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Former wheel supplier CEO wins Fla. U.S. House seat

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(Crain News Service photo) Curtis Clawson, in a file photo from his days at Hayes Lemmerz, called himself a “Washington outsider.”

By Ryan Beene, Crain News Service

WASHINGTON (June 27, 2014) — The former CEO of wheel supplier Hayes Lemmerz International Inc. is headed to Congress to replace a Florida representative who resigned in January after being busted for possession of cocaine.

Curtis Clawson, a Republican, won a special election June 24 in Florida’s 19th District, which includes Naples and Fort Meyers, by garnering 67 percent of the vote. He fills the seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, a Republican who resigned in January after pleading guilty to possession of cocaine late last year. Mr. Clawson was sworn into office Wednesday.

From 2001 to 2012, Mr. Clawson was CEO of Hayes Lemmerz, a longtime supplier of steel and aluminum wheels to automotive and commercial vehicle manufacturers. During Mr. Clawson’s tenure, the company filed for and emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection twice, once in 2001 before emerging in 2003 and again in 2009. Hayes Lemmerz was acquired by Brazilian wheel and chassis supplier Iochpe-Maxion S.A. for $725 million in 2012. The company has since been renamed Maxion Wheels.

Hayes Lemmerz was among the many auto suppliers to seek Chapter 11 protection in 2009 during the recession as auto makers slashed vehicle production to the lowest levels seen in decades.

“Curt’s ability to lead a company and emerge from bankruptcy to save the company and save jobs is what will make him a great leader in Congress,” said David James, a Mr. Clawson spokesman. “His ability to make a success out of something that is broken is what will make him a great leader, and the fiscal house in Washington is broken right now.”

After seeking bankruptcy protection in May 2009, Hayes Lemmerz emerged the following December after reducing debt to $240 million from $720 million and by reducing health care and pension costs for retirees in the U.S. to $75 million from more than $250 million. As part of the reorganization, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. assumed responsibility for Hayes Lemmerz’s pension plan covering more than 4,780 employees and retirees. The agency said at the time that the plan was underfunded by about $94 million, or roughly 46 percent.

Mr. Clawson was a basketball star at Purdue University from 1981 to 1984, where his biography notes he made the first three-point basket in the history of the program.

He tapped his personal wealth in the heated Republican primary battle earlier this year. A political newcomer, he branded himself a Washington outsider—a message that resonated with tea party supporters and helped him secure the Republican nomination in April.

Mr. Clawson will fill the remainder of Mr. Radel’s term and must seek re-election in November.

Crain’s Detroit Business and Reuters contributed to this report, which appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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