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Bikers Rights, Motorcycle Rights, Motorcyclists Rights

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Bruce on Bikers Rights/Motorcyclists Rights
By IronBoltBruce
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HIRED GUNS & HELMET LAWS
December 2005

Part 1:  Survey Preamble

Motorcycling Endurance Riders
Bikers Rights, Motorcyclists Rights, Long Distance Motorcycle Riding

IronBoltBruce on Bikers Rights, Motorcyclists Rights, MRO Last month we noted that people frequently equate bikers' rights with helmet law issues. Likewise, many consider the terms "SMRO" and "ABATE" to be synonymous. Actually...

SMRO is an acronym for "State Motorcyclists' Rights Organization" or "State MRO." MRO is often defined as "motorcycle rights organization" but that is incorrect. Motorcycles are property, not people. They don't have rights ... only their riders do.

There is at least one SMRO in each of the 50 states, and over 40 of them use "ABATE" in their name or as an acronym. In the original ABATE organization--founded in the early 1970s in California by Lou Kimzey of EasyRiders Magazine--the acronym stood for:

  • A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments

In recent years, that reference has been morphed into phrases like:

  • A Brotherhood Active Towards Education
  • A Brotherhood for Awareness, Training and Education
  • Alaska Bikers Advocating Training and Education
  • Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Equity
  • American Bikers Acting To Educate
  • American Bikers Aimed Towards Education
  • American Bikers Aiming Towards Education
  • American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education
Motorcycling Endurance Riders
Bikers Rights, Motorcyclists Rights, Long Distance Motorcycle Riding

These changes in what ABATE the acronym stands for are reflective of changes that continue to take place in what ABATE the organization stands for. ABATE began as a bikers' rights organization. Over time, as the new names above suggest, the focus has shifted increasingly to motorcycle safety ... an oxymoron for some ... and topic for another day for us. For now, our focus is strictly on ABATE as an SMRO.

The principal role of SMROs is to protect the rights and promote the interests of motorcycle riders at the state level. One of the primary means by which they accomplish this is lobbying, a term broadly defined as "... attempting to influence or sway a public official toward a desired action." Like many things in life, lobbying has both positive and negative connotations:

  • On the plus side, lobbying helps keep legislators in touch with their constituents and informed about their issues. The right to lobby is even protected in the U.S. Constitution by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights which reads, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the right of the people ... to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

  • On the minus side, historically lobbying has been associated with unscrupulous "influence peddling" activities such as bribery, blackmail, fraudulent misrepresentation and extortion. This is why every state has a Committee or Commission on Ethics, Integrity, Political Practices and/or Public Disclosure to register and regulate the activities of lobbyists--especially paid professional lobbyists. Many states also require lobbyists to wear badges identifying themselves as such whenever they are in the presence of legislators or government officials.

Politicians often perceive lobbyists as being one of two types, grassroots or hired guns, and filter their messages accordingly:

  • Grassroots lobbyists include common citizens stating their case and volunteers promoting their cause. Their advantages include credibility, conviction, and the fact that elected officials are particularly attentive to facts and viewpoints provided by their (voting) constituents.

  • Hired guns are the paid professional lobbyists and political mercenaries that spin information and sell influence for a living. Their advantages include political sophistication, familiarity with the rules, and intimacy with the players.

Part 2:  Survey Results

As lobbying is one of the principal means by which SMROs achieve their objectives, and defeating mandatory helmet laws has traditionally been their primary goal, I decided it might be enlightening to survey which methods of the former (lobbying) have been most effective with the latter (helmet laws). Here are the results of that survey:

STATE MOTORCYCLISTS' RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
November 2005 Survey Summary
Bikers Rights: Click here for the survey PDF
Click here for the survey PDF

Lobbyist vs. No Lobbyist

Of the 50 SMROs surveyed, 21 (42%) were identified as employing (including using or contracting) lobbyists, while 29 (58%) did not.

Of the 21 states where SMROs employed lobbyists, 15 (71%) had either no mandatory helmet law or only partial helmet mandates for riders failing to meet age, insurance or similar requirements. The other 6 (29%) of these states had full mandatory helmet laws.

Of the 29 states where SMROs did not employ lobbyists, 19 (66%) had either no mandatory helmet law or only partial helmet mandates for riders failing to meet age, insurance or similar requirements. The other 10 (34%) of these states had full mandatory helmet laws.

Observation:  If you view partial or no helmet mandates as success, and full mandatory helmet laws as failure, then the SMROs employing lobbyists showed only a slight (5%) advantage over those that did not. And among those, the assertion was often that lobbying was a team effort in which all members were encouraged to participate. As Bernie 'Faceman' Adams (President, Virginia Freedom Riders) proclaimed, "Our Freedom Fighters are our lobbyists."

Paid vs. Unpaid Lobbyists

Of the 21 SMROs that employed lobbyists, 10 (48%) were identified as employing paid lobbyists, and 11 (52%) employed unpaid (volunteer) lobbyists.

Of the 10 states where SMROs employed paid lobbyists, 9 (90%) had either no mandatory helmet law or only partial helmet mandates for riders failing to meet age, insurance or similar requirements. The other 1 (10%) of these states had full mandatory helmet laws.

Of the 11 states where SMROs employed unpaid (volunteer) lobbyists, 6 (55%) had either no mandatory helmet law or only partial helmet mandates for riders failing to meet age, insurance or similar requirements. The other 5 (45%) of these states had full mandatory helmet laws.

Observation:  If you view partial or no helmet mandates as success, and full mandatory helmet laws as failure, then the SMROs employing paid lobbyists showed a significant (35%) advantage. This is offset somewhat by the fact that some of the mixed results attributed to volunteers were actually brought about by hired guns who proved to be bad shots. Ken 'Kenbo' Moore (President, Kentucky Motorcycle Association) told us "... We do not employ any paid lobbyist. We tried one time and it produced nothing." And as Donald 'Duck' Smith (State Communications Coordinator, ABATE of West Virginia) sagely quipped, "... Nop' it ain't easy. But it's better than having a paid slug that don't care."

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Paid Lobbyists

Of the 10 SMROs that employed paid lobbyists, 3 (30%) were identified as employed full-time (32 hours or more per week), while 7 (70%) were employed part-time.

All 3 of the states where SMROs employed full-time paid lobbyists had either no mandatory helmet law or only partial helmet mandates for riders failing to meet age, insurance or similar requirements.

Of the 7 states where SMROs employed part-time paid lobbyists, 6 (86%) had either no mandatory helmet law or only partial helmet mandates for riders failing to meet age, insurance or similar requirements. The other 1 (14%) of these states had full mandatory helmet laws.

Observation:  If you view partial or no helmet mandates as success, and full mandatory helmet laws as failure, then the SMROs employing full-time paid lobbyists showed a 14% advantage over those whose hired guns had more than one client. This may simply indicate the obvious, that the more focused you are the more effective you will be. It may also result from the fact that the 3 full-time paid lobbyists identified by the survey are themselves motorcyclists and therefore likely to share the conviction of their grassroots volunteer counterparts. Charles Umbenhauer, lobbyist for ABATE of Pennsylvania, is a good example.

Until Next Time ... Ride Long, Ride Free!

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