Cars

Our nation’s capital

By LARRY CARL, CEO

Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Kansas City

Larry Carl
Larry Carl

A few days ago I had the privilege of traveling to Washington, D.C., for the purpose of advocating on behalf of the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Kansas City. This visit to our nation’s capital is a well-organized annual event. We meet with our elected officials and explain our position on a variety of issues that impact the auto industry in general, and dealers specifically. There is a litany of regulations, pending legislation and other guidance that comes out of Washington, D.C., that would make your head spin. Some of it is appropriate, and some of it is a definite overreach. This last comment cuts across many categories and many industries.

Because our association’s metro membership comes from both sides of the state line – about two-thirds of the new car dealerships are on the Missouri side, the remainder are in Kansas – I pull double duty with the number of meetings and appointments with our senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill of Missouri; plus representatives Emanuel Cleaver and Sam Graves of Missouri, and Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder of Kansas. For those who are unfamiliar with the layout of the Capitol Hill, the senators’ buildings and the representatives’ offices are on opposite sides of the Capitol – about a 15-minute walk. And it never seems to fail that the meetings are scheduled in such a sequence that you are back and forth from the Senate to the House, like a ping-pong ball. I walked the same route so many times on Wednesday that the Capitol Police recognized me. To add insult to injury, it was raining! Imagine showing up to your senator’s office looking like a wet dog.

It’s easy to say that nothing gets accomplished because of the political polarization – that’s low hanging fruit – but I want to share a small experience that I witnessed firsthand a few years ago that gave me some insight as to why it’s so difficult. Back in 2008, I was part of an organized fly-in to Washington to drum up support for bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler. We were meeting with a congressman who had seen the draft language of the legislation that was going to provide the two automakers with the necessary funding to keep operating. Support of this bill had huge implications for the country; literally millions of jobs were at stake. We asked the congressman if he would vote in favor of the bill. He responded that he fully understood the importance of keeping these two major companies operating and jobs intact, but he could not vote in favor of it. We were taken aback by that response.

He explained that buried in the language of the bill was something that caused him, and more important, his constituency, great pain. GM and Chrysler would have to sell their private aircraft as a condition of receiving federal funds to remain in business. The congressman represented the Wichita area whose economy and workforce were heavily reliant on aircraft manufacturing, especially private aircraft. How could he vote on a measure that would adversely affect his constituents back home, even on principle? Fortunately, the bill passed. I didn’t envy the position the congressman had, but I now understood that it’s not so easy.

This is the challenge, however, that members of Congress face all the time. There are 435 representatives and 100 senators. They have meetings with visitors like me advocating a particular position every day. Now multiply that by, say, five meetings per day. For one day that calculates to 2,675 encounters throughout the Senate and House. That’s more than 13,000 per week. That’s a lot to sift through and consider. But one thing did get accomplished while I was there. With the deadline approaching on the last day, members voted to keep the government open. Some may wonder if that’s a good thing or not.

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