, calling the local district office, and ask to the person in charge of schedules for the elected official. Ask where they're going to be or ask if you can schedule a meeting to come into the office and sit down and visit. I couldn't say with certainly you'll be able to get a one on one, face to face meeting with every elected official in your district, but that doesn't stop you from asking."
If you score a personal meeting with your representative, consider taking along several like-minded truckers to maximize the impact. Spencer says it's important not to go in with a "laundry list" of everything on your mind. "Pick two maximum issues," he says. "If you go in with 10, nothing you say is going to mean anything."
Two issues that Spencer suggests for his group's members are the fuel surcharge legislation the association is supporting (HR 4491) and hours of service.
"The fuel surcharge legislation is the number one thing we need for this congress to resolve before they go home for elections," Spencer says. "We're going to see fuel prices go up again this fall, and some people are predicting that fuel prices are going to be higher this winter than they were last winter. If we wait until December to start complaining, there will be no one in Washington and no one that can help."
On hours of service, OOIDA agrees with the American Trucking Associations' position that lawmakers should vote to postpone any rulemaking action for at least a year. But, Spencer says, lawmakers have the power to address a key part of the fatigue issue that the rulemaking process doesn't.
"The key thing on hours of service, it's not how many hours drivers get to drive, it's how those hours are spent," Spencer says. "Lawmakers have got to hear from every trucker that the big problem is the wasted time loading and unloading. DOT cannot address that issue - lawmakers can. Lawmakers have to."
Other possible issues, Spencer says, are the debate to increase allowable truck sizes and weights, a two-year-old law that allows states to add tolls on interstate highways, and legislation to bring truckers under the Fair Labor Standards Act for overtime pay.
If you can't score a personal meeting with your elected officials, make a special effort to go to a public meeting where they're going to be. During this month, you'll find your elected officials making appearances at schools, chambers of commerce, building dedications, and the like. They may appear on a call-in radio show, as Colorado's Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell did recently. All you have to do is call the local offices and ask where your representative is going to appear.