If you want to know what issues are important to Assemblyman Mike Duvall, R-Brea, just look at what he did the other weekend: rode a motorcycle 1,100 miles over three days.
"There's been a Harley in my life since I was born," Duvall said. "I built my first Harley when I was 14 on my bedroom floor."
On May 1, Duvall was named to a two-year terms as chairman of the State Automotive Enthusiasts Leadership Caucus. This is a nationwide group of state legislators sponsored by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), a group representing companies who make after-market parts for cars and motorcycles. The Caucus includes 27 California legislators, 18 Republicans and nine Democrats.
But Duvall is one of the most active in representing the needs of the industry. Last session, he successfully carried AB 829, which allows after-market motorcycle parts to be paid for an installed at the time of purchase. He said it not only removed onerous regulations on motorcycle enthusiasts who "love to customize" their bikes, it only applies to parts approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), some of which reduce emissions.
Now Duvall is fighting SB 435 by Senator Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, which would require motorcycle owners to get smog checks, just like cars. He said he doesn't want to push people away from motorcycles, which he said represent just 1.5 percent of mobile source emissions in the state. The state should be encouraging more people to ride motorcycles, he said, because even large bikes usually get 40 or more miles per gallon.
"We were green before it was popular," Duvall said.
Not surprisingly, Pavley disputes his figures. According to the May 5 press release on her website, "Motorcycles account for 3.6% of registered vehicles in the state and make up just 0.8% of vehicle-miles traveled, yet account for 10% of passenger vehicles' smog-forming emissions, according to the California Air Resources Board."
California appears to be an epicenter of the growing battle between environmental legislation and those who support the troubled automotive industry. The highest profile example is the California's long-running battle with the feds to establish its own, far-stronger automotive efficiency standards. The Bush Administration denied a waiver to allow these standards for California and 15 other states in December, 2007. In January, incoming president Barack Obama ordered the EPA to reconsider the waiver. On Tuesday morning, they went a step further by proposing national standards that are even tougher than the California ones.
Closer to home, the most recent SEMA newsletter editorialized against Pavley's motorcycle bill, as well as a spot bill being held by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City. This bill was to be another try at AB 493, a bill from last session that would have imposed rebates for consumers who buy more efficient vehicles and surcharges on people who bought SUVs and other low-mileage vehicles. However, Ruskin's staff said the idea has been shelved for now due to the large number of car dealerships going out of business in the current downturn.
"Most of this legislation begins in California and spreads fast," said vice president of government affairs Steve McDonald. "That is one of the reasons Mike was identified to become our chairman. He does understand the car culture in California."
The group's Leadership Caucus, he said, is designed partially to organize state legislators as a bulwark against this kind of legislation. It has grown quickly, McDonald said, from about 50 legislators when it was formed four years ago to over 400 today. While they haven't done a full rundown, it does tend to have more Republicans than Democrats-though he added that the far bigger imbalance was that there are many more men than women.
Another SEMA member is Assemblyman Ted Gaines, Roseville, who on April 24 began circulating a letter to colleagues that he was going to form a California Legislative Automotive Study Group. Gaines said the group would go to car shows and learn more about the economic impact the industry has on California-especially with after-market parts suppliers. Duvall, he added, was one of the first and most enthusiastic members.
"He's a great collector of automobiles and motorcycles," Gaines said. "He's been very active and involved."
This involvement is life-long. His late father, Loren Luther Duvall, worked for the California Highway Patrol for 34 years-including 21 as a motorcycle instructor. Each officer gets a helmet number, issued sequentially, that retires when they do. Over 80,000 such numbers have been given out, Duvall said; his father's number is 1902.
Duvall said his father taught him a love of riding. Though he never attended college, Duvall had a leather business going-with 15 employees-by the time he was halfway through high school.
Tom Scott, who has owned Harley-Davidson of Anaheim-Fullerton for 35 years, said he remembers a young, "street smart" Mike Duvall coming through the doors of his dealership in the 1970s to buy a new Harley for the first time. Later, he joined father and son for numerous rides to Death Valley and elsewhere. Once, he said Duvall survived a harrowing descent from the Sierra after burning out his brakes; after Scott over-nighted him new ones, Duvall replaced them himself by the side of the road.
"Mike was always an expert rider, no doubt," Scott said.
Duvall said that he used to put 40,000 to 50,000 miles a year on his motorcycle, making it to biker hot spots like Sturgis, S.D., three times and Lofton at least 15. At a recent rally by A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE)-a group which opposes motorcycle helmet laws-a business suit-clad Duvall was warmly embraced by protesters decked out in leather. Duvall, incidentally, opposes lifting the helmet ban, and said he always wears a helmet when he rides.
But as his career path took up more and more time-he traded in the leather business to become an insurance agent, then a councilman and mayor in Yorba Linda before being elected to the Assembly-he's done less riding. He still participates in charity rides, like a recent Shriners' ride that raised $66,000 for three young girls burned in a car accident in Orange County. Duvall is also a regular at the annual Love Ride organized by "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, and has met Leno several times. He also tries to take in several classic car shows a year.
"The people I hang out with love their cars, we talk about cars all the time," Duvall said.