By Mike Joyce
OOIDA director of legislative affairs
On Feb. 2 in the town of Punxsutawney, PA, there is a celebration of sorts called Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil, as he has come to be named, emerges (or is pulled) from his slumber on Gobbler’s Knob to give us all a prediction of whether winter will continue or spring will arrive early. This year, after seeing his shadow, Phil predicted another six weeks of winter, which I’m certain many were not happy to hear.
Over the years, other Punxsutawney Phil look-alikes have developed. Today more than a dozen groundhog prognosticators all weigh in with their predictions.
Similarly, political pundits in Washington try to predict the success or failure of a new Congress, new administration, legislation and other policy matters on a daily basis.
And then there is the 1993 movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray. In the movie, Bill Murray’s character lives Feb. 2 over and over and over again. Although the day is repeated, by the end of the movie Bill Murray’s character has learned from his knowledge and experience of reliving
Feb. 2, developing into a better person and eventually being set free of repeating the day.
This too reminds me of some of what we do in Washington and on Capitol Hill, representing the members of OOIDA each day.
In Washington, some days are like “Groundhog Day.” We meet with members of Congress and staff, and with officials in various agencies; attending and participating in hearings in the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, Senate Commerce Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and networking with other like-minded organizations, while opposing efforts that might damage our members’ opportunities.
There is a lot of repetition in what we do, but as we repeat our viewpoints on certain issues, they begin to take root and become a part of an understanding and everyday dialogue with key policymakers.
The repetition in what we do is firmly situated in a goal to represent the interest of our members, and educate policy makers on important issues that affect truckers.
We are constantly planting seeds each time we talk with a member of Congress, staff, or other policymaker. These are seeds we hope will grow into a better relationship and understanding of the challenges and opportunities that face the American trucker.
The outcome is not always quantifiable, much like the predictions of the groundhogs – until after the fact. And sometimes there is frustration, much like learning there are “six more weeks of winter.”
Although we try to remain clear and consistent with our message, Washington is ever-changing and it requires a great deal of time, energy, fortitude, persistence, and commitment to keep up with the change.
Elections change the balance of power. New faces arrive to take the place of those departing, and people we may have spent a great deal of time working with depart for other opportunities. When there are departures or changes, we must start anew. We must meet the new lawmakers and staff, engage them and get them enthused about our issues. They often have their own preconceived opinions, and we need to be a resource to them.
The cycle of working with, and educating policymakers, is never-ending, and probably as important now, as ever. As most of you know, every two years there is a federal election for all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and about one-third (33 of 100) of the members of the U.S. Senate (because senators are elected for six-year terms that are staggered, not all Senate seats are up at the same time).
These elections, along with the presidential election, were held in November 2008. With the new administration and new Congress, there is ongoing change in Washington. During the first week of January, the 111th Congress took the oath of office. The 435 members of the House of Representatives – some serving their first term, others who have served many years – began a new Congress.
Leadership positions in both parties were selected, chairmen of committees were chosen, committee assignments were divvied up among rank-and-file members, and staff took on new roles. The playing field was determined. Now it is our job to go out onto that field of play.
We spent years working with members of the Bush administration and members of Congress
– in both Republican- and Democratic-controlled Congresses. But now there are many new faces in positions of power – people we need to get to know and work with. But we can’t do it without our grassroots – you, our members, the American truckers.
Spring is in the air. The garden needs tending to, and the more gardeners we have nurturing the plants, the more fruitful the harvest. Help us cultivate relationships with lawmakers about the importance of trucking to our nation, and put the long, cold winter behind us. LL