February 6, 2024 (Story from the February 2024 edition of American Motorcyclist)
By Joy Burgess
Throughout the past 100 years, even long before a Legislative or Government Relations department was created, the AMA fought for the rights of motorcyclists.
In 1929, for instance, E.C. Smith — who served as the Executive Secretary of the AMA from 1928 to 1958 — said the AMA would “combat every form of adverse legislation that we can, consistent with our membership.”
As we look back at the AMA’s history in American Motorcyclist, we also want to remind you — our members — of some of the historic legislative wins through the past century that have been critical to preserving your right to enjoy the freedom of riding.
CREATION OF THE AMA LEGISLATIVE DEPT
While the AMA was already fighting the good fight for its members, taking actions like beating possible motorcycle registration fee doubling in Iowa in 1949, a Legislative Department was officially established in 1971.
Chet Winter was hired to lead that department as Legislative Director, stating in the April 1971 issue of AMA News, “We can protect the individual motorcyclist from legislative error or outright harassment only by repealing existing laws or blocking laws adverse to motorcycling. This can be done effectively only through a national effort, and with our 130,000 members we already have the best lobby available for the sport.”
Within the first couple years after forming the department, the AMA created a public service announcement campaign to increase motorist awareness of motorcyclists on the road, resulting in approximately 100 million views. The department also initiated a highway use study to use the results to combat public road closures in the future; took on its first major land management project, which led to the established of the Turkey Bay Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Recreation Area on the Kentucky-Tennessee border; and fought to exclude motorcycles from federal no-fault legislation, to list just a few successes.
AMA FIGHTS ATTEMPTS TO ELIMINATE ORV USE ON PUBLIC LANDS
In 1977, a Council on Environmental Quality draft of a possible Executive Order from then-President Jimmy Carter that was leaked to the AMA, resulted in what AMA News called “one of the most intense political action campaigns in the history of organized motorcycling.”
According to Rob Rasor, the associate director of the AMA Legislative Department at the time, “the CEQ version [of the Executive Order] would have forced land use agency heads to close any land area if ORV-related environmental questions were raised, regardless of whether those questions had any basis in fact.”
When the AMA got wind of the draft, they reacted quickly, sending an alert mailing out to every AMA member warning them of potential land closures. Within a few days, 80,000 letters and telegrams flooded the offices of officials in D.C., resulting in that language being dropped shortly after the AMA learned of the plan.
Ultimately, the Executive Order later issued by Carter did seem to reflect the protests of the AMA and its members. The new wording required that action taken must allow for public comment, and according to Rasor, “The AMA’s Washington attorneys advise that this [new language] should preclude land closure in reaction to false charges or frivolous lawsuits.”
Despite this significant win, the AMA Legislative Department continued to review legal implications of the new order and vowed to investigate any closures that occurred in the future. And AMA Executive Director Barrie Best, after thanking members for their overwhelming support, reminded them, “You can bet we’re going to keep a close eye on the CEQ.”
Stay tuned in the coming months as we continue to highlight some of the AMA’s best historic rights wins over the past 100 years. And don’t forget that you can make a difference! Sign up for action alerts from the AMA at AmericanMotorcyclist.com/action-center/.