By Linda Spencer
Congressman John Campbell (R-CA) is the newest member of Congress. Elected on December 6, 2005, the Congressman represents the 48th District, which includes Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Irvine and all or part of nine other coastal or south Orange County, California, cities previously held by Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus member Chris Cox (R-CA). Campbell, a fourth-generation Cali-fornian, served five years in the state legislature before being elected to serve in the House of Representatives.
Prior to his election to public office, Campbell had a career spanning 25 years in the automotive industry representing several automobile franchises, including Nissan, Mazda, Ford, Saturn and, most recently, Saab. Campbell is also a Certified Public Accountant and graduated from the Marshall School of Business. He developed a reputation in the State Assembly and Senate as being pro-business and pro-industry. He was an early member of the SEMA-supported State Automotive Enthusiast Leader-ship Caucus while serving in the California legislature and has been a long-time supporter of legislation providing emissions exemptions for older cars—an issue of importance to SEMA members. There are 111 SEMA-member companies in his district, making it the third largest in the country in terms of concentration of member companies. Congressman Campbell is the newest member of the Congressional Auto-motive Performance and Motorsports Caucus.
SEMA News: Would you consider yourself an automotive enthusiast?
John Campbell: Absolutely. I have gasoline in my veins. My dad raised me around his cars, which included a ’57 T-bird, a supercharged Corvair and a ’67 Porsche 911.
SN: What car do you drive? Does it include any aftermarket accessories?
JC: My main driver in California is a new 2005 red Corvette convertible. I have three-piece HRE wheels on it that are plus-oned. I have a set of Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s, Brembo brakes all around (14 inches in the front) and a Corsa exhaust—all aftermarket. In Washington, I drive a new 2006 Audi A3 with TSW 18-inch wheels and PZero Nero for the snow back east. I also have a 2005 Mini Cooper S as an extra car. I am also starting the process of restoring a 1941 Chevrolet pickup, which has been in my wife’s family for almost 50 years. I also have two sons, ages 19 and 17, who have attended Skip Barber Racing School and also love cars as much as I do. They are constantly putting aftermarket performance items on their cars and doing it themselves.
SN: What is your “dream car” and why?
JC: Aston Martin DB9 Convertible. I love sports cars. And, to me, it’s not a real sports car if the top doesn’t go down. Aston Martins are beautiful and a great brand.
SN: You worked for many years in the automotive industry before entering public service. Can you talk about your two-decade career with automotive franchises, including Ford, Mazda and Nissan?
JC: I was in the retail car business for 25 years, starting as a corporate controller and finishing as the majority owner of five dealerships. I always bought troubled or start-up franchises and tried to make them into something. My goal was to differentiate ourselves from the competition through retail branding and a unique customer experience. I wanted to be a part of making the reputation of our industry better in the area of customer service. I like to think that in some small way, I helped do that.
SN: You come from a family of legislators, with your great grandfather serving in the California State Assembly back in 1860. What led you to decide to become a legislator? What led you to run for federal office?
Congressman John Campbell the newest member of the Congress has joined the Congressional Motorsports Caucus.< EM>
JC: I have been interested in politics since my mother took me to stuff envelopes for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential run when I was nine years old. I stayed active ever since, either as a volunteer or donor. A State Senator approached me about running for office in 2000. I was transitioning my business, so I decided to give it a try. I told people that if I liked it and was good at it, I would stick with it. I have enjoyed it and enough people think I am good at it that I pursued the Congressional seat when it became open in 2005. I have now won four elections in five years.
SN: You were very supportive of emissions exemptions for older cars while in the California legislature. Why did you support that issue and any other issue that you believed benefited automotive enthusiasts and the specialty automotive industry during your stint in the California legislature?
JC: Older cars are not transportation. They are pieces of history. We don’t make historic buildings meet all current building codes. Neither should we make historic cars meet current vehicle regulations. I am in favor of further reducing smog. But the extremely small amount of additional pollution from historic cars is more than offset by the addition to our culture and history by leaving them in their original form.
SN: What do you think are the biggest threats to small business these days? What should be done in Congress to support our small companies?
JC: Very simply: taxation, regulation and litigation. Congress should make the recent tax cuts permanent, simplify the tax code, eliminate the death tax, enact further tort reform to reduce frivolous lawsuits, and reduce the size of government through elimination of needless regulatory burdens and bureaucracies.
SN: Congressman, you held your victory party on election night at Saleen, Inc., the custom-car manufacturer in Irvine. Was that your first time at the Saleen facility? Have you toured any other specialty automotive companies?
JC: Last year, Steve Saleen gave me a complete tour of his new facility, and I was so impressed with all that he does there that I decided to ask him to have our victory party at his facility. Years ago, I had seen where ASC made sunroof and convertible conversions.
SN: Congressman, we know that you are currently awaiting committee assignments. You had mentioned that you hope to be assigned to the Financial Services and International Relations panels. Why are these your top two choices? When do you think the assignments will be made?
JC:My first committee choice is really the Ways and Means Committee, because that’s where I can best use my tax background. But freshman don’t generally serve on that committee. My financial background also fits the Financial Services Committee. I am interested in the International Relations Committee because, in the end, nothing we do in government is more important than keeping America safe, strong and secure in a turbulent world.
SN: As a CPA and with a Master’s in taxation, you come to Washington with an in-depth knowledge of the tax code. You have said that you don’t think a national sales tax or value-added tax would work. What are the implications of these taxes, and why do you think that they would be hard to implement? Do you think a flat tax would work?
JC: In order to have a national sales tax that replaces the income tax, you would have to repeal the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which authorizes a federal income tax. That is hard to do. We would not want to have both. Even if you could do that, the total sales tax in most places would be over 30%. That creates a huge incentive for under-the-table transactions, and the government intrusion to avoid that would be too great, in my opinion. A flat or a flatter tax is a more workable idea, but we must be careful to ensure that such changes do not result in de facto tax increases. For instance, the removal of the home interest mortgage deduction would significantly increase the tax burden on homeowners in markets such as Orange County, California. Any new tax plan must take such factors into consideration.
SN: Have you taken a position on association health plans? Is the issue of health care a big one for your constituents?
JC: I strongly support association health plans. Over time, however, we should be reconnecting the cost and quality of health care with the person receiving the care. Most of us receive our health coverage either from the government or from our employer. Our system will work better if we have the means and facilities to buy and maintain our own health coverage and therefore control its cost and quality. Getting to this will take time and involves allowing full income-tax deductibility for all health costs as well as portability. But we should start down that road now. In the next couple of years, we will either move toward more government control over our health or more personal control. I will work hard to make sure we do the latter.