Californians for Safe
Jimmy, Jonny and Joel Holquin were
brothers. Jimmy was 18 and a motorcyclist. On Friday,
September 6, 1985, Jimmy left for school, leaving his helmet
behind. On the way, he swerved, hitting a car broadside
which was making an unexpected u-turn in front of him, flew
over its top and landed on his head. Jonny called his
mother, Mary, at work, saying a friend had just seen Jimmy
bleeding on the street. Mary, Jonny and Joel watched
helplessly at the hospital throughout the weekend as doctors
tried in vain to treat the massive brain injury. Jimmy died
on Monday morning.
THROUGH GRIEF TO ADVOCACY
One week after Jimmy’s funeral, Mary
was the first person on the scene of another motorcycle
crash. She went over to help the helmeted driver, a young
man about Jimmy’s age. He was crying - his leg hurt. His
helmet had scratches on it, but the young man was talking.
He would live.
Mary “saw” her son’s face in
that helmet at that crash. She was convinced that if Jimmy
had worn a helmet, he would have lived. She was determined
to get a law in California that required every motorcyclist
to wear a helmet. She had no experience in politics or
advocacy, but she was not to be denied.
She called the Secretary of State to
find out how to pass a law. She was told she would need to
provide 375,000 signatures or find a legislator to carry the
bill. She started collecting signatures and contacting
Assemblyman Dick Floyd (D - Gardena)
had carried a helmet bill in 1980, but it never got out of
committee. Floyd agreed to meet with her. He showed up at
the restaurant in jeans and a belt buckle that said, “Born
to Ride.” He told her if she did all the lobbying, he
would carry the bill.
AB (Assembly Bill) 36 was introduced
in December, 1986. The bill had many hurdles: Transportation
and Ways and Means Committees in both the Assembly and
Senate, floor votes in both chambers, and a governor’s
Mary was a single mom, working in a
factory manufacturing D-RAMS in a wafer fab. She
re-scheduled her job to work nights - 6pm-6am - so she could
lobby all day. Life was hard. Her mother had just been
diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
For two years, she was the sole
lobbyist - unpaid. Assemblyman Floyd offered to help her set
up a nonprofit organization and find funding. She set up
Californians for Safe Motorcycling, but was unable to find
any funding for it, until just before the bill became law.
“Everyone at organizing and committee meetings had a
salary, except me.” But, then “she did not owe anybody
anything”, which she thought might be one reason she was
The issue become intensely partisan.
The Republican Caucus urged members to defeat the bill.
However, many republicans were sympathetic and helped pass
the bill. Her most vocal non-elected opponents were the
Hells Angels and members of ABATE (American Brotherhood
Against Totalitarian Enactments). They would all ride their
motorcycles and surround the capitol on hearings days. They
argued: “Let those who ride, decide!” Get government off
our backs, we are adults and free to choose. She and her
allies countered: “Let those who pay have the final say!”
And whose freedom of choice? “Jimmy left me no freedom of
choice but to bury him”, says Mary.
During each session, Mary counted
votes. She visited every legislator before every vote, so
she would know where each stood. A refusal to say where they
stood usually signaled opposition. She became an avid
observer of power politics and horse-trading. For example,
one assemblyman who had previously supported the bill said
that if Dick Floyd did not support gun control, he would not
vote for the helmet law.
AB36 made it thru all of the
committees in two years, but Governor Deukmejian vetoed it
in 1988. Dick Floyd reintroduced it as AB8 in December of
that year. It passed the legislature, but again the governor
vetoed it in 1989.
Mary’s work at the capitol was
all-consuming. She was very tired most of the time. Having
no financial support for advocacy, she had money troubles.
She was portrayed as an over-protective, over-reactive mom,
even as someone trading sexual favors for votes! She
received death threats in telephone calls. She had time and
energy for nothing else, including her other sons, whom she
feels she “lost” as well. But she felt she had no
choice; it was up to her to get a helmet law passed. Jonny
and Joel urged her to continue.
Floyd reintroduced the bill again in
1991 as AB7. California had a new governor who let it be
known that he was open to considering a helmet law. For a
third time, the legislature passed the bill, and it became
the very first bill Governor Pete Wilson signed into law.
Researchers have reported significant decreases in deaths
and severe head injuries among motorcyclists since the law
took effect in 1992.
Mary has just about recovered from her
exhaustion. Life is easier. She is happily married, and has
moved out of California. She even has taken up motorcycling
with her husband who is an avid rider. So she goes to
rallies, mixes with other riders, keeps her fingers on the
pulse of motorcycle helmet politics, and monitors annual
attempts to repeal “her law” in California.
WAYS TO CONTACT/CONTRIBUTE:
Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety
750 First St. NE, Suite 901
Washington, DC 20002