From tire store to House floor: Being a tire dealer gives state rep a political advantage
Late Massachusetts Congressman Tip O'Neill once said, "All politics is local."
Nobody knows that better than Dan Dorman.
When Dorman isn't selling tires at Hanson Tire Service, his single-location dealership in Albert Lea, Minn., he's at the Minnesota capital of St. Paul working on budgets, reviewing bills and championing his constituents' concerns as a member of the state's House of Representatives.
Dorman's career in the tire industry dates back to 1988, when he joined Hanson Tire. But his interest in politics dates back much further -- to the sixth grade, when he and classmates went on a field trip to St. Paul and met some politicians. "I remember thinking at the time, 'Boy, I'd like to do something like that!"
Dorman followed politics throughout high school and college, which eventually led to a degree in political science from the University of Minnesota.
"Then I graduated and started to make a living. I didn't think much about it until I got active with our local chamber of commerce."
He started helping out on various campaigns and scored an opportunity to run for a House seat in 1998. He won the election -- and was then re-elected in 2000, 2002 and 2004!
Dorman is officially registered as a Republican, but labels himself a political independent. People appreciate his refusal to blindly follow the party line, he says. "My district is very independent. People in Minnesota tend to be very independent.
"Part of the frustration I have with the system both in Washington and St. Paul is that sometimes you get people who are more interested in party politics than they are in doing the right thing for the state."
Dorman's reputation as a maverick works to his advantage. Earlier this year, the Speaker of Minnesota's House made Dorman the chair of the state's capital investment committee. Dorman's efforts enabled the state to pass an important bonding bill in April.
"It had a lot to do with just being able to sit down and talk with somebody from the other party and not thinking they're the enemy."
The process is not unlike selling tires, he says. "What's the other guy thinking? What's that customer thinking when he comes in through the door? What's his need? How do we get together? I think that's lacking sometimes in the political process."
Dorman's position as a small businessman also gives him a perspective that some of his colleagues don't enjoy. He spends a great deal of time listening to constituents' concerns when they stop by his shop. And he has first-hand knowledge of how decisions made at the state capital impact business owners and their customers.
"I think (representatives) spend an awful lot of time arguing about taxes rather than who really pays them. Last year one of my constituents said, 'How much did the property tax go up at your store?' And I said to him, 'I don't pay property taxes at my store.' He said, 'Well, that's just like you Republicans!' and I said, 'No, no, no - my customers pay my property taxes. If my cost of doing business goes up, I pass it along to my customer."
Dorman, whose current term expires next year, encourages tire dealers to get involved in politics, whether locally or on a larger stage. "Tire dealers should not be afraid to take positions on things. Just because you disagree with a position doesn't mean people won't do business with you.
"You can get to these (elected officials). You can find them and talk to them. They should hear from you."
He believes independent dealers are in a unique position to help elected officials understand the tire industry. "The key to being a successful representative is finding people you can go to in order to help you understand an issue. If tire dealers can get themselves into a position where elected officials rely on them, that's where you can really have an influence."