William Canary now is officially president of the American Trucking Associations, but he is slated to serve only until January 2003. The association announced plans at its Management Conference in Nashville, Tenn., in late October to hire Kansas Gov. Bill Graves after his term-limited second term in the Kansas state house ends. The 48-year-old Graves, who has family ties to trucking, says the arrangement by which he was selected to head the organization 13 months from now, while unusual, is “going to work quite well.”
In a telephone interview in mid-November, Graves told CCJ that he will keep away from ATA management and lobbying during the coming year, to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest with his gubernatorial responsibilities.
“I don’t have a contract with ATA, and I don’t know at what point we will finalize a formal contractual relationship,” Graves says. “If and when we do, I will start January 14, 2003.”
When the search for a new president began, Canary, who had known Graves for 15 years, phoned him suggesting he take the job. In view of his uncompleted governor’s term, Graves refused. But the moderate Republican Graves was still eyeing a future in Washington. After President Bush’s election, he had been urged by fellow Republicans to seek the position of Secretary of Transportation. By the time he let Bush know he wanted it, however, the job already was Norman Mineta’s, according to Pete McGill, a Graves colleague who is a former Kansas House of Representatives Speaker and Bush’s state presidential campaign chairman.
“I continue to have an interest in serving my president if that happens to be in the country’s best interest,” Graves says. “So Washington was already on my radar screen,” he says in explaining why he eventually said ok to the ATA job. “You get the combination of the industry that I have worked in and have a certain appreciation of an understanding of, and a sense that Washington was probably where I was headed at some time.”
Graves worked briefly for Graves Truck Line, a general commodities trucking company that the Salina, Kan., native’s father, William H. Graves, and his grandfather started in 1935. The company grew to operate in nine Midwest states before it was sold in 1978. It eventually became a part of ANR Freight Systems.
Called “Mr. Transportation” by his Kansas peers, William H. Graves became president of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association in 1946.
“My father was the head of the state association. My uncle was the head of the state association. My cousin was the head of the state association, and I’ve been a Kansas motor carrier convention attendee for all my life. I can’t even remember how far back, at least the last 35 years. And I’ve been an ATA convention attendee. I can remember in my teens traveling with my father, who was the state vice president of the ATA.”
While Graves will shun lobbying while he remains governor, he does plan to meet with state trucking association executives and members as part of an agenda set by ATA Chairman David McCorkle, chairman of McCorkle Truck Line, at the management conference in October. McCorkle wants to strengthen ATA’s relations with the state groups in a bid to boost flagging ATA membership and boost grass roots efforts. The long transition, Graves says, will give him “a time to really ramp up and understand issues and the industry perspective.”
At the annual meeting, ATA stripped the “interim” from the title Canary has held since former President Walter McCormick left in July to head the U.S. Telecom Association. Canary says his 10 years’ experience with ATA, his good relationship with the ATA staff and his experience in Washington association management will ensure a smooth transition.
“There will be no changes over the next 14 months,” Canary told CCJ. The ATA’s staff size, budget and mission will remain the same. “We’ve got a lot of things that are happening right now. We have not missed a beat since July, and we will not miss a beat until January 2003,” Canary says.
Issues that will consume him next year, Canary says, are hours of service, the “continued discussion of ergonomics,” the reauthorization of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which “begins being formulated in the spring of 2002,” and industry security issues in the wake of Sept. 11.
One new agenda item will be the creation of a new “partnership” with state trucking associations, whose membership exceed 40,000, compared to ATA membership of less than 3,000. Under such plans, the state groups are enlisted to help boost ATA membership in exchange for a set compensation for each new member they get for ATA. The state groups will collect the dues, and get compensation on a sliding scale depending on how many new members they recruit and the size of the members. Already, 19 state associations, have signed up, Canary says.