WASHINGTON - Despite the absence of a trade crisis, leaders of the American International Automobile Dealers Association expect their members to work as hard as ever to get to know members of Congress.
AIADA Chairman Joseph O'Brien, who will preside over the association's May 17-18 Washington conference, said one reason is to prepare for future crises. Another, he asserted, is that many lawmakers are not familiar with automotive issues or the dealers' business.
Turnover statistics in Congress support the argument. More than half the 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate had six years of experience or less as federal lawmakers when the current congressional session began in January.
'We have to maintain personal relations with government officials,' said O'Brien, president of O'Brien Automotive Team, which has 13 franchises in Illinois and Florida.
He said dealers must impress on representatives and senators that lawmakers' decisions can influence whether businesses succeed or fail.
And AIADA members need to help lawmakers understand that 'we, as dealers, are pillars of our communities,' the chairman said.
Still, he said, the 800 international-brand dealers and industry officials at the conference will come to Washington when 'things are relatively calm' and the economy is good.
AIADA President Walter Hui-zenga said the general sense of well-being was one reason the association decided to switch from defense to offense and seek repeal of the U.S. government's 25 percent tariff on imported pickups, the so-called chicken tax.
Chairman O'Brien favors adding chicken tax repeal to AIADA's agenda, but he also said, 'This is not going to be done overnight. It is an educational process today.'
The agenda includes:
Phasing out estate taxes
Preventing an extension of the vehicle luxury tax
Guarding against government action that would interfere with free and open markets.
Besides pep talks on dealing with lawmakers, conference attendees will have opportunities to collect fresh business ideas; socialize with friends, colleagues and competitors; and hear important, mostly conservative, speakers.
The program is headlined by Elizabeth Dole, a former cabinet member and former head of the American Red Cross, who is likely to be a candidate for the Republican nomination for president.
AIADA's All-Star Awards will be presented at a dinner and dance Monday evening, May 17.