Sen. Carl Levin won't get near one.
Sen. Donald W. Riegle and his son refused one during the Traverse City, Mich., Cherry Festival parade last summer.
And Rep. Robert Davis jokingly calls his staffers traitors if they own one.
What are they? Foreign cars.
As a symbolic gesture and, as one congressman's aid suggested, a way to avoid humiliation with their financially strapped automaking constituents back home, many of Michigan's congressmen have been practicing what they preach. Instead of merely trying to limit the entry of foreign cars into the country, many of the congressmen are limiting them on Capitol Hill.
"Most people who are involved in politics in Michigan drive American cars," said Roberta Stanley, director of information and legislation for Rep. William D. Ford (D-Mich.). "I know an office where they almost fired somebody for buying a foreign car."
Ford has told his personal and subcommittee staff that only those members owning American cars will be awarded the coveted Capitol Hill parking spaces, Stanley said. The staffers aren't entitled to parking privileges, and every office allots them according to its own system, Stanley said. In response, some staffers "are buying American cars," Stanley said.
Likewise, Democrat Levin, who "drives an old Plymouth," said he "won't ride in a non-American car," even a Volkswagen Rabbit made in its Pennsylvania plant, said Levin's press secretary, Jim Crutchfield. "He said it looks bad to his constituents."
The issue isn't a partisan one, either. Republican congressman Robert W. Davis "will ride in one if he has to, but not in the district," said Davis' press secretary, Wendy Menard. "He discourages staff people from buying foreign cars. He calls them traitors, in a joking way, but he gets his point across."
Davis also has a rule that staffers working out of his northern Michigan district cannot drive foreign cars on the job.
"One of our district reps had one," Menard said. "He was instructed to drive a van that was there" instead of his foreign car. "You wouldn't want to drive into a Ford [Motor Co.] plant with a Volkswagen, would?" Menard asked rhetorically.
Menard said that when Davis was a state representative years ago, she owned a British-made Triumph Spitfire. "Two of his friend wouldn't speak to me," she said.
Davis drives an old Oldsmobile Toronado, Menard said. "I have Michigan plates on my car, so I'm glad I drive a Chrysler," she added.
"We do it by peer pressure," said Mike Russell, a Riegle press aide. "There's no formal rule. We don't even have to bring it up."
Last summer Riegle was grand marshal of the Traverse City, Mich., Cherry Festival parade, Russell said. "They were going to drive him in a foreign car. He refused and they got him a Chevrolet."
Would anyone on Riegle's staff dare buy a foreign car? "I don't think so," Russell said. "Not a Japanese car. Possibly a Volkswagen because they're American-produced. Maybe a Renault," which has an agreement with American Motors Corp. "A Colt or a Champ is acceptable," Russell said, even though they are made in Japan. "But Chrysler sells it."