Here is my Road Signs column in QuickThrottle's March edition, available at biker hangouts all up and down the West Coast. I do a bit of a profile on my friend and colleague in Olympia who lobbies for motorcycle riders. I was trying to be a bit creative with the photography on this one, using the Hipstamatic app on my Iphone. The pics that were used in the print version and scattered through the column are at the end. On another note, my column in the online version of QuickThrottle has apparently been "Google Alerted" -- I asked my editor if I should be flattered, honored, or insulted...he said its an honor and apparently I'm being "noticed" by the Google search engine. The online version of the mag is here: http://quickthrottle.com/northwest-edition-march-2012/ The online version isn't fully accessible until after the 15th of each month.
In politics it’s always the big issues that get the press, that get noticed, that get the attention and that everyone wants to get involved in. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, or abortion, or income tax or what ever the issue of the day is. However, it’s the little things that actually have a more day-to-day impact on all of us than the big divisive, sexy, media grabbing issues. It’s the same thing in the motorcycle world. Our legislative priorities all seem to focus on the big issues – like mandatory helmet laws and the like. And while those are important issues worthy of discussion and debate and action in the political process, what we often over look are the collection of little things that when added up, have a far greater impact on our lives than the big sexy headline grabbing issues of the day.
On average, the Washington State Legislature in a two-year session has over 3,500 bills introduced. Of that maybe 500 get enacted into law. But that’s a lot of review and study and work to figure out what’s in all of those and if there is an impact. And a lot of those little things aren’t flashy, aren’t news makers, aren’t sexy. They deal with the mundane, the day-to-day, the minutia that makes up our life. In the motorcycle world, this year one of those is SB 6304 which deals with the rather boring topic of “transportation planning”. How dry is that? Who cares? Well, you should – here’s why.
Deep in that bill it specifically allows motorcycles to use HOV lanes. Right now that is not in statute believe it or not. It allows cities to charge less for motorcycle parking and give them preferential parking spots. It also prohibits motorcycles from being charged for High Occupancy Toll lanes. In the big scheme of things, these are all small items -- however they will have a direct and noticeable affect on us as riders. These are things you should pay attention to in addition to the big stuff like helmet repeal.
But you don’t, and I must confess I don’t, and I know better! Measures like that get lost in the shuffle – or it would if it were not for the legislative efforts of rider groups like the Washington Road Riders Association and their long-time lobbyist, “Texas” Larry Walker. Some might call him crazy, some say he looks like he should be in the band ZZ Top, but Larry is in my book, an unsung hero to all of us riders in Washington. I’ve texted Larry late at night who replies; “I’m reading the bill introduction list”, which lists every bill read into the agenda that day. Its how you find out what’s going on, and look at the mind numbingly boring stuff that constitutes following the legislature and making sure things don’t get missed.
Now, I read that every day too, but then I’m paid rather well to do that by my clients. Larry is not. He’s been volunteering to do this for some 18 years now, all the time working a real job up at the Navy’s Submarine Base in Bangor, WA. He has no budget, no money for wining and dining legislators, and if he buys a member of the legislature a cup of coffee it’s on his dime. Larry’s as Old School as a Panhead Harley. He does it because he loves the issue, he loves to ride, and he knows the importance of it. He’s backed by the members of the Washington Road Riders Association, and learned how this all works in Olympia at the feet of the late Karen Bolin who started out many moons ago as ABATE’s lobbyist. Larry was more or less drafted into this role when folks were sitting around a local watering hole saying “we need to do something” and everyone turned to him.
I caught up with Larry as he tried as best he could to blend in with all of us suit and tie wearing lobbyists, standing in the marble hallways outside the Washington State Senate chambers in mid February. Larry was doing the little things that one has to do when one is a lobbyist – the small steps that add up to a successful journey. The legislative process is full of steps and paths that I won’t go into here, but it can be as convoluted the inside of a clutch and transmission. Larry was frantically trying to get that little SB 6404 moved up a rung in the ladder and before the full Senate for a vote. He was working the doors as the Senate was in session, sending in notes and meeting with Senators who came out of the chambers to visit with him and the hundreds of other lobbyists vying for a moment of attention from a legislator. It’s how the process works, how things move forward.
So here’s to paying attention to the little things – the things we don’t notice, or have time for. Next time you see Larry, say Thanks and buy him a beer. He’ll need it. That little bill, SB 6304? Despite pounding the doors all day, the bill didn’t make it to the calendar. The issue, the bill – and Larry, will be back again next year.
Gary can be reached at email@example.com and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com