Making your voice heard

Become your lawmaker’s go-to person for trucking issues

February 2020

Mark Schremmer

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Do you have strong views about trucking-related issues?

Of course you do.

Next question: Have you ever reached out to your lawmaker’s staff about these issues?

Sadly, the answer to this question becomes more divided. Many truck drivers – and citizens in general – believe making a phone call or sending a letter to a lawmaker will lead nowhere. It’s a waste of time, they think.

One phone call, of course, isn’t likely to change the world or even a single lawmaker’s mind when they’ve already formed a position on a particular issue.

However, there are examples of when those phone calls, emails and letters do matter. Let’s face it, many lawmakers and their staff members know little about trucking. The more specialized the issue is, the more clueless they are likely to be.

That’s where you come in. You are the trucking experts. You’re the ones who are actually hauling the nation’s freight every day. You are the ones who are affected by the laws and regulations that are said to make the roads safer. You are the ones who know whether or not those laws and regulations are working as intended.

Connect with the right staffer and, suddenly, your voice could be directly relayed into the ear of your lawmaker. Once that connection is formed, don’t be surprised if a member of that lawmaker’s staff starts calling you when they need information on a trucking-related issue.

Yes. It is possible to become a lawmaker’s go-to person for trucking issues.

It will require initiative and persistence, but it is possible. Now, it’s up to you to make it happen.

The view from the other side

Before Mike Matousek joined OOIDA’s government affairs team, he served as a member of Rep. Sam Graves’ congressional staff from 2008-12. During that time, he learned the importance of having a trucking expert in his corner.

“When I started working for Rep. Graves (R-Mo.) in 2008, I was handling his transportation portfolio, which included trucking-related issues,” Matousek said. “While I knew a little bit about trucking and had contacts with OOIDA and ATA and other trucking associations, there was a lot I didn’t know.”

Then one day, OOIDA member Bill Bailey called Graves’ office to talk about some of the trucking issues of the time. That conversation soon led to another and then another.

“We got to where we were talking every couple of weeks,” Matousek said. “Sometimes, it was him calling me and other times it was me calling him about something we needed more information on. It went on for a couple of years. We kind of became buddies, and he was my go-to trucker. For a staffer, having someone like Bill was extremely helpful. There was nobody in Washington, D.C., who knew more about trucking than Bill Bailey.”

Congressional staff members play a large role in helping a lawmaker form his or her opinion on a specific issue.

“If you are talking to the right congressional staffer, that person has considerable influence regarding a lawmaker’s stance on an issue,” Matousek said. “Don’t think you are talking to a nobody. Staffers are there for a reason. A lawmaker can’t keep up on all of the issues. Staffers form their own opinions, and then they tell the boss what they think. Then the lawmaker makes the decision.”

Even if you are unable to get a lawmaker to adopt your stance, it’s possible you could get them to meet you in the middle.

“If a lawmaker feels strongly one way about an issue, and you call in with a totally different view, you may not get them to change sides but maybe you can get them to alter their perspective a little bit and get them to something more reasonable,” Matousek said.

Matousek used the example of a current House bill that would raise the federal minimum insurance requirement for motor carriers from $750,000 to about $5 million.

“Maybe the lawmaker still thinks it should be increased, but maybe your perspective convinces them that it should not be raised,” he said.

Matousek said the first step to becoming a lawmaker’s go-to person on trucking is by making a phone call.

“First, call your congressional office,” Matousek said. “Whoever picks up the phone, tell them this is who I am, where I live, what I do for a living, and that you would like to talk about some trucking-related issues. Ask for the name and email of the legislative assistant who handles transportation issues.”

Then, Matousek said to send up a follow-up email to the appropriate staff member. Again, tell them all the basics about who you are and what you would like to talk about.

“Tell them that you would love to talk with someone for about 10 to 15 minutes about some specific trucking issues,” Matousek said. “That’s how it starts.”

It can be done

Years before he ever became an OOIDA board member, Danny Schnautz worked at becoming his lawmakers’ go-to person on trucking.

After each issue of Land Line is published, Schnautz sends about 15 copies of the magazine out to lawmakers. He includes a cover letter that highlights about six to seven articles he believes the lawmaker’s staff should read.

“I do think some of them probably end up in the trash, but overall I think it’s a big help,” Schnautz said. “It has started relationships. They remember me as the guy who sends the magazines, and I think it helps get our view out there.”

One lawmaker who has listened to Schnautz’s voice is Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas. Babin has fought back against the ELD mandate, pushed for hours-of-service reform, and recently criticized FMCSA for not properly addressing driver coercion.

“Babin has a good staff,” Schnautz said. “I know that’s a place where the magazines don’t get thrown away.”

But Babin isn’t the only lawmaker who has taken the time to listen to Schnautz’s views on trucking. In October, Schnautz went to Washington, D.C., to talk with staff members for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas.

One of the staff members remembered Schnautz from the magazines and gave him a hug.

“I send her a copy of Land Line every month, so it was like we already had a relationship,” Schnautz said.

“Schnautz’s story is a perfect example of how it can be done,” Matousek said.

“The only way to affect change is to reach out to the people who make the laws.” LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.