Sen. Thune swerves on small-business support

Neil Roland is a Washington reporter for Automotive News
WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Thune, a featured speaker at today's National Automobile Dealers Association conference in Washington, zig-zagged when dealer Tamara Darvish asked him about his lack of support for rejected-dealer legislation.

Thune, R-S.D., had just given a speech to a supportive audience about the virtues of hard work. He also criticized the Obama administration for not creating more jobs and tax breaks among small businesses.

Darvish, a leader of the rejected-dealer group that successfully lobbied for a dealer-arbitration law last year, asked from the audience why Thune didn't co-sponsor a 2009 bill to reverse dealer terminations by GM and Chrysler. It could have saved thousands of jobs, she said.

Thune, 49, an impeccably groomed former college basketball player, praised the dealer-arbitration law then backtracked to explain why he didn't co-sponsor the 2009 bill. He said he was concerned at the time about the Obama administration's bank bail-out.

“Many of us were reluctant to get the government intervening further in the economy,” Thune said.

Sen. John Thune: “Many of us were reluctant to get the government intervening further in the economy."
Thune, a freshman senator who sits on both the small-business and commerce committees, repeated the point three times.

He then told Darvish, “You make a good point.”

The senator closed by returning to his main point about government intervention.

The bill, which passed the House, was sponsored in the Senate by Iowa Republican Charles Grassley and co-sponsored by 48 others, including 19 Republicans. It eventually stalled, but a modified version -- the dealer-arbitration bill -- later passed in a spending bill.

Darvish, in an interview afterward, pointed out the evident contradiction between Thune's promotion of small business and his reluctance to have the government intervene to save rejected dealers.

“It didn't make sense,” said Darvish, an NADA board member.