Why has Oregon had a helmet law for the past 17 years?

MRF kills helmet law repeal efforts in Oregon

ABATE of Oregon State Coordinator supports this action

BikePAC's Executive Director's response: slander the messenger

Summary: A lot of flames, insults, name calling, defamatory statements and in some cases outright lies have been leveled at me since I wrote this piece.  Almost all of it has been said behind my back by people who smile to your face while they're stabbing you in the back.  Be that as it may, the fact remains that five MRO Officers, after getting all of their own items approved by the DPO Transportation Committee, actively spoke out and voted against our helmet law repeal item.  Of this there can be no dispute.  Also without dispute is the fact that the leaders of ABATE of Oregon, BikePAC of Oregon and the MRF fully support this action.  I was there.  They were not.  Who did what cannot be denied.  If writing a factual account of this active interference in helmet law repeal rates as a "tirade", then I'm guilty as charged.  What I will not apologize for is being zealously anti-helmet law.  If Oregon's MRO Leaders aren't going to support helmet law repeal here, just who is going to do so?  If you read this and think that I'm wrong and the people who voted against helmet law repeal are right, you'll love living in Oregon because I suspect that we're going to have this law for a very long time to come.

If you don't like this factual report of how ABATE of Oregon, BikePAC of Oregon and The MRF *KILLED* our helmet law repeal initiative at the 2004 Democrat Party of Oregon State Convention, welcome to the club. I didn't enjoy writing it (or witnessing this treachery) any more than you like reading about it. But the folks have a right to know the truth... and none of the insults that have been slung at me since writing this report change the facts of what actually happened on that miserable day. These Commie Liberals who want to force helmets on our heads have nothing to fear from us.... Rep. Mitch Greenlick (H-33), who was also in the room at the time was pretty much flabbergasted (but thrilled) that so-called "Bikers" would kill their own helmet law repeal initiative.

The detail: It's time to disclose the names of the people who sold us out at the Democratic Party Convention on Friday, June 11, 2004.  I sent complaint e-mails to the Leaders of the MRF, BikePAC and ABATE of Oregon and so far I have heard almost nothing back.  I understand that several "old guard" people have written defensive e-mails attacking me, minimizing my hard work and contributions to the helmet law repeal efforts as an explanation for these outrageous actions.  Apparently it's OK (in their opinion) to torpedo efforts to repeal the mandatory helmet law so long as you don't like the person who is trying to do so.  I've published everything I have personally received on this page.  

For the record, I have been active in DPO politics for about 7 years.  I regularly attended Monthly Central Committee meetings in Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas Counties as well as occasional visits to other Oregon Counties and in Washington State back when the number of Motorcyclists doing so regularly was one: Diesel Dave Ganslein.  Being the only Biker, I was quite a novelty there especially since I was a registered Republican and would introduce myself at each meeting as the "Republican Spy".  I also attended my own party GOP meetings and conventions.  I rarely toot my own horn but those who are familiar with recent history know that placing importance on becoming a Democrat PCP and obtaining critical mass status within the DPO was my doing not the doing of the people dragging me through the mud now.  Before I came along, almost nothing was being done at the political grass roots by ABATE or BikePAC.  

I've also attended the last 3 DPO State conventions, the last two as a voting Delegate.  The number of Bikers regularly attending DPO State Conventions before that?  One.  Of course some of the people flaming me about this issue are the same ones who ripped me when they refused to see that filling political conventions with Bikers was the best way to forward our agenda.  Seven years later, it's a no-brainer but when I started that drive, I was accused of being on a tirade, being stupid and not being a "team player" then too.  I think the thing that really pisses these people off is the fact that they hold high MRO positions but have absolutely no credible vision of how to get things done.  If they had come up with the idea of getting Bikers to become PCPs or if they had submitted the helmet law repeal item Friday and gotten it passed, they would be geniuses.  But because they don't like me, they are willing to cut off their own noses to spite their face and betray their membership.

Working for years to get MRO Leaders to understand the importance of being a voting Delegate at events such as these only to have them piss on me when they finally figure it out is God's little way of saying be careful what you wish for.

This betrayal actually started 2 years earlier, at the 2002 DPO State Convention in Beaverton, Oregon.  The following item was already on the Transportation Committee legislative agenda and we had more than an adequate majority of Biker Delegates to pass it on to a floor vote: We support the repeal of the mandatory helmet law for adult Motorcyclists.

For reasons known only to her, Teresa Hepker, a Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) officer, unilaterally decided to propose changing this measure's wording to a freedom of clothing choice item.  The words "helmet" and "motorcycle" were removed and replaced with freedom to choose appropriate safety apparel language.  The stunned motorcycle caucus was unable to regroup quickly enough to prevent the helmet law repeal legislative item that we had worked so hard to get two years earlier from being removed by this (IMO) misguided MRF Officer.

