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Thankful Thursday – Legislative Assistants

Legislative Assistants

A huge shout out and thank you to all the Legislative Assistants out there!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to head to Washington DC for a few days of Farm Bureau meetings, and a day on Capitol Hill. I love when we are able to visit our elected officials. I have learned so much about leadership, and how to work with those you may not agree with politically.

One of the things that has been repeated with every visit, is the importance of building a relationship with the Legislative Assistants. When I see Senator Amy Klobuchar’s LA, Brian Werner, I try to get a selfie or a photo with him if his day is not crazy busy. He is a native of my county, a connection that has led to a recognition when we see each other either in DC, or when he is traveling to Minnesota for his job. In the photo above, I was able to greet him at a hearing about the Farm Bill in his home town.

Legislative Assistants are human, and we need to treat them that way.

While we were waiting for our meeting with Senator Klobuchar, we had the chance to ask questions of her office staff. They were busy answering phones, and reading the emails that were coming in. They explained the process of sorting emails to the appropriate file (not the deleted folder), and how every call is logged. Even with the volume of calls they receive, the two staffers were very friendly on the phone. Ever feel like calling up your senator or representative and ripping them a new one? Don’t. The people on the other end of the line are human, and they don’t like being yelled at any more than you do. Ripping someone a new one is also a poor reflection on you or the organization you represent. The Golden Rule applies to congressional staffers, and our elected officials.

Meeting with a Legislative Assistant is a good thing

Sometimes schedules are so crazy that we cannot meet with our Congressmen or Senators. Having the ability to sit down with their LA’s is a good thing. They are the ones who will research, document, and make recommendations to their boss about whatever it is that you are wanting them to work on. Drop them a business card on your way out of the meeting, and follow up with a thank you email as soon as you are able. I’m still working on mine from two weeks ago, but I will get them done!

 

I’m thankful that we have talented, smart, and energetic individuals who are working as our Legislative Assistants. Whether they are working for a boss in DC, or your home state…in the office on the Hill, or in a field office, we need to treat them all with a bit of kindness, and show them a little appreciation now and then.

Why You Need to Get Involved

Getting Involved Ag Menu

How many times have you heard someone say they just don’t want to get involved, or that they belong to a farm organization so “they” will speak up for them? Maybe they feel like it’s no use…they are just one person, and their vote or opinion won’t count anyway, so they give up. Frustrating, isn’t it?

This past week, I attended the first ever Governor’s Pheasant Summit. Our area in Minnesota is pretty popular for pheasant hunting, so they met at the college that is a few miles from my place. Even though I live close to the venue, I hadn’t heard about the Summit until our Farm Bureau Director of Public Policy mentioned that he would be there. I was starting to feel as if I was being prepped for the menu.

I went online to check out the Summit details, and to go through the background information. It was clearly spelled out that this was supposed to be a discussion between hunters, farmers, policy makers, conservationists, DNR, and other stakeholders and government officials. What I saw when I walked in the door was very different. There were many state agency people – DNR, SWCD, MN DOT, BWSR, NRCS – but very few farmers. Besides the few farmers that I saw, there was a small group of cattlemen, a small group of bee keepers. With the format of the event, it was evident that the small number of farmers, ranchers, and bee keepers wouldn’t have a lot of clout…even though we represented the largest private landowners, and would be the most affected by whatever decisions came out of the Summit.

There are some lessons here.

1. We need to show up. When there is an open call for stakeholders, we need to respond. We cannot wait for “them” to represent us. “They” may represent you, but when it comes to events like the Summit, I have the same amount of votes as everyone else in the room. Every voice counts. Let me repeat that…Every voice counts.

2. We need to engage. Don’t like how things are going? We cannot afford to just walk away and hope someone else speaks up for us. In any of the areas mentioned in the graphic above, there are or have been opportunities to engage. Not sure how? Join a farm organization. It could be Farm Bureau, State Cattlemen, Farm Bureau, Corn Growers, Farm Bureau, Soybean Growers, Farm Bureau, Pork Producers, Farm Bureau, Bee Keepers, Farm Bureau…  Jonathan and I are members of more than one group, giving us opportunities to engage through those different groups.  Many of these groups also arrange group trips to the State Capitol and Washington DC giving you the ability to engage with your elected officials, while helping you to speak effectively to them.

3. We need to be persistent. After the Pheasant Summit concluded, I approached the Commissioner of the DNR to ask if a farmer would be a member of the group that hammers out the action plan that came out of the Summit. In our private conversation, he agreed that we need to be at the table, and we need to be able to work together. The 5 areas outlined are too broad to let the government agencies decide on the action plan without agriculture at the table. We need to be persistent and willing to be the squeaky wheel every once in a while to ensure that agriculture has a voice. We can’t take one private conversation and be satisfied that we will be heard.

