Changing the Legislative Landscape

With elections on the way, LMTA and TransPAC aim to change the status quo

 

The nuts and bolts of politics and policy
 

It’s easy to get lost in the terminology: lobbying, political action committees, campaigns, election cycles, caucuses, and the list goes on. The fact is, these terms amount to a hill of beans for most business owners who are busy trying to keep the world going around. That is particularly true in trucking, as its executives are generally involved in multiple aspects of operations. One of the key reasons that industries create trade associations — like LMTA — is to pool resources that allow them to hire a professional staff to deal with the political “mumbo-jumbo” described in the opening line. For Louisiana trucking, and the LMTA, this task has never been more important.

To try and simplify everything, trade associations lobby public officials. Lobbying is ultimately a communicative effort that seeks to influence the decisions of public officials. It’s about building relationships of mutual respect and working collaboratively to achieve policy goals for the industry. Being able to do this takes effort and time.

Political action committees (PACs) are a different animal. PACs are seeking not to directly influence public officials — that’s lobbying — but to instead elect the public officials who are empathetic to both business and the trucking industry. Are the two areas related? Sure. However, it’s much easier to get wins lobbying if the right people are elected in the first place.  That is why a well-funded political action committee and trade association will position an industry to be successful.

The stage is set for 2019 to be a huge election year for Louisiana that will have lasting impacts on the trucking industry. With legislative elections on the horizon, more than 60 seats between the House and Senate are up for grabs, marking a unique opportunity to re-establish the industry’s footing in government and the ever-changing Louisiana political landscape. The results of the election could mean big change for the trucking industry or, if the wrong people get elected, it could mean more of the same challenges.
 

The Louisiana Disparity
 

Historically, excessive litigation has been a financial drain for Louisiana’s trucking companies. Many trial lawyers have made a profitable business out of suing the state’s trucking companies, driving up insurance rates to unreasonable levels. And since many of these law firms hold strong influence over the legislature and judiciary, the trucking industry has its work cut out.

Trucking companies in Louisiana are paying three-to-five times as much — or more — for auto liability insurance than those in other states. These high premiums strain Louisiana companies and put them and all Louisiana businesses at a major competitive disadvantage. The damage of high trucking insurance premiums extend way beyond the industry itself. “These volatile yearly increases in premiums often eliminate a trucking company’s profit margin. The only way to stay in business is to eventually pass on some of the cost to shippers, and one way or another that gets passed on to consumers. The point being, our state’s entire economy suffers. It’s bad for the Louisiana citizen,” McNeely said.

Insurance premiums aren’t high because Louisiana’s trucks are comparatively reckless, though. In fact, McNeely said they’re safer than the national average.

According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, Louisiana has the worst legal climate of any state in the country. This has opened the door for frivolous — and lucrative — lawsuits.  The vast number of highway billboards advertising the services of personal injury lawyers makes it clear: in Louisiana, suing trucking companies is big business.

“Unfair lawsuits are driving up our insurance rates, and it’s unsustainable,” said McNeely. “We have to do something to reign that in.”
 

A Chance to Turn the Tables
 

This next chance is the 2019 state legislative election. Due to the lasting effects of term limits being implemented, Louisiana will see an unprecedented turnover in the legislature in next year’s elections. This opens up a window for the trucking industry to make a serious change in the makeup of the House and Senate.

Louisiana voted to implement legislative term limits of 12 years in 1995, and they first took effect in 2007. These limits were introduced to prevent legislators from holding onto unopposed seats indefinitely, one of several measures intended to make legislative politics feel like a civic duty instead of a career move.

“I like to tell people, we’ve done such a good job of making this not a good job,” said Danny Martiny, a Republican Senator whose term will be up in 2019. For example, Martiny noted how legislators’ pay has been fixed at $22,800 per year for almost four decades, and how they recently reduced retirement benefits. The trucking industry has long had a strong ally in Martiny, and with his departure, must work to find new allies in the legislature.

While term limits were put into effect with good intentions, they have brought along unforeseen side effects that have significantly altered Louisiana politics. For one, instead of running against an incumbent and facing a potential loss, many potential candidates now simply wait until the incumbent is termed out so that they can run unopposed.

Because the limits were introduced all at once, the makeup of the legislature drastically changes once every 12 years. When term limits first came into effect in 2007, 70 legislative seats — roughly two-thirds of the legislature — went up for grabs.

In next year’s election, 64 seats will open up, and the stakes are very high. The legislators who fill them will not only make up the majority for the next 12 years, but they will also re-draw Louisiana’s legislative and congressional districts in both 2020 and 2030.

This massive turnover is both a blessing and a curse, McNeely explained. If the trucking industry can work to elect a majority of truly pro-business candidates, the legislature can be reclaimed. For this reason, the Political Director of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry John Diez said, “2019 will be the most pivotal election in Louisiana history.”
 

The Voice of the Trucking Industry
 

Luckily, the trucking industry is structured to help turn the tides in the upcoming election with its political action committee: Trans PAC. This non-partisan political action committee supports candidates who support and understand the Louisiana trucking industry. “In order to protect our businesses, we must have a legislature that views a thriving business community as an asset to our state,” said TransPAC Chairperson Nataly Bryce. “TransPAC is about getting the right people in office.”

This doesn’t just mean blindly electing conservatives. McNeely said that there are a lot of “foxes in the henhouse,” candidates who successfully run conservative campaigns and then vote for expanding lawsuits once in the legislature. TransPAC painstakingly identifies the real pro-business candidates and strategically spends money on their campaigns and against their opponents.

TransPAC is one of the industry’s best tools for retaking the legislature. To make real headway, it needs the support of the companies it represents, and this comes down to donations. According to Diez, next year’s election cycle promises to be one of the most expensive in recent history, so it is imperative that the trucking industry comes together and pitch in as much as possible to outspend and out-campaign the trial lawyers, once and for all.

It’s important to note that paying LMTA membership dues does not directly support TransPAC. As a PAC, TransPAC is a legally separate entity from the LMTA and has to function with its own separate contributions. When filling out LMTA dues, there is an option to donate $200 to TransPAC, but in reality, this is just the beginning. Ensuring a big win next year will take more than that, and there has never been a more crucial time to donate.

“This is our shot,” said McNeely. “There’s a lot at stake here. If the true business folks are not elected this cycle, then we’ve got a long time before we have another chance.”

Diez echoed McNeely’s urgency: “You know they say: Get involved in politics or get out of business!”

 


 

To contribute to this cause, please make checks payable to TransPAC and mail to PO Box 80278, Baton Rouge, LA 70898.
Any amount makes a difference.