The Dave Zien 'zine -- Clutch Performance Edition | WisCommunity

The Dave Zien 'zine -- Clutch Performance Edition

There's a signpost up ahead. Via the Twilight Zone and submitted for your approval:

From 1993 to 2007, Dave Zien was a Republican state senator from Eau Claire. He was regarded as a political gadfly and known as a very serious motorcycle enthusiast, a reputation he stoked whenever possible. The Harley rider was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000. He made news in 2009 when the odometer on his Harley-Davidson bike rolled past a million miles. The Harley company, realizing a PR opportunity, gifted Zien with a new bike. The record setter is now a museum exhibit, but Zien himself hasn't quite transformed into a museum piece, yet.

Zien made news again last week when Harley turned down his request to have repairs to his current Harley bike covered under warranty. The company rejected his claim on the basis that the huge, non-standard United States and State of Wisconsin flags he has had fitted to his bike for years had caused too much wind resistance and thus unusual wear and tear to the bike's clutch and engine.

The wild-maned, long-bearded Zien, who has posed for biker pictures with leathered-up wild angel Scott Walker, instantly became a national, conservative-media folk hero for criticizing the hand that previously had fed him. Who knew Harley-Davidson Motor Co. was "The Man"? Everyone on the political right from Fox News to syndicated conservative columnists and fringe bloggers promptly rallied to Zien's side. Conservatives these days sure do loves them some rebelliousness, no matter how affectational.

While Zien is nowhere near as outrageous as Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, the most recently previous conservative object of adoration, the current national love-in over Zien's tussle with Harley HQ remains on its own level a case of political shark-jumping. Because Zien carts not just oversized flags but all sorts of other baggage.

For example, back in 2005, news reports detailed how Zien claimed tens of thousands of miles in travel reimbursement as a Wisconsin state legislator, all based on trips aboard his Harley. Indeed, he billed taxpayers at twice the rate allowed other state employees. The state senator collected state mileage reimbursements of $23,332 over a 2½-year period. Other state employees riding motorcycles were granted only half the amount per mile paid to Zien. He claimed the doubly generous rate intended for an automobile, no matter whether he was riding his Harley or his snowmobile, and, for some reason, the state went ahead and paid it.

How many other legislators or rank-and-file civil servants actually ride snowmobiles on their way to official business? Zien claimed he did. And how others many racked up tens of thousands of miles a year doing the public's work aboard snowmobiles and motorcycles? Again, Zien said he did. Arguably, voters grew disenchanted with him after the dust-up over his enormous travel reimbursements, mostly based on easy riding. Did Zien ever have time to actually sit in the legislature, logging all those many motorcycle miles?

Also in 2009, two years after he left office, Zien crashed his gift motorcycle right into a deer. A witness later reported online:

Two weeks ago [...] and I were in [Wisconsin] Rapids for the annual statewide ABATE meeting. Former Senator Dave Zien was also in attendance -- with a four point buck slung over the passenger seat of his Harley. He hit the deer on Friday about an hour and a half out of Rapids. Gutted it, threw it on his bike and continued on his way. It was still there, waiting for the ride home, on Sunday morning. Senator Zien, other than a knee in need of an ice pack, wasn't too much worse for the wear. The bike he was riding when he hit the deer is the same one that Harley Davidson gave to him last spring after he turned over one million miles on his previous bike... . Dave Zien is truly an American original.

Yeah, an American original who apparently makes up his own rules, because in Wisconsin, as most every resident knows, if you hit a deer, you can't just dress it out on the spot and drive off with it. That's a no-no. State law requires that you report the collision. Drivers who want to keep a deer they've hit must report the incident to police, who carry deer tags so the deer can be processed legally. No word on how Zien legally managed to gut the deer on the spot and bike it on in to Rapids. Hmmm, I wonder how a deer carcass slung over your bike's softtail affects wind resistance? Another clutch performance from the Zien-ster, just made for great story-telling around the bar after work. [You can see a snapshot of the deer and Zien's bike at the time, up above.]

Then, in 2011, the by-now former legislator nearly lost his life in a Florida crash that badly damaged his gift Harley and cost him a leg. Zien, like many motorcyclists, then and to this day disdains wearing a protective helmet. "The Man" thing, again.

But this latest incident takes the cake. No doubt Harley lawyers had visions of thousands of other owners of their bikes filing broken clutch claims after bombing around with huge flags serving as drag chutes. Conservatives jumped on Harley's refusal to pay for Zien's repairs, echoing his intimation that the firm simply doesn't respect the American flag. But like one skeptical biker put it in a slightly ungrammatical blog post: "Why should Harley ... pay for it?? Just cause there is a US flag?? Will FOX would even mention it if the guy was flying the gay banner??"

Just as important: Would Scott Walker even pal around on the road with Zien if the former legislator were flying a gay banner? 

But the even bigger question is this: If Dave Zien today remained in the state Senate, would he still be considered a political outlier, or would he now just be another, ordinary, mainstream Republican with a propensity toward the extremely outrageous?


May 24, 2014 - 4:40pm