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Lights! Cameras! Roll ‘Em!

Autobody lobbyist Mike Causey is all about action. Whether working on anti-steering legislation, running for state-wide office or working as an extra in a Disney movie, he’s never bored.

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He’s a fan of John Ritter and a friend of Richard Petty’s. He likes baseball but rarely gets to watch it. He’s been in movies and on TV shows, but his schedule doesn’t allow him to catch the latest releases.

Let me introduce you to Mike Causey, who at various times, has worked as a farmhand, an insurance salesman, a political candidate, a small-business owner, a teacher and a part-time movie star. His passion for politics fits right in to his latest job as a lobbyist for the Independent Auto Body Association and the North Carolina Glass Association. In short, Mike Causey has never been one to slow down.

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In fact, the first time I talked to him, Causey was on the road to a glass shop. He’s almost always on the road to somewhere – a meeting with politicians or shop owners or both. I was glad to reach him on his cell phone, but in rural Virginia, a poor connection cut us off right after he gave me the phone number of the shop he was heading to. Ten minutes later I called the shop and guess who answered the phone? Causey. He’d made it to the glass shop and everybody was out working, so he ended up manning the phone and helping customers. He also managed to squeeze in this interview.

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BSB: How did you become a lobbyist?

Causey: By being active in North Carolina politics for 25 years. I was first registered as a lobbyist in 1995 to lobby for consumer insurance issues. As a candidate for North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance in 2000, one of the planks in my platform was insurance reform for the collision repair industry – body shops, glass shops and their customers. I didn’t win the election in 2000, but I received more than 1.2 million votes. The North Carolina Glass Association and the Independent Auto Body Association wanted me as their full-time lobbyist, so I took both groups on as my primary clients.

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BSB: What were you doing before you became a lobbyist for the auto body industry?

Causey: I was a business/political consultant. Prior to that I spent 20 years in the insurance industry as an agent, manager and superintendent of agencies. I’ve also owned several small businesses, one of which sold automotive supplies and farm equipment, and repaired equipment and small engines. I owned an antique business and conducted dozens of estate liquidation sales. Also, I taught high school for a couple of years in the mid 1990s and did some part-time movie acting with the motion picture industry. I’ve never been bored.

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BSB: What did you teach?

Causey: I taught computers, technology and business. In our state we have a shortage of teachers. I don’t have a teaching background, but the public schools were looking for teachers and, at that time, I’d just sold a business and had a little time. So I took a couple of years and taught in a public school system.

BSB: What was your impression of the state of education?

Causey: I think the students today have a short attention span. They’re so accustomed to video games and computers that they want everything really fast. And that [affects] collision repair shops too – the younger generation of customers wants their cars in a hurry.

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BSB: Are you married?

Causey: Yes. My wife Hisae is from the island of Okinowa. We met during my Army days. We’ve been married for 28 years.

BSB: Any kids?

Causey: Yes, one grown daughter, Cathe – and one cat, Hana.

BSB: What’s this about acting? Is your autograph worth money? How did you get involved in the movie industry?

Causey: Quite by accident. I owned an antique shop, and … most of the customers were designers. Quite a few of my customers did work for the motion picture industry. I was asked to meet with some set designers down in Wilmington, N.C., where they do the film making. I happened to be in one of the casting agencies one day to meet with a set designer, and somebody said, “Would you like to be in a movie this week?” I said, “Yeah right.” It was a Walt Disney production, and they were just really short-handed. They needed just about anybody who could breathe.

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We had to meet on the set at five o’clock in the morning, and I had no idea what I was going to be doing. They asked me to be a reporter. It was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done in my life. Just to be around that set. There were hundreds of people.

BSB: What were your lines?

Causey: I didn’t say anything really. I just had to look the part. A few months later, I saw myself on television. The same film company asked me if I’d like to do some more, so I started doing what I guess you’d call extra work, just part time.

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BSB: What else did you work on?

Causey: One time there was a movie made here for CBS. John Ritter and Merideth Baxter were the two stars, and they called me to work with John Ritter. They asked me to be a doctor. During the filming, there was a problem with John Ritter’s stand-in, and he didn’t make it. So they asked me to be his stand-in, and I end up doing multiple roles. I also did what you’d call a teenage soap opera called “Dawson’s Creek,” which is filmed here.

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BSB: What characters did you play on “Dawson’s Creek”?

Causey: I played different things. When they’d need a business man, I’d play that. Once there was a girl who didn’t like living in North Carolina anymore and wanted to go back to California. She was one of the stars. So she was going to die on the program. In the scene, she was going to get drunk, fall off the pier, hit her head and die. And they wanted me to play her dad. So I was “Mr. Morgan.” I didn’t really say anything – just had to cry a little bit at the funeral.

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BSB: Did you consider acting full time?

Causey: “Well, I wouldn’t mind it if you could make some money. You don’t make a lot of money. This is a non-union state. If you’re a union actor, you can make more money but you don’t work much. So you have a choice. I think the most I ever made working that type of work was maybe $140 per day. The money in acting is in commercials. If you make a commercial for Nissan or Toyota, you might make $2,000 or $3,000 a day.

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BSB: So you’re working toward commercials?

Causey: (Laughs) Well, I’d do a commercial. But my job is in front of the legislators and in front of Congress because that’s where we sell our story.

BSB: Why did you choose the auto- body industry? How did you first become involved?

Causey: I grew up on a farm and around the junkyard business. I’ve always been interested in automobiles, tractors and automotive repairs. In high school, one of my elective courses was Internal Combustion Engines. When I first went to college, I majored in engineering because I enjoyed learning the scientific principles of how things work.

