Politics has everything to do with the collision repair industry.
In fact, it’s the means by which the powerful insurance industry uses to gain more and more control over the repair industry. Meanwhile, the repair industry is allowing this to happen by simply doing nothing in the political arena.
Politics, in my view, is the art of friendly persuasion. Unfortunately for those of us involved in the collision repair industry, insurers have been doing the friendly persuading by contributing big bucks to the candidates and legislators. Shop owners haven’t even participated as spectators on the sidelines.
But it’s time we did.
When we convince lawmakers that our issues are in the best interests of consumers, the political constituents, we’ll win.
While shop owners may disagree on some issues, nearly everyone agrees with the concept of a level playing field and free enterprise. The freedom to compete is paramount. But without political involvement, body shops and auto glass shops will never enjoy the freedom to compete on a level playing field.
What can you do? Get involved! Take an active role in politics and/or your statewide autobody association.
Why Get Involved?
When I meet with body shop owners, as I do often in regional meetings, I’m amazed at the similarities of complaints, no matter what city, state or rural community. And while one shop owner may try to make more noise than another in an effort to be heard, one shop doesn’t carry much clout. It’s organizations and large groups or associations that matter in politics.The world outside body shop meetings is the place to be heard. It’s fine to sound off in front of the other shop owners, but why stop there? Body shop owners and others in the collision repair industry have to be willing to take our message into the public arena and fight for what we know is right.
Given the current situation of insurer steering, repair mandates and the like, it’s easy to conclude that we’ve handed over the collision repair industry into the hands of insurers. To make matters worse, insurers are downsizing and placing more and more demands on shop owners. More time is required on the shop’s end to do what once were the duties of the insurance companies.
But insurers gained their power and control over the collision repair industry by default. Individual body shop owners paid no attention to what the insurers were doing in setting up direct-repair programs (DRPs) and auto glass networks – a proven plan for the insurers to give them control over the collision repair industry just like they took over the health care industry with “managed care” HMOs and PPOs. Yet shop owners neglected to do anything about it.
By ignoring the warning signs of impending insurer dominance of the entire collision repair process, shop owners allowed the current situation to exist by not taking the threat of insurer control seriously enough. While body shop owners, glass shop owners, managers and employees were busy “taking care of business,” insurers were taking over. Shop owners never even considered getting involved in politics.
Getting involved with politics doesn’t mean that shop owners need to run for the state legislature or hold a seat in the General Assembly to be effective politically. The current situation requires that we get active politically in some way. This means contributing a little of our time and money to support our friends in the legislature and our lobbying effort to bring about enforcement of laws and the passage of new laws favorable to consumers and our industry.
There’s a great deal of personal satisfaction in knowing that, as individual business owners, we can be taken seriously and have a voice in the political arena.
Get to Know Your Local Legislators
By getting to know our local representatives in the state house and senate, we immediately have a tie to the statewide political scene. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said: “All politics is local.” It’s important that every shop owner understand this and the significance of developing local ties.
Getting to know our local representatives is easy enough. Even if we don’t have a clue as to the name of our state senator or representative, it only takes a few minutes to find out. How? Every state has a legislative home page on the Internet for their respective general assembly. Just do a search and type in the name of your state and then scroll down to the legislative site. Once there, click on the names in the House or Senate, and the complete list will appear. All contact information is online. Or, simply call the switchboard at the state legislature and ask for the representative or senator for your area. Also, you can go to www.autobodyassn.com, which has links to state and federal government information. To find the name of your state senators quickly, log on to www.senate.gov/index.htm, and plug in your state. For your local state representative, go to www.house.gov/ and type in your zip code. Of course, the best way of all to get to know your elected officials is to campaign for them and help them get elected.
And today, the opportunities for political involvement have never been greater. But get involved sooner, rather than later.
“If you wait till you need to speak with a legislator about a problem,” says Speaker of the North Carolina House, Jim Black, “it’s too late.”
At a recent body shop meeting, Black encouraged shop owners to get involved early in political campaigns. Help candidates raise money and help to get them elected. Remember, money is the “mother’s milk of politics,” and we can’t ignore it.
Says former Speaker of the North Carolina House, Liston Ramsey: “People who contribute to my campaign before the primary get to speak with me directly. People who contribute to my campaign before the general election will get to speak with my legislative assistant. People who contribute to my campaign after the election will get good government.”
Get to know your legislator and the candidates for public office, help out any way you can and vote. And don’t take it personally if your candidate loses or when the government does stupid things despite our best reasonable efforts. Stay with it.
Make a Difference
Effecting change is a slow process. We didn’t get in this predicament overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight. But we can change things for the better with a political voice. The challenges are great and the competing forces are formidable. However, with diligence and persistence, we can get a fair shake. Certainly, the more political involvement from body shop owners, the better for consumers and the collision repair industry in general.
We must have strong convictions about doing the right thing for our industry and chosen profession. We must be convinced that protecting the collision repair industry for our future and our children’s future is worthwhile. We must be willing to make sacrifices for the overall good of our industry.
Even though we don’t get paid in dollars and cents for these political efforts, we do get paid with a joy and satisfaction in knowing that we played a part in getting a bill passed that will become law to benefit consumers and our industry. And these new laws may, in fact, lead to better paychecks in the future, and more importantly, safer transportation for the motoring public.
While it’s fine to be cynical about politics, you still need to make the connection between the political rhetoric and how the political realities of policies, regulations and laws affect our lives. Involvement in politics can translate into laws and regulations that help consumers, our customers and our business. Conversely, doing nothing allows the insurance lobbyists and other enemies of free enterprise to pass whatever laws they want. Insurers will continue to run roughshod over collision repairers and consumers with heavy-handed tactics until we do something.
Think about the consequences of doing nothing.
When a shop owner can’t pay the bills because of insurer steering, insurer interference and unfair trade practices, it’s not a Republican or Democratic problem. It’s an economic problem. It’s a problem of liberty denied and opportunity denied. It’s a problem that affects substantial numbers of people in the community, from the shop owners and employees to suppliers and everyone these people do business with. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether help comes from Democrats or Republicans – so long as it comes. Mike Causey – president of Causey & Associates, a full-service government relations firm – represents consumers and lobbies for consumer rights issues. He also represents the Independent Auto Body Association (IABA) and the North Carolina Glass Association. A Registered Lobbyist in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, Causey is a writer and speaker on collision repair, insurance and consumer related issues and legislation. You can contact him at [email protected] or at (336) 210-1947.