Connected dealers can smooth paths, legislative agendas

Updated Dec 22, 2023
A group of people stand next to a new Kenworth truck.
Kari Rihm, center, and J.B. Rihm, second from right, visit with the Speaker of the Minnesota House Melissa Hortman.
Rihm Family Companies

Heavy-duty trucking is a relationship industry, it is said time and again.

Politics, as Jodie Teuton, vice president of Kenworth of Louisiana points out, is a relationship, too.

“Trucks and trucking touch everything and is America’s lifeblood,” Teuton says. “However, far too many folks who govern this nation haven’t a clue about supply chain. If we as citizens want good government, we have to participate for the strength of this country we call home.”

Teuton sits on the American Truck Dealers (ATD) board of directors as the Kenworth line representative, a position she’s held since 2014.

“Becoming politically active in your profession is easiest, in my mind,” Teuton says. “Participate in the trade organizations you belong to.”

Scott McCandless did. He is the chairman of ATD and president of McCandless Truck Center in Aurora, Colo. He, too, started out as a truck line representative, but for International.

“It’s always a challenge to get involved either at the state level or the federal level,” he says, adding the present challenge for dealerships is to get lawmakers to understand what increasing environmental regulation is doing to the trucking industry.

“All of our truck dealers are about cleaner, greener trucks,” McCandless says, but those trucks need to be available at a similar cost to diesel versions and do the same duty. He points out that now, in medium-duty trucks, it would take two electric trucks to do the work of one diesel truck.

As ATD’s chairman, McCandless advocates on behalf of truck dealers to the government, manufacturers and the media, many of whom have never been in a truck dealership. It behooves dealers, and everyone in the trucking sector, to educate lawmakers on what happens in the industry and how it impacts everyone’s quality of life.

“The impact of trucking is so vast in American life,” McCandless says.

The necessity of trucking to America isn’t a story that everyone knows, says Kari Rihm, president of Rihm Family Companies, owner of Rihm Kenworth in Minnesota.

“Trucks aren’t Republicans or Democrats,” she says. “They are essential tools that work in various configurations to build our structures and infrastructures, deliver our food and medicine, pick up our trash, deliver our mail and packages, move agricultural and manufactured products, repair power lines, and this is just a short list. Heavy-duty truck business leaders must be the voice that informs because just about everything you can think of at some point depends on trucks. We are the people who understand that reality.”

The ATD encourages dealers to invite legislators at all levels to come to the dealers.

“Give us an hour and let us walk you around the dealership,” says McCandless. Dealers can tell them about the business but also the good things the company is doing in the community.

“A truck dealership is much more than a business that sells trucks,” McCandless says.

Rihm Kenworth hosted U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) at one of its locations in 2019. Kari Rihm and J.B. Rihm, COO, gave Craig a tour of the dealership and a ride in a new Kenworth T680 truck.

Kari Rihm says she is proud of her support of the Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA), serving as the organization’s political action committee chair.

“The MTA does an excellent job of earning a seat at the table to influence transportation policy,” Kari Rihm says. “I have contributed to policy-making (and stopping) by actively engaging with both state and federal legislators from my home state since becoming involved with the MTA in 2013.”

The 2019 visit to Rihm also focused on the repeal of the Federal Excise Tax, a battle that ATD says is still top of mind, proving that, as Teuton says, politics isn’t for the impatient.

“Politics is the long game,” Teuton says. “There are no quick wins or fast results. But if you stick with it, you can move the needle.”  

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