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Several of my friends have owned body shops for many years. Through my travels around North Carolina and surrounding states, I learned of the great injustice being perpetrated on consumers by the insurance industry and their control of the collision repair process. The more I learned about the problem of “steering,” “imitation crash parts” and “Chinese windshields,” the more convinced I became that I would like to dedicate my present and future to helping consumers and the collision repair professionals who are being harmed by insurer interference and unfair trade practices.

BSB: How did working in the insurance industry help you with what you’re doing now?

Causey: I think it gave me an in-depth understanding for the insurance industry and how it works. When I went to work in insurance, I went to work for one of the largest insurance companies in the country, Metropolitan Life (MetLife) – life and health insurance, group insurance benefits and that sort of thing.

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One thing I was told from my managers my first week was that insurance companies and banks own and control this country. And I’ve never forgotten that. Over the past 10 years with my experience with the collision repair side, I realize that’s very true. It helped me get a better idea about insurance companies and how they work but there’s a world of difference between life insurance and property and casualty insurance.

It’s straightforward and simple with life insurance. As long as the premiums are paid, the insurance company must pay the specific benefits. The risk is evaluated at the time the application is written and approved in the underwriting

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process.

With property and casualty insurance, it’s not that straightforward when a claim is filed. The insurance companies determine the extent of the loss and determine the amount to be paid if any. The claimant is at a real disadvantage, generally. Unless the claimant is a career criminal, he is not familiar with the claims process and is at the mercy of the insurer.

BSB: What’s your favorite sport?

Causey: Baseball. It’s an all-American sport that’s relaxing to watch and fun to play.

BSB: Favorite team?

Causey: The Atlanta Braves are my first favorite and the Baltimore Orioles are my next favorite.

BSB: Favorite player?

Causey: Cal Ripkin, who recently retired from the Orioles. He exemplifies the professionalism that should be a standard for all players.

BSB: Coming from North Carolina, you must be a NASCAR fan.

Causey: I do like the automotive side of it. And the business side of it is interesting to me. I have a lot of friends in the motorsports side. But I’m not one of these people who takes my motor home and parks it out on the infield and camps out for a week before the race. I do watch the races or listen to it on the radio though.

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BSB: And you know Richard Petty?

Causey: Yes. In 1996, Richard Petty ran for state office – secretary of state. I ran for insurance commissioner. So we had the opportunity to campaign together, and I got know him very well – traveling around with him in his motor home. When we’d go on these trips, we’d have people from the “New York Times,” the “Baltimore Sun” and some major magazines just wanting to ride along so they could interview Richard Petty. It was so fascinating because you learned the racing’s just a small part of it. It’s all about the sponsorships and multi-million dollar contracts. Winning a race is icing on the cake.

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BSB: What have you done as a lobbyist that you’re most proud of?

Causey: Brought attention to some problem issues that need to be addressed, and worked to pass House Bill 13, the anti-steering bill, now law. The new law [took] effect April 1, 2002, in North Carolina. Also, I’ve lobbied for legislative changes in several states and Washington, DC. That’s ongoing.

BSB: How many autobody lobbyists are there versus insurance? What challenges does that create?

Causey: There are very few autobody lobbyists in the country. We’re probably outnumbered by about 500 to 1. We have to be 500 times smarter and rally the people behind us.

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There’s one of me in this state, lobbying on body shop issues. I lobby in some other states, too. I go into the legislature and there’s a hundred lawyers for insurance companies, which is fine. It just makes me proud we were able to accomplish what we did last year. And we’re working on that in some other states right now.

BSB: What’s on your agenda this year?

Causey: Writing more articles nationally, speaking to more groups and helping more collision repair associations nationally; helping Virginia, South Carolina and some other states pass strong anti-steering legislation; passing aftermarket parts legislation in North Carolina and other states; monitoring the situation with Allstate/Sterling in Blue Island, Ill.; and building the numbers and strength of the Independent Auto Body Association (IABA).

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BSB: You’ve worked a lot on the issue of insurer steering. What’s your take on it?

Causey: Steering was first brought to my attention in 1990 when a body shop owner and friend told me about the way insurers were forming direct-repair relationships with so-called preferred shops, similar to managed care or HMOs in healthcare.

There are several things that managed care is doing to the collision repair industry and consumers. It’s a fact that the insurance companies have ruined healthcare in this country as we once knew it. Now the collision repair industry is under almost total domination by the insurance giants.

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Many small body shops have already closed their doors, and many more are on the verge of going out of business. The mega-collision repair centers are rapidly taking over, and the smaller and medium-sized repair facilities are being squeezed out. Competition is being further limited by insurer steering to particular repair facilities that the insurer controls. The Allstate/Sterling arrangement is just the beginning of more serious problems for collision repairers.

I could name a few improvements that have come about in efficiency, business management, paint products, cycle time, etc., but the insurers squeezing harder and harder for more and more concessions is the overriding concern now. I’ll work to closely monitor steering practices of insurers and take action against the violators.

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BSB: How have you been received in the autobody industry?

Causey: Very favorably. I’ve been more than pleased with the positive response of shop owners to what we’re doing in the legislative arena. The best compliment I receive is when a shop owner thinks that I’m a body shop owner.

BSB: What could shop owners do to make your job easier? What do they need to do on their end to help bring about change?

Causey: Join the IABA – Independent Auto Body Association, document all steering and unfair trade practices by insurers and report this information to the IABA, their state insurance department and state legislators. Keep in touch with their state legislators and keep them informed of the problems that collision repairers and consumers face.

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BSB: Any pet peeves?

Causey: Waiting in traffic and being put on hold during a phone call.

BSB: Do you have a favorite movie?

Causey: “Gone With The Wind.” Because it reminds me how fast the world is changing and that most people don’t give a damn.

Writer Cheryl McMullen is associate editor of BodyShop Business.

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