By Laura C. O'Neill, OOIDA Government Affairs Counsel
Letter writing, throughout the history of Western civilization, has been a powerful technique in identifying political oppression and demanding social change.
Certainly, America’s founding fathers memorialized their passions for democracy and outrage against the British Crown in countless letters. Some of the most famous were traded between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who remained loyal pen pals until their deaths in 1826.
One wonders – with the advent of technology, 24-hour cable news networks and social media – whether letters are as effective as they once were in causing change. The answer is undeniably yes.
Recently, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, drafted a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood requesting the Secretary to reconsider the excessive regulation the department is generating in light of the impact it is having on small businesses in the trucking industry. The letter was supported by Congressman Sam Graves, R-MO, and co-signed by 17 members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The letter likely will not be an exhibit in the Smithsonian any time soon, but the spirit behind it is as American as apple pie. As a technique, it is just as effective as it was in colonial days despite all of the other nearly instantaneous modes of communication.
The letter captures and discusses the political mantra du jour in that overregulation is strangling businesses and negatively contributing to our sluggish economic outlook.
Regardless of political affiliation, clearly in the trucking industry we are feeling the burden of regulatory activity. From rulemakings on electronic on-board recorders to changes in the hours-of-service rules, trucking is under a barrage of excessive regulation that will affect every operator’s bottom line and threaten their ability to keep the doors of the business open.
Sen. Snowe knows that small-business truckers are a vital component to the free flowing movement of goods in interstate commerce and she recognizes the effect that unnecessary or excessive regulation can have on their viability.
The senator could have “Facebooked” her concerns, “tweeted” it to Secretary LaHood, and then participated in a round table with Anderson Cooper on the issue. Instead, she chose to draft a well-thought-out, comprehensive letter and then signed her name as a symbolic gesture to stand behind her words and her request for reconsideration. A collective group of lawmakers stood behind her in this statement.
There is still something so powerful, official and permanent about the drafting of a letter that it seems to trump all of the other blogs, news tickers, emails and texts that may constantly chatter about social and political change.
The letter specifically calls into question the economic implications of not only the changes to the hours-of-service rules, but also fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards, redundant credentialing requirements, and changes to the standards for becoming a certified medical examiner. Hardly the works of Thomas Paine, but for truckers these are genuine issues of concern and once fully in effect will affect a trucker’s livelihood, ability to do business and quality of life.
The senator should be applauded for this bold act – serving as a voice for drivers and requesting that the secretary include small-business truckers in the deliberative process.
Will the senator and secretary emerge as pen pals? Unlikely, but the senator in this instance had the courage to put pen to paper and articulate her convictions about standing up for small businesses in this economy.