I'm 'Grading' Politicians By Their Cars

It used to make a difference what kind of cars an elected official drove, not so much anymore.

When I was a police officer in Liberty, MO, my partner’s mother-in-law ran the local office for Republican Tom Coleman, a U.S. congressman for northwest Missouri. The district included the then very Democratic counties of Clay and Platte, which also represented the majority of the votes in the district.

Every two years, my partner’s wife would run the re-election campaign headquarters. My wife and I would often help out.

The best job was that of seat-fillers at campaign fundraising dinners at hotels. If they couldn’t sell out all the tables, they wanted to have the appearance of a sellout crowd. We would fill tables in the far back of the room; get a free meal for the price of politely clapping for a big wig senator, Reagan cabinet member or Vice President Bush when they gave their speeches.

There was one rule to follow if we helped out by driving staff members of the guest of honor, especially the vice-president’s staff: We were to use only American brand cars.

There was a story how a popular local Democratic candidate showed up at a fundraiser driving a Volvo. After that he never had a chance. In Clay County there was a Ford assembly plant and in nearby Kansas City (Kansas) there was a Chevrolet plant. American cars were a requirement for all politicians regardless of their party.

Twenty five years later, I think that rule may have changed, especially with Honda, Toyota and even Mercedes Benz having American plants.         

I have developed my own politician grading system:

  • I don’t care what kind of car they buy. 
  • But, if they are an elected official and spending $80,000 or more for a car, I have to question their judgment when it comes to our tax dollars. 
  • I’d much rather see someone driving a $50,000 sports car than a $100,000 Porsche or BMW. 
  • You get extra points if your ”foreign” car was made at an American car plant. 
  • They get extra credit for buying sensible cars.
  • Lower grades if car choices seem to be more ego driven.

So, using public record information (no stalking) I have checked the car ownership of local politicians, candidates and other government officials, and graded them.

State office

Sen. Claire McCaskill "B"  Claire should get an A, if it wasn’t for the fact that no vehicles are actually registered in her name or her multi-millionaire husband Joe Shepard. Whatever Shepherd is driving isn’t even registered to their Kirkwood address. Finally, I think Claire is driving a 2010 Buick Enclave. This is good, it's an American brand. It is also a Buick, a popular brand with older voters, who are most likely to vote. Claire gets points off because the car is leased. Claire grew up in rural Houston and Lebanon, Missouri, but it sure would look better if her car was in her name, like most of the rest of us.

Todd Akin "A-" Congressman Akin, is the local candidate in the Republican Primary for senate. All of his cars are registered in his name. His vehicles include a 1994 Ford van, a 1999 Ford Explorer, 2001 Toyota Corolla, 2002 Chevrolet Blazer and a 2005 Mazda 3. The 2001 Toyota Corolla was made in the U.S. Mazda 3 was built in Japan, but is the low end economy car. Also, in 2005 Ford Motor Company owned 33 percent of Mazda.

Akin would have been gotten an "A" but his Mazda 3 was made in Japan and an 18-year Ford van cannot possibly be cost effective.

Ann Wagner "A"  Wagner, a Republican fundraiser, former Ambassador to Luxemburg and top candidate in the Republican primary for the Second Congressional race is all-American when it comes to cars. She and her husband have a 1999 Jeep Cherokee and a 2008 Cadillac STS.

Harold Whitfield  "A"  Whitfield is the top contender on the Democratic ticket in the Second Congressional District. The 73-year-old Kirkwood lawyer is also an all-American car owner. Whitfield and his wife have a 1999 Cadillac Escalade, a 2002 Cadillac Deville and a 2002 Jeep Liberty. Sure, he has two Cadillacs but when you are successful and in your 60s or 70s, it's either a Buick or a Cadillac —if you are a regular guy. After all, his newest car is 10 years old.  

State Sen. Jane Cunningham "C"  Jane has a 2001 Jaguar and a 2002 Chrysler Sebring. In 2001 Jaguars were known as British Fords. Prior to Ford buying the company (Jaguar was later sold by Ford to a company in India) the make was famous mechanical problems. Also repairs and routine maintenance on Jaguars tend to be expensive. The 10-year-old Chrysler helps keep Jane from being marked down any lower.

State Rep. Cole McNary "B" McNary, the current state representative and candidate for state treasurer, owns a 2000 Infiniti 130, a 2004 Honda Odyssey and a 2007 Saturn Ion. The Infiniti kept McNary from getting an A. The Honda Odyssey for several years was the top rated minivan for safety and dependability. The Saturn in 2007 was a good buy in an American car. But the Infiniti was made in Japan. The other troubling thing is the Infiniti 130 is basically an overpriced Nissan Maxima with some expensive bells and whistles.

State Rep. John Diehl  "C-"  Diehl is running unopposed again, but after 2012 his new district will include the eastern section of Chesterfield. Diehl owns a 2003 Jeep Wrangler, a 2006 Mercedes Benz S430, a 2007 Acura MDX and a 2008 Ford ½ ton pickup truck. The Acura MDX is an overpriced Honda Pilot. However it does have heated seats for the driver and the passengers. The Mercedes S430, made in Germany, has water-sensing windshield wipers for the man too busy to see that it is raining and turn on the wipers. It also has “self closing doors” for the busy person who doesn’t have the time or energy to shut a door.

County government          

Charlie Dooley "A"  We are guessing the County Executive Charlie Dooley has a county vehicle assigned to him, because he only has one vehicle owned by him on the tax rolls. That car is a 2009 Chevrolet HHR, a low cost, fuel efficient automobile.