Fast forward to last Friday and the 2004 DPO State Convention. Once again, we had superior numbers and a 16-11 majority in the Transportation committee. Representative Mitch Greenlick did his best to kill our "clothing ordinance" legislative agenda item on Friday but he just did not have the votes to do so.

After all of the existing legislative agenda items had been voted on, Diesel Dave Ganslein made a motion to restore the 2000 Convention helmet law repeal item back on the list: We support the repeal of the mandatory helmet law for adult Motorcyclists.

Incredibly, Teresa Hepker, an MRF Officer, gave a speech AGAINST  voting for this measure stating that a clothing choice item was more important to her than repealing the helmet law.  She used the example that apparel choice would prevent the Legislature from forcing us to wear flashing lights on our heads while the helmet law repeal measure would not. This struck me as a weak argument partly because we had sufficient votes in the room to pass helmet law repeal *AND* freedom of clothing choice.  Also, the verbiage in support of helmet law repeal is clear and unambiguous where the apparel item is far more vague and makes no mention of helmets or Motorcyclists specifically.  As a Legislator it would be difficult to misinterpret a grass roots directive to repeal the mandatory helmet law to mean that it was ok to pass any "safety" law that forced us to wear other equipment that experienced Motorcyclists felt were inappropriate.

Furthermore, Rep. Greenlick had already stated his intention to collect enough Delegate signatures to have our clothing choice item removed before it came up for a vote on the floor. If nothing else, adding a helmet law repeal item would have made it highly likely that at least one of our agenda issues would survive for the full delegation vote on Sunday.  As it turned out, time ran out before there could be a floor vote on any of the Transportation Committee items.  According to the rules, all Transportation Committee recommendations were automatically included without a vote or debate.  This means that if the MRO Officers hadn't voted against helmet law repeal in committee, support for helmet law repeal would be a DPO Legislative agenda item as you read this and for the next 2 years.

Those voting against helmet law repeal

Teresa Hepker, MRF Newsletter Editor

Mel Yeager, Membership Director, BikePAC of Oregon

Brian Stovall, various MRO roles including Ex-officio, MRF

Melinda McCrossen, ABATE of Oregon, State Public Relations Officer

Randy Phipps abstained.  Randy is the Legislative Director for BikePAC of Oregon.

A member of the SE Portland ABATE Chapter. I will not disclose his name because he was acting as an individual and is not an Officer of any MRO as far as I know.

I feel that the leaders of these motorcycle rights organizations need to explain why they no longer support the repeal of the mandatory helmet law in Oregon. And in particular, I feel that they need to explain to their membership why some of their Officers were at the Convention actively working against the efforts of Oregon freedom fighting Bikers who do want to get the helmet law repealed.

There was certainly no joy in Mudville last Friday.... I've lost a lot of respect for a few people I thought I knew but didn't actually know at all.   I certainly haven't spent the better part of the past 7 years of my life encouraging Bikers to become PCPs because I wanted to watch their efforts be trashed by clueless motorcycle owners who "just don't get it"...  In my opinion, these people need to resign their positions in the MRF, BikePAC and ABATE immediately or be removed.  Also IMO, the members of these organizations need to cancel their memberships and boycott all events and functions until such time as a full accounting of this outrage is forthcoming.  I do not pay to belong to organizations that support mandatory helmet laws!

People to complain to:  Karin Bolin, MRF President bolin@mrf.org, Ken Ray, Executive Director BikePAC of Oregon ken@consultken.com, Joe Laurance, State Coordinator ABATE of Oregon josephlaurance@aol.com

Comment by Randy Phipps, Legislative Director, BikePAC of Oregon:

I neither cast a vote pro or con. There was already one item on the agenda which had "softer" words and which the Party had accepted two years ago.

My response:

ABATE, BikePAC and the MRF were created specifically to respond to the mandatory helmet law. It has been the primary mission of these organizations to get the mandatory helmet law repealed.

Some weeks ago I took a lot of flak for publishing an article where I said that Oregon motorcycle owners and our SMROs had lost their way. We have apparently gone from being committed to dumping the helmet law to being politically correct pussies who are afraid to say what we really want. Support for vague "softer wording" that never uses the words motorcycle or helmet is proof of that.

The fact is that supporting helmet law repeal was accepted at the 2000 DPO convention and would have easily passed again in 2002 and 2004 if Teresa Hepker had not gone out of her way to kill it. It wasn't freedom hating Liberals who killed our helmet law repeal efforts.... it was brain damaged motorcycle owners who voted against their own agenda item that sank it.

