Put a Legislator in Your Toolbox!

Back to Driving Force, Fall 2014

State Lawmakers Nationwide Steer Hobby's Future

By West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell

Do you have a toolbox? The answer for nearly all of us is a resounding yes, but how many of us have a lawmaker in that tool box? As car enthusiasts, we're often confronted by well-meaning yet ill-informed lawmakers that want to prevent reasonable modifications to our cars. Often, a simple conversation with a constituent like you will set them straight and stop bad legislation in its tracks. So, maybe it's time you put a legislator in your tool box.

From left: West Virginia Delegates Eric Nelson, Jim Butler, Gary Howell, Kelli Sobonya, Eric Householder, Scott Cadle, Tim Armstead, and Ron Walters pose with The Enthusiast Network's Chairman Peter Englehart (pictured in red shirt) during the 2014 Hot Rod Power Tour. (Photo courtesy Perry Bennett)

If you were on the 2014 Hot Rod Power Tour, you may have noticed a red, white and blue '99 Jeep Cherokee XJ with a Skyjacker 4.5-in. Rock Ready lift, Ares Fab bumpers and a 12,000-lb. winch rolling on 30x9.50s. You may also have noticed that the Jeep carried legislative license plates. That was my Jeep, and I am not just a hot rodder; I am also a member of the West Virginia State Legislature. If you slept through civics class in high school, then you might not remember what a state legislator does. If so, then let me remind you. Each state has a legislature, which is essentially a state version of the U.S. Congress. We are the people that write and pass laws for our individual states. As many of the laws that govern how we title, register, inspect and equip our vehicles are handled at the state level, these state legislatures wield a lot of power over the hobby. That includes modifications you can do to your car or truck. Fortunately, there are a lot of state legislators that are fans of cars themselves, many of whom are members of the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus (for which I am the proud national chairman). We want to protect your right to work on and modify your ride.

West Virginia Delegate Gary Howell, national chairman of the SAN-supported State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus, speaks to the crowd at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals about his passion for the hobby on Collector Car Appreciation Day 2014 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  

"If you don't follow politics, then politics will follow you" is one of my favorite quotations by the Greek philosopher Socrates. It was true some 2,000 years ago, and it is true today. It doesn't mean you need to follow politics as closely as politicians do, but it does mean you should pay enough attention to be aware of the things that might stop you from working on your cars and trucks. One way you can do that is by signing up for the SEMA Action Network (SAN) and encouraging your friends to do the same. Think of the SAN as an oil-pressure gauge. If your oil-pressure light comes on, most likely your motor is already damaged. When you notice the oil pressure is dropping on the gauge, then you have time to save it. The SAN is your political oil pressure gauge. Once you sign up they will send you alerts informing you about hobby-related legislation (both good and bad) that is being considered in your state. Last year, the SAN tracked and advocated on four pieces of legislation in my home state, but in other states around the country, there were many more. They don't sell the list, so you will not get any spam. When you receive an alert from the SAN direct to your online inbox, it will give you simple instructions on contacting your local legislators. It will also contain talking points that will help convince lawmakers to support or not support the legislation. Legislators will listen to constituents, especially those who vote. I do and so do my colleagues in West Virginia and around the country.

  West Virginia Delegates Gary Howell and Eric Householder pose with Howell’s ’99 Jeep Cherokee XJ during the 2014 Hot Rod Power Tour.

It is good to know who your legislators are, but it is better if your legislators know who you are. They might just be a gearhead as well! Legislators want and need to meet the people they represent and they respond to the people they meet. Invite your local legislators to a car show, club event or any other occasion where they can meet car enthusiasts. Let them know that you express your personal passion through your car or truck. Even if your legislators never buy or build a hobby vehicle, they will know and remember you when it comes time to vote on legislation. When confronted with legislation that may affect the hobby, they may just pick up the phone and call you for your opinion. That, my friends, is how you put a legislator in your toolbox in a way that works for you.