CALIF. TRUCK GROUP PLAYS POLITICS IN FIGHTING ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS

CALIF. TRUCK GROUP PLAYS POLITICS IN FIGHTING ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS

California truckers, hoping to take advantage of general dissatisfaction with legislators, have started a grass-roots political action program they hope they can use as a springboard to reverse restrictive environmental and anti- business laws in the state.

The voter registration drive, dubbed "Kingpin," is aimed at garnering some 70,000 voters. It comes at a time when the state's political structure is undergoing extensive change because of redistricting and a voter referendum that limits the terms of state assemblymen and senators."Proposition 140 and reapportionment make all elected officials in California extremely vulnerable," Peter Hannaford, a Washington political consultant, told the California Trucking Association at its annual meeting here this week.

California truckers were given a basic course in local politics, but the advice had application to trucking companies nationwide.

As former California Gov. George Deukmejian told the trucking executives, ''Tip O'Neil (former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives) said 'everything in government is local politics.' "

The trucking industry nationwide will be affected this year by legislation on air pollution, the carriage of hazardous waste and even efforts to control the cost of health care, a growing expense faced by trucking companies.

Mr. Deukmejian, who served two terms as governor of California in the 1980s, said elected officials must be educated on the trucking industry.

"People who are elected to office, for the most part, know nothing about the trucking business," Mr. Deukmejian said.

He advised trucking executives to take their local assemblymen and senators to lunch, invite them to charity functions and even work in their political campaigns.

"If you help them, they'll at least be receptive to your interests," Mr. Deukmejian said.

The California Trucking Association has about 2,500 member companies. The association will form a database of all employees of its member companies and their family members.

The database eventually will total 70,000. The association plans to register these people to vote, and to send them absentee ballots, when necessary, for key elections.

Political consultants note that even in state elections, 70,000 votes is a significant number. Mr. Deukmejian was elected to his first term as governor of the largest state in the country by a margin of less than 100,000 votes.

The political clout of truckers increases as they form coalitions with other groups to push for a cause.

The California Trucking Association demonstrated this last year when it joined with shippers, receivers and consumer groups to fight a proposed ordinance in Los Angeles that would have banned trucks on city streets during peak traffic hours. The ordinance currently is in limbo, awaiting an economic impact study.

Since 1992 is an election year, trucking executives nationwide must look at every issue that faces their industry from a political perspective, said Mark Siegel, president of Mark A. Siegel & Associates and International Public Strategies Inc. in Washington.

"Everything that happens in 1992 will be raw politics, rough politics and sometimes, I fear, even very mean politics," he said.