by Todd Spencer, Editor-in-chief
Early this year when fuel prices were setting all-time highs in much of the nation, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell introduced legislation that would have repealed the 24.3 cents federal tax now collected on each gallon of diesel fuel. The legislation was in response to trucker rallies in the nation's capitol. Campbell said when "that many private citizens come to Washington, the issue is not profit margins or stock prices. It is because they are fighting for their very livelihood." The Campbell legislation passed easily in the Senate, but was viewed less enthusiastically in the House of Representatives and by the White House.
Responding to the concerns of truckers again, Sen. Campbell drafted the legislation that would stop DOT's efforts to radically change the hours of service regulations with which all truckers must now comply. Campbell said his main concerns with the HOS proposal were its effects on drivers and consumers. Those concerns included lost income to drivers, lost time with family and the shortage of safe places for truckers to park. The Campbell language was added to the Senate Transportation Appropriations bill by subcommittee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).
And since then, Sen. Campbell has been instrumental, if not the leader, in working out compromise language with the House.
Would it be fair to say the senator has deep feelings about truckers? Clearly he does. During the 50s, he was a trucker for six years. And trucking is what the senator credits with getting him out of the fruit and vegetable fields in California, where he worked as a picker after a stint in the Air Force stationed in Korea.
In mid-July, I spent a day with Sen. Campbell while the lawmaker was fine-tuning his driving skills by making deliveries of Budweiser products. We delivered in Denver, Ft. Collins and Greeley, CO. This wasn't a staged media event. The senator drove every mile, negotiated every turn, sometimes on narrow city streets. He backed into every dock. In making similar deliveries the previous day, Sen. Campbell got to spend an hour and a half inching through Denver traffic, backed up because of an accident.
Campbell is serious about keeping his driving skills sharp. He plans to drive the truck that will haul the nation's Christmas tree from Colorado to Washington DC this December.
One suspects the senator approaches making laws with the same care and involvement. In every aspect of his life, he is dedicated to achievement - as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a northern Cheyenne chief, a rancher, and an award-winning jewelry designer. His father was northern Cheyenne and his mother was a Portuguese immigrant. He did not have an easy time growing up. Ben dropped out of school and subsequently joined the Air Force. His move into trucking happened by chance. While picking tomatoes for 15 cents a box, Ben became acquainted with a truckdriver he refers to as his "Good Samaritan." He let Ben drive the truck in the field and later helped him get his first driving job. Ben backed through a fence on his very first day, but he didn't get fired and he didn't give up.
"On the third day, I was on my own with a load of pipe on a 35 ft. trailer. No one told me anything about scales," he said with a big smile on his face. So he blew right by the first one. "Here came the lights. They could tell I was green. About three hours later, they let me go."
For the next six years, trucking provided the income for Campbell to finish high school and earn a degree from San Jose State University. Ben's entry into politics is almost as unlikely as his entry into trucking. He accompanied a friend to a local political gathering where nominees to state offices would be selected. The friend had political aspirations, Ben didn't. Before the meeting ended, however, he was convinced to take on an attorney who was running for the state legislature."The attorney looked good and I'm sure everyone believed he would win," Campbell recalled, "but he didn't. I just outworked him."Sen. Campbell went on to represent Colorado's Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987-92. In 1992, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and re-elected in 1998."Some people criticize me for not being senatorial, because I drive trucks and ride motorcycles (another of his passions), but I get re-elected by the largest percentages of anyone in the state." That is probably because Sen. Campbell remains totally anchored in Colorado. He works in the nation's capitol, but lives on a 300-acre ranch outside Durango. After all these years in Washington, when the Senate isn't in session, he still makes the regular commute back home to his wife, Linda, and the ranch.It's not difficult to see why Campbell is popular with voters. He makes every effort to stay close; to be approachable. He usually travels with little or no staff, as it seems to discourage personal contact with people. And in instances where people are not approaching him with their views, he goes to them to find out what's on their minds. I asked him to name his priorities for the rest of his term in the U.S. Senate and Campbell said land use issues, natural resources policy and trucking would be near the top.
The senator described driving a truck as his therapy. "Sometimes it's hard to measure accomplishments in making laws," he said. "When you get done with a trip in a truck, you can see what you have accomplished.
In every aspect of his life, he is dedicated to achievement - as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a northern Cheyenne chief, a rancher and an award-winning jewelry designer.