The U.S. recreation vehicle industry was well represented on Capitol Hill during the festivities surrounding the Friday (Jan. 20) inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States – the most significant moment being the Indiana Association of Washington’s Inaugural Ball at the Grand Hyatt Washington at which the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) was a table sponsor.
In a meeting set up by its lobbying firm, RVIA members met earlier Friday with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to discuss how to best position the RV and entire outdoor recreation industries. They also attended a hospitality reception hosted by Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, which, among others, drew RV industry leaders and Indiana state officials.
Highlighting the Inaugural Ball, at which RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer was summoned to the front with other table sponsors, guests saluted former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now vice president in the Trump administration, along with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Indiana’s Congressional delegation.
The Indiana Inaugural Ball in itself took on the air of a vice presidential ball – with a distinctive Hoosier slant – inasmuch as former Indiana Gov. Pence, a native of Columbus, Ind., whose brother Ed currently serves as vice president and general manager of high horsepower engine business for Columbus-based Cummins Inc., spent plenty of time at the ball for which his wife, Karen, served as a co-chair along with Donnelly’s wife Jill.
“They (Indiana’s delegation) have an event like this every four years,” said Jay Landers, RVIA’s vice president for government affairs. “But, of course, it took on a great deal more meaning this time around, and it was extremely well attended. I don’t know the actual count, but I’ll bet there were close to 80 tables there with 10 people at a table. We had essentially the entire Indiana delegation there, including U.S. senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, Gov. Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Crouch and Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill. Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway was also there for a short period of time. There were a number of state legislative folks there as well. It was well attended, and there was political voltage there.”
And, all things considered, added Landers, the Indiana Ball was more of an American moment than a partisan Republican celebration in the aftermath of a memorable presidential race in which the national GOP posted major electoral gains on all fronts.
“Obviously, in a room with a thousand people,” said Landers, “there’s still plenty of Democrats in there. But it was really focused on being a Hoosier – if you’re an Indiana person – and working together. You know, Pence got emotional when he was talking to the group about how important the people in the room were for him personally and professionally – acknowledging that he wouldn’t be where he is today without many of the people in the room, you know the state legislators and others. He was very gracious.”
The general assessment among RVIA’s elective leadership, including RVIA 1st Vice Chair Garry Enyart, director of RV business for Minneapolis-based Cummins Power Generation, a long-time industry supplier, was equally positive. “It was fantastic,” said Enyart. “As you can imagine, from an industry standpoint, having Governor Pence in the administration as vice president is very good for the state of Indiana. He understands the (RV) business. He has industry ties there, and he will help us with the industry agenda going forward.”
“It’s exciting to have someone who is as familiar with the RV industry as Mike Pence become one of the most influential people in U.S. government,” added BJ Thompson, president of Elkhart-based BJ Thompson Associates. “Who would have guessed that only eight short months ago Pence would go from being the keynote speaker at the RV Industry Power Breakfast at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart to Vice President of the United States? We have someone in a high place in Washington who is not only familiar with us but is a friend.”