"Our intention is to totally take over the political process and give it back to the people," says Sputnik, the Mohawk-wearing founder and chairman of the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association. The 59-year-old grandfather rides a Honda Shadow 1100 and wears a leather glove to hide the hand he mangled in an explosives accident at Fort Hood. So far, Sputnik (who got his name because he runs around so fast his feet never seem to touch the ground) has enlisted 2,500 members. Even more impressive, he says his gang accounted for nearly 50 percent of the delegates at the state Democratic convention in Fort Worth. But Sputnik's not finished yet: He's currently grooming candidates for the state Senate. "It takes 21 senators to pass a bill into law, but it only takes 11 to kill it." And, as Sputnik points out, "If you can kill everything, you can pass anything."
Despite the Democratic emphasis, Sputnik wants the group to be nonpartisan. "We're not a one-party organization. It just happens that the majority of us are Democrats," he says. Two hundred bikers were expected to attend the state Republican convention earlier this month in Houston, but right now Sputnik has another reason to concentrate his efforts on the donkey: The Dems are in the most need of change. "They used to be the working man's party, and now they're the working man's boss's party," says Sputnik. "The union bosses are the ones the party caters to now, rather than the actual workers."
What spawned this move into politics was a keynote speech at a biker convention by the easy-riding David Durenberger, former U.S. senator from Minnesota. In a rousing oratory, Durenberger called bikers America's last hope for freedom because they were the only citizens concerned enough about individual liberties to fight for them. Sputnik was moved. "I came back and told my wife about the speech, and I said, 'The man is right. We are selling our grandchildren into slavery of a totalitarian government.' We probably have a small window in which we can still do this politically, and I got to try." Sputnik immediately began reading the U.S. Constitution and could see that it wasn't being followed. But he couldn't find a means for effecting change until he discovered the election procedures. Thus, the association was born.
"We banded together on the helmet issue," Sputnik says. "Then we won that and went on to keep getting everything else, and we want it all." Since then, the group has helped open HOV lanes and parking lots to motorcycles, approved handicapped license plates for bikes, funded environmental studies on the importance of alternative transportation, helped pass concealed-handgun permits and assisted in the demise of no-fault insurance.
Recently the association has been pushing an equal-access law for Texas that prevents businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, gender or leather attire. "We're one of the few people Tom Bodett don't leave the lights on for," Sputnik says in his Texas twang. Oddly, the organization is also pushing for mandatory Breathalyzer tests for public intoxication charges because, according to Sputnik, "It's your word against the cop, and the cop wins." Sputnik's remarkable legislative success prompted one Houston Chronicle reporter in 1997 to dub him the state's most effective lobbyist.
This weekend, to rally his supporters and maybe gain a few converts, Sputnik will be throwing a Texas Tea Party. On the agenda: "We throw tea in Galveston Bay and tell what our bitch is with the government," Sputnik says.
A word of advice to our legislators: You better listen.
The Motorcycle Rights Association will be holding its second annual Texas Tea Party from Friday, June 30, through Sunday, July 2. Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday. There will be games, live music, vendors and a "badass tattoo" and "Miss Cheeks" contest. Pat's Place, off Tri-Cities Beach Road in Baytown. For more information, call (713)944-4488 or (409)948-9273.