Colleen Wasinger "A"  The County Councilwoman for West County has only a 2006 Jeep Commander listed to her.     

Monarch Fire District

President Kim Evans "B+" The fire board’s leader has a 2008 Nissan Rogue, the lowest priced of Nissan crossover SUVs. The car was made in Japan, otherwise Evans would have had an A. This is a sensible car.

Robin Harris  "B-" Harris, an airline pilot, has a 1989 Buick Park Avenue, a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, a 2002 BMW 330 CI and a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Gee, a 1989 Buick! A 23-year-old car, but the made-in-Germany BMW dropped Harris’ grade a notch.

Steve Swyers "D"  The St. Louis area mover and shaker has a motor vehicle fleet that is clearly out of the “average Joe” league. Swyers owns a 1999 Mazda 626, a cheap economy car. But the 2003 Infiniti Qx4, is a grossly overpriced Nissan Pathfinder, that was made in Japan. Next is a 2007 Mercedes Benz convertible followed by a 2008 Mercedes Benz E350. The last of the Swyers’ fleet is a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe. The Tahoe and the Mazda is all that keeps Swyers from getting an F for politician car ownership.

Chesterfield city council

Mayor Bruce Geiger "D"  Mayor Geiger likes to spend money. Instead of a Toyota or a Nissan, he owns a 2005 Lexus RX330 and a 2008 Infiniti 635.  

Mike Casey "D" Casey owns a 1989 BMW, a 1990 BWM and s 2002 Audi. The good thing is he doesn’t waste money on buying a German import every other year, more like every decade.

Randy Logan "F" Unlike most of us, Councilman Logan does not own any cars. However, the high-end scrap metal company he and his business partner Josh Wallach have four cars registered to Wallach Trading Company on Swingley Ridge. I’m guessing two of these belong to Logan. I saw him drive into the rear parking area before a council meeting once in a sports car, but it was dark and the car was going too fast for me to tell the make. Here are the cars owned by the company and I don’t think any of them are used to haul scrap metal: 2008 BWM M5, 2009 Audi A6, 2010 Infiniti Q56 and a 2011 Audi Q7.

Elliot Grissom "D-"  A 2007 Lexus 350 and a 2010 Mercedes Benz. At least they are registered in his name. 

Barry Flachsbart "B-"  The longtime councilman has a 1999 Mercedes Benz, a 2003 Honda Van and a 2005 Honda CRV. Two sensible cars and one not so sensible car.

Matt Segal "B-" Much like Flachsbart, Segal has two sensible cars: A 2009 Accord and a 2011 Toyota Van. The 2004 BMW lowers the grade on our politician’s curve.

Bob Nation "B" Nation has a 2002 Lexus and a 2006 cheaper Toyota. 

Derek Grier "A"  Grier’s modest 2003 Mazda earns him a high mark.    

Connie Fults "A-"  Fults owns a 2005 Ford Taurus and a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica. Sure the Pacifica is a gas guzzler, but it is an American gas guzzler.                    

Susan Cunningham June 14, 2012 at 01:11 PM
As the saying goes, "You are what you drive." That applies to all of us, not just politicians. I'd like Mr. Hoffman to tell us more about which foreign companies have manufacturing plants in the U.S. I know about the Nissan plant in Smryna, TN, because my kids live near there. My son-in-law is a doctor and he said his clinic is glad to see Nissan employees because the insurance is good and the doctors get paid. I drive a 2007 Prius made in Japan. lt has 94,000 miles on it and has never been in "the shop." When American made cars get 47 mpg and never break down, I'll trade in my Prius.
Louise June 14, 2012 at 03:33 PM
John's article is a good one. I think it is important to recognize, we all need to try and drive energy efficient vehicles; however anyone with a salary paid with tax dollars needs to answer to their employer, who happens to be all of us. Buy American is a requirement if we are going to stimulate our own economy; now let's get the American corporations to move their plants back to America. Foreign companies moving plants to America is always an interesting scenario. Hmmmm. America needs jobs, jobs, jobs!! now, now now!! Louise
Sensible? I think so June 15, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I always like John's columns, but I agree with Matt Segal on this one. First, his ratings seem inconsistent. One example is that Kim Evans gets a B+ for a Japanese "sensible car". And Todd Akin and Steve Swyers get downgraded for Mazdas. But Derek Grier gets an A for his Mazda. Barry Flachsbart and Segal both have two sensible plus one insensible car, so 2/3 sensible, and both are B-. Bob Nation is has a lower 1/2 sensible ratio, but gets a higher B. Inconsistent! How can a Cadillac or Jeep be sensible? Bboth Ann Wagner and Harold Whitfield get A's.Elliot Grissom gets a D- but Randy Logan gets an F, and they seem to have similar cars. If Akin uses his van to transport his family and friends, he could be getting some impressive passenger miles-per gallon. How does Hoffman know if it's "not cost effective" for the owner? It's complicated. Foreign car companies build some cars in the US, and even export some from here. US car companies build cars in foreign countries, and import some into the U.S. How muchof a Chevrolet or Buick is actually manufactured overseas? It's complicated. What about safety? Is an Acura or Infiniti safer than a low-end Toyota or Mazda? Car ownership is very subjective and complicated. I think Hoffman is reading way too much into this. I'd be much more concerned about how these people do their jobs, some of them part-time, for the public.
Marilee Ingoldsby July 01, 2012 at 06:17 PM
I agree about the informartion and we do need to support our own businesses in our country, state and county. I was so surprised that Jane Cunningham drives a Jag.
Rob August 04, 2013 at 01:52 PM
What a colossal waste of time this article was.... I see nothing wrong with any of the vehicle selections.


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