U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's myriad accomplishments span both his public and private life, and central to both is his advocacy of motorcycling and motorcyclists' rights. It is his passion and achievements in the world of motorcycling that earn him his place in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Born in Auburn, Calif., April 13, 1933, Campbell attended public schools and served his country in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, where he earned the Korean Service Medal and the Air Medal. He returned to the U.S. in 1953 subsequently earned a B.A. in physical education and fine arts at California State University at San Jose 1957. He also attended Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan as a research student between 1960-1964. Campbell became a three-time U.S. judo champion, winning the gold medal in the Pan-American Games in 1963, and was captain of the U.S. Olympic Judo Team in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Later he coached the U.S. international judo team. Campbell later achieved notoriety as Native American jewelry designer.
Campbell served as both a U.S. representative and senator from Colorado, having first been elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1986. He served three terms in the House of Representatives and subsequently two terms in the Senate, during which he changed from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1995. During his long tenure in the U.S. Congress, Campbell was a recognized motorcyclist and an ardent and passionate champion for motorcycling. He was well known not only for his many accomplishments in the legislative arena, but for his western dress, his ponytail, and above all, his Harley-Davidson. While serving in Congress, he made time to participate in numerous motorcycle rides and activities and was the motorcycling community's strongest advocate and best friend on Capitol Hill.
In 1995, Campbell led a successful effort to repeal penalties for those states that do not have mandatory helmet laws. After years of work building support for the issue, he spent over 16 hours leading a debate on the Senate floor that resulted in a vote to repeal the federal helmet law provisions and a vote to kill an amendment that would have denied benefits to unhelmeted riders who were injured. While in Congress, Senator Campbell spoke out against insurance companies denying coverage to motorcyclists, defended the right of motorcyclists to use HOV lanes, supported funding for motorcycle safety, urged that the development of Intelligent Transportation Systems took motorcyclists' needs into consideration, and fought to ensure that motorcyclists could not be denied access to any highway or road that used federal highway funds for planning, construction or maintenance.
A rancher, Campbell was a staunch supporter of private property rights and multiple use of public lands. During the heated debate over protection of the California desert, he fought to keep millions of acres of the desert open to off-road motorcyclists. He was also an original co-sponsor of the legislation to establish the Recreational Trails Program that, since its passage in 1991, has provided hundreds of millions of dollars for motorized and non-motorized trail projects in every state in the nation and has resulted in the development and maintenance of thousands of motorized recreational trails.
Campbell rode with Rolling Thunder many times in its Washington, D.C., annual Memorial Day weekend Ride to the Wall to remind the city and the nation of the thousands of POWs and MIAs who remain unaccounted for, and he is an honorary member of Rolling Thunder. He was also an early supporter of a Colorado POW/MIA Recognition Ride, which he led for a decade, served as a guest speaker, and vigorously promoted. Campbell also served as the Grand Marshall of the March of Dimes “Bikers for Babies” event in Colorado.
It was not unusual to see Campbell's motorcycle parked in front of the Capitol, and he served as a constant ambassador for the sport and the lifestyle.
Campbell was only the third Native American in history to serve in the U.S. Congress, and is one of 44 Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. While serving in the U.S. House, Senator Campbell introduced legislation to authorize the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian.
In 1994 Campbell was honored with the AMA Brighter Image Award, the Association's highest award for activities that generate good publicity for motorcycling.
After leaving the Senate in 2004, Campbell went to the law firm of Holland and Knight.
Campbell was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002.