Kansas governor and future American Trucking Assns. (ATA) president & CEO William P. Graves said he initially declined the offer to head the lobbying group because ATA officials wanted him to begin before the end of his gubernatorial term. However, Graves said he quickly accepted when they proposed a starting date of Jan. 14, 2003, the day after he is scheduled to leave office.
Graves (left) told the Topeka Capital-Journal he will not sign a contract with ATA until his term as governor ends. ATA spokesman Mike Russell said the last permanent president, Walter B. McCormick Jr., earned a salary that topped $500,000 a year. Graves' current salary is $95,446 a year.
Graves said he is not strengthening his lame-duck status by announcing plans to leave the state more than a year before the end of his term.
"There is nothing more glorious than a term-limited, eight-year governor, because they still have to get my signature on every piece of legislation, most notably redistricting," Graves said.
He added that accepting the job allows him to pursue the best interests of Kansas without concern over his political future.
"My future is secure," he said. "At this point, I know what I'm going to do, and I know it doesn't involve elective office, so I don't have to posture on any of these issues. This is as good as it gets for a governor."
William Canary, who has been the group’s interim president & CEO ’s since McCormick left July 1 to head the United States Telephone Assn., was named McCormick’s permanent replacement until January 13, 2003, which is the last day of Graves’ gubernatorial term.
Despite the notion that accepting the ATA position 15 months before he starts would cause a conflict of interest, Graves pointed to his political record to show it may not be the case. He said the industry did not support his proposal last year to raise fuel taxes to fund schools, and that he may propose that again, and shaved nearly $70 million from the state’s DOT over the past two years to help balance the budget.
However, the Wichita Eagle said it will be hard for lawmakers to ignore the fact that Graves has a high-paying job in the trucking industry waiting for him in Washington.
"That connection is clearly going to be there. It's not invisible," said Jim Sheffield, head of the political science department at Wichita State University.
"You are definitely in a privileged position. You're in the room when a lot of pretty important decisions are made," said Burdett Loomis, political science professor at the University of Kansas, adding that ATA has considerable clout since it represents thousands of companies.
Speaking yesterday at ATA’s annual conference in Nashville, Canary said the announcement that Graves will eventually take over his post was made to avoid any conflict of interest.
“He made it clear that he is the governor of Kansas and I am the president & CEO of ATA until January 13, 2003,” Canary told Fleet Owner. “Anyone who charges conflict of interest has a political agenda.”
Canary said his intention is to let Graves know about issues of importance in the industry.
“I’ll keep him advised of what I am doing, but he won’t interfere in any way with my decisions,” Canary said.