Imagine how Bikers would feel if I was elected to the House of Representatives and voted against a helmet law repeal bill or abstained from voting and the measure lost because of my no vote or abstention. That's how I felt when I watched 5 MRO Officers actively kill our efforts to repeal the helmet law.

Response by Joe Laurance, State Coordinator ABATE of Oregon:

Please reference Mel Yeagers report on the DPC dated 6-13, 830pm for another viewpoint. Joseph Laurance, ABATE of Oregon

My response:

When the guy who's running ABATE of Oregon doesn't care about helmet law repeal, you're pretty much cooked if you live or ride in that State.  No one has seen fit to send me a copy of Mel's "alternate viewpoint".  I would be very interested to hear the justification for 5 MRO Officers voting against helmet law repeal.  As the leader of ABATE of Oregon, I think that Mr. Laurance's reply speaks for itself though.  Obviously, helmet law repeal is not a priority under the current ABATE administration.  This will no doubt come as a surprise to many ABATE members in Oregon as well as those in many other States.

My Prediction:

Sooner or later, the helmet law in Oregon is going to be history. Eventually we will have a Republican Governor who will not veto our helmet law repeal bill. We have already made it through the Legislature many times although never with the 2/3 support that we'd need to over ride a Governor's veto. And won't you hear these "Old Guard" dipshits squealing and patting themselves on the back when that day comes! As we say in the Project Management business.... praise and honors for the non-participants :(

Update, 6/14/2010: Received a two page flame-o-gram from Nic Oliver who is apparently running BikePAC of Oregon now. Mr. Oliver was not at the 2004 DPO convention and I don't believe he was even involved in motorcycle rights issues in Oregon in 2004. I won't bother printing his e-mail here since it was basically a series of insults and a lot of denial and name calling. Mr. Oliver did say that he was committed to the repeal of the mandatory helmet law in Oregon but of course that claim does nothing to address the facts that have been documented on this web page. Based on his e-mail to me today, Mr. Oliver strikes me as a bomb thrower and a flash in the pan, not a visionary team builder or a problem solver. I think in five years people will read this and wonder, "Nic who?!?!". Mr. Oliver was of course unable to dispute the facts I've posted here in his little tirade to me preferring instead to call me names and insult me. So good luck under his "leadership" folks.

And since you asked what contributions I've made, I will tell you: it was under my administration as Executive Director of BikePAC of Oregon that we got clear, unambiguous mandatory helmet law repeal language added to the Democrat Party of Oregon legislative agenda and to the Republican Party of Oregon party platform. Our helmet law repeal bill passed both chambers of the Legislature handily but was vetoed by Governor Kitzhaber. Governor Kitzhaber could not be reasoned with and we did not have sufficient votes to over-ride his veto.

It was also during my administration that we passed the self serve gas provisions for motorcycles and got the handlebar height law repealed. In addition, when I took over BikePAC, there were less than two dozen paying members although we were sending out hundreds of newsletters every month... mostly being returned as undeliverable. I fired the Membership Secretary and personally took over those duties, increasing the BikePAC membership to over 300 paying, active members by the end of my term.

I do have a clear vision on how to get the mandatory helmet law repealed in Oregon and can (and have) articulated it on numerous occasions. However, implementing this strategy will take a lot of work and a serious commitment on the part of BikePAC of Oregon, ABATE of Oregon and on it's members.... and to be honest, I think most motorcycle owners in Oregon would rather stay home and watch the Trailblazers on TV than fight for their rights and freedoms. I'm really not interested in leading a non-existent army to fight this battle so I decided to just sit back and let the old guard know-it-alls do what they do best...put on great runs and conduct orderly meetings.

While I have this thread open again, I'll mention that I have known Ted Tracy and his Wife Jill for nearly 20 years. Ted is currently the State Coordinator for ABATE of Oregon and is about as "old school" as they get. No one needs to explain to Ted why mandatory helmet laws are a bad idea. And if he ever should forget, I have every confidence that Jill will remind him. Ted was State Coordinator in the 1990's while I was ABATE's State Legislative Director (and he was the WaCo Chapter Coordinator while I was the WaCo Legislative Director). Ted is at least as gung ho about these motorcycle rights issues as I am. So ABATE once again has a strong leader who actually "gets" it so who knows where things will go from here. But with neither sufficient House or Senate support for a helmet law repeal initiative and the near certainty that Kitzhaber will be our next Governor for who knows how long, I think I will not see helmet law repeal in Oregon in my lifetime. So thanks again to everyone who killed our helmet law repeal efforts when we still had a chance of getting rid of that law :(