4. We need to work together. There are times when every farmer and rancher needs to work together, regardless of size, methods, or farm type. A good example is the issue with the Environmental Protection Agency and their Waters of the United States rule that would essentially give them jurisdiction over all the water in the United States. Through an organized effort, and the participation of farmers and ranchers all over the United States, we are getting the attention of our elected officials, and they are responding. The Pheasant Summit is a state wide issue that affects every farmer and rancher, regardless of size or method. We need to be willing to set aside our differences for the good of the whole, there is strength in numbers.

Where do we go from here?

Get involved. It’s okay to start small. Join your county Farm Bureau. You don’t have to sit on the county board to take advantage of the opportunities for members.  If you are not comfortable in front of people, at least respond to the Action Alerts when they are sent out. Participate in your Day on the Hill. Your county Farm Bureau and commodity organizations make it very easy to show up, and be effective. Head to Washington DC with Farm Bureau. You will learn a ton about Farm Bureau, the legislative process, and you will be making a difference by your very presence. Attend events like the Pheasant Summit. We need the agriculture voices to show up and help shape the recommendations that will affect us. You don’t have to stand up and address the crowds, or give a speech, or be on TV to make a difference. Just get involved at the level you are comfortable with. Help agriculture be at the table, and not on the menu.

Happy Agriculture Week!

I just finished reading a few blogs referring to National Agriculture Day, and the Thank a Farmer slogan. I really like reading different perspectives on the same topic. Sometimes it makes me really think about what I am doing, and how I can improve myself. These two blogs made me reflect on what I typically do on Ag Day.

So, how did I spend National Ag Day? I went to the Minnesota State Capitol to meet with my elected officials through the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Day on the Hill event. I am not a morning person, but I was up at 4:45 am to get myself ready for the day. I was in town to pick up donuts for all the people riding the bus by 6:15, and on the bus by 6:30 am. We picked up people on our route, and ended up with a very diverse group of farmers. The one common denominator is our love for what we do.

The weather the day before was kinda rough. A little snow with a lot of wind created “blow ice” and ground blizzard conditions. Some of the roads we needed to take were still listed as hazardous driving conditions when we left, but the plows were out, so we were able to make the trip. Kudos to our bus driver who kept the bus on the road in the wind and on ice!

2013-03-19 08.30.32b

This is one of the better stretches of road along Highway 212…

We started our day with a briefing at the Department of Agriculture. This is where we have the opportunity to hear about the latest issues that affect agriculture, and a refresher on what Farm Bureau’s stance is on those issues. All of the opinions of Farm Bureau are set by the farmers and ranchers who are members. The grassroots part of our policy making is one of the things I love about this organization.

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Farmers and Ranchers listening to the briefing at the Department of Agriculture.

After our briefing, we jumped back on the bus for a short ride up to the Capitol. In past years, we’ve been able to walk the 6 blocks to the Capitol, but this year it was 9 degrees with a stiff north wind. Coldest Day on the Hill I can remember. Every county Farm Bureau sets up their own appointment times, and occasionally we’ll jump in with a neighboring county if we have extra time. Our county had 3 appointments lined up for the afternoon, with time to eat in one of the cafeterias first. If you like people watching, the MN Department of Transportation’s cafeteria is the place to eat. It is a short tunnel walk from the Senate Office Building, so many Senators and Representatives eat there.

Our county was able to meet with two of our Senators, and one of our Representatives. We jumped in with a neighboring area, and met with their Representative as well.  This part is so cool. This is our freedom in action. We are able to walk into the offices of our elected officials, and tell our stories. They have the opportunity to hear first hand how proposed legislation will affect their constituents.  Whether or not you agree on philosophies or belong to the same party, a respectful conversation is possible. It is within these respectful conversations that we have the opportunity to build relationships, and become the expert they will rely on for their information. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to get past your differences, and that is okay. The important thing is to always be respectful, and always be yourself.

Brown, Lac Qui Parle, Lyon and Yellow Medicine Counties with Senator Dahms

Brown, Lac Qui Parle, Lyon and Yellow Medicine Counties with Senator Dahms

 

I would encourage you to become involved in a farming or ranching, or whatever you do organization. Most of them have organized days to visit your elected officials. Take advantage of those opportunities! It makes a big impact on those at the Capitol – elected and staff – when we take time off the farm or ranch to visit with them.

Happy Agriculture Week!

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