How one advocate turned hate into love

Posted by on June 25th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Enemies turned allies;
Rep. McHenry (L) and Shane Cooper.
(Photo: DeFeet)

Remember Rep. Patrick McHenry?

McHenry is a Republican member of Congress from North Carolina who, back in August of 2007, sharply ridiculed and mocked the bike commuter tax benefit when it came up in Congress as part of an energy bill.

During a floor speech, McHenry said (in part, see full excerpt/video here):

“They want to tell the American people, stop driving, ride a bike…

Apparently, the Democrats believe that the miracle on two wheels that we know as a bicycle will end our dependence on foreign oil. I cannot make this stuff up. It is absolutely amazing.”

Story continues below

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“We could not beat him… so let’s get him to think like us about bikes…let’s change his mind.”
— Shane Cooper, DeFeet

Shane Cooper, the owner of North Carolina bike sock maker DeFeet, called that speech “the bicycle advocates worst nightmare.” Cooper (and DeFeet) are in McHenry’s district and in a recent blog post, Cooper said he was “shocked and embarrassed that he would say such an ignorant statement.”

The reason I’m sharing this with you is because of what Cooper wrote (and did) next:

“I was so shocked, that I reached out to my friends in the outdoor and bike industry to see what we could do to stop his bicycle slander.”

As shared on his blog, Cooper’s first reaction was to support McHenry’s political opponent in an election and try and get him voted out of office. That didn’t work, so Cooper accepted the fact that McHenry was, “set to rant irresponsibly and spread his bike hate for 2 more years.”

But then, something quite serendipitous happened. Cooper and his family were on a large charity ride when he rode up next to… guess who… Patrick McHenry, on a bike! Cooper shared with McHenry how the speech impacted the bike movement and confessed that he hoped McHenry wouldn’t get re-elected.

Cooper reported that McHenry was “nice” and that he wanted to meet Cooper at a later date to talk more about bikes.

As promised, Cooper later got a call from McHenry’s office. The two ended up having lunch, Cooper gave McHenry a primer on bike issues (along with a tour of the DeFeet headquarters of course) and asked him to join the local bike advocacy organization. It was a textbook lobbying effort, just like they teach at the National Bike Summit.

Cooper wrote that McHenry was enthusiastic about greenways and that, “overall, he was very open-minded about bikes.”

Cooper’s lession from all this? “We could not beat him… so let’s get him to think like us about bikes…let’s change his mind.”

Read more on Cooper’s blog at DeFeet.com.

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11 Comments
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    peejay June 25, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    All well and good, but still beat him in 2010! He’s from the party of Big Oil, and he’s programmed to support that interest regardless of his personal experiences or beliefs. You can’t unsay what he said.

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    the origional Aaron June 25, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    I’m deeply impressed by those folks who havethe stomach and diplomatic nerve to create positive dialog with Republicans and those who publicly denounce sensible transportation. Kudos to you.

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    revphil June 26, 2009 at 5:50 am

    “very open minded” does sound nice but unless he said ended the meeting with a “you changed my mind about the potential for cycling to help curb our dependence on foreign oil” McHenry may just be giving lip service.

    just the same great job Mr Cooper!

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    Steve Brown June 26, 2009 at 7:25 am

    The congressman know his district and the what shtick plays well on the hard right. LIke Lance says, “it is not about the bike”, it is about how we choose to live. Cooper did the right thing, get involved, get engaged with those you need to defeat or change. You can yell and scream all you want, but real change takes work.
    Anyone for taking on Lars Larson?

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    Michael June 26, 2009 at 7:46 am

    McHenry is probably just telling Cooper what he wants to hear. I doubt he’s changed his ideas about anything. You know how you can tell when a politician is lying? When their lips are moving.

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    Coyote June 26, 2009 at 8:00 am

    There is only one political party, the business party, and it has two factions – Republican and Democrat. One subsidizes corporations by guaranteeing that they won’t loose money if times get tough, the other subsidizes corporations through military spending. Talking about Republicans as if they are different species is childish.

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    wsbob June 26, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Checked out the wiki page written up on McHenry. He’s got one of the most conservative voting records in congress. Despite his conservative perspective, at least McHenry invited him to talk and was willing to listen to Cooper present a viewpoint encouraging use of the bicycle to counter petroleum dependency. Maybe McHenry does have some appreciation for the importance of the bicycle in the overall transportation situation.

    McHenry’s notorious statement:

    “They want to tell the American people, stop driving, ride a bike…

    Apparently, the Democrats believe that the miracle on two wheels that we know as a bicycle will end our dependence on foreign oil. I cannot make this stuff up. It is absolutely amazing.”

    That sounds simply like a sensational, fact-free, comment McHenry used to get attention. Pure rhetoric and not much else.

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    Patrick Valdez June 26, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    “All well and good, but still beat him in 2010! He’s from the party of Big Oil, and he’s programmed to support that interest regardless of his personal experiences or beliefs. You can’t unsay what he said.”

    I have to disagree. If McHenry is open to having his views changed due to his encounter with Shane Cooper then it would be a major victory for bicycle advocacy and not only that, instead of continuing a legacy of animosity towards the GOP we could begin to change their views from within.

    Merely voting a republican out of office is not enough, I believe there would be more value in just enlightening them and getting them to change their views.

    This is just my humble opinion.

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    middle of the road guy June 26, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    @1.

    Nice open mind. If they are a republican, they MUST be bad. In case you have not noticed, Big Oil contributes to both parties.

    What there needs to be is a conservative case built for biking infrastructure.

    In the 90’s, Paul Weyrich (Co founder of the Heritage Foundation) penned a paper called “The Conservative Case for Transit”. To this day, I find it provides the best suggestions as to why alternative mode infrastructure investment is in the country’s best interest.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Weyrich (before he died) during my stint at the EPA. I found him to be quite open minded and willing to see both sides of an issue.

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    mattotoole June 26, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I’m hoping we can get Eric Cantor on a bike ride soon!

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    Pfaff July 1, 2009 at 8:45 am

    I’m from NC and I check this site often for bike related info.

    McHenry is an idiot for so many reasons other than his anti-bike tirade.

    He will be voted out of office next term.

    He hasn’t changed his mind one bit. Give him a national stage and he will continue his uninformed rants because that’s what his ignorant constituents want to hear.

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