Off-Road Business Association (ORBA) Executive Director Fred Wiley is approaching his one-year mark with the trade association in a very different political climate than when he started.
Wiley, who was hired in January, and the rest of the industry’s off-road associations will face in January ’07 what appears to be a more environmentally friendly Congress after voters recently turned the political tide, giving Democrats control for the first time in 12 years.
“Certainly, it’s going to be different,” Wiley said of the political environment in an interview with Powersports Business.
It will definitely be different in two committees that are key to off-road interests: the House Resources Committee, which is the policymaking group for the two organizations that oversee federal lands, and the House Ways and Means Committee, which controls the budget.
Both House committees will have new leaders after two California Republicans — Richard Pombo and Bill Thomas — left Congress. Thomas had to leave his seat because of term-limit laws and Pombo, a seven-term Republican, was surprisingly defeated in the November election.
Wiley says the loss of Pombo means “we will not have that relationship in Resources. That doesn’t mean we will not be able to form new relationships, depending on who ends up in that seat.”
Wiley, who oversees ORBA’s day-to-day operations as well as state and federal issues, doesn’t see the change in Congress as an overwhelming obstacle.
“Our issues are not different,” he said of groups who have different priorities — business or environmental — with off-road issues. “It’s how we approach them is the difference. So with my job, it’s how do I approach the person who maybe views (the environmental impact) stronger than the other side of the aisle that may view the OHV side a little bit stronger?”
“My job is to make sure that we have a place in the capitol to be heard, but we also have a responsibility to talk back with our members. Here’s an issue that’s coming up. What can we do … to make sure that (your) product is sellable and usable to the American public?”
Other than keeping an eye on federal issues, Wiley and the ORBA staff have had their hands full with land-access issues close to their homes. Two large California counties, Riverside and San Bernardino, looked closely at OHV use this year, with Riverside approving a noise ordinance that one ORBA staff member called “the most restrictive of its kind.” In wake of that vote, ORBA and other groups filed a lawsuit against the county.
“The thing that we have to realize is nobody wants to wake up on a Saturday morning and have things be obtrusive to their lifestyle,” Wiley said, noting that Riverside and San Bernardino counties have seen an influx of city residents moving to rural areas. Some of those new rural residents have voiced their objections to off-road vehicles riding so close to their homes.
“It boils down to the fact that all of us have rights,” Wiley said. “We just need to stop stepping on each others’ rights, from both sides.”
Copyright 2006 Powersports Business