The results of the November election saw rural America speak clearly – and lose resoundingly. While groups like the Republican Party have begun the process of soul-searching to determine what can be done to prevent such a defeat again, agriculture rarely responds that way. After all, we are used to getting outgunned – and losing – when it comes to political outcomes.
The truth, however, is that agriculture does pretty well when one compares our results with those of our opponents, especially considering that ag tends to run weak in two big weapons of modern politics – dollars and votes. For obvious reasons, agriculture just isn’t that substantial.
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My kids’ orthodontist has an eclectic mix of reading material in his office. While I was waiting in that office recently, I picked up a copy of American Hunter, and was fascinated to see articles about animal welfare, use of public lands, constitutional support of the private property rights, etc. Obviously, there are constituencies out there that have many things in common with agriculturalists.
Groups like the National Rifle Association, for instance, are already potent political forces. One article in American Hunter claimed there are more than 2 million pheasant hunters in the U.S.; that’s nearly triple the number of U.S. cattle producers.
I next picked up a magazine focused on prospecting and mining; there appears to be a lot of folks today who like to spend their time panning for gold. The articles in this magazine depicted that these aficionados are concerned about government over-regulation, and are staunch advocates of private property rights.
Picking up the local paper, I read about how the oil and gas industries are spending more than ever trying to influence policy, which they believe is the greatest threat they face. Another article discussed a U.S. Supreme Court case over logging roads that could threaten the entire lumber industry in the Northwest.
I realize these diverse groups don’t share all of our values, nor would we agree on all the issues, but there would appear to be a significant overlap on key issues. I believe that a more coordinated and collaborative approach is the key to our industry continuing to be successful on the policy side.
There is no better example than the Democratic coalition. It consists of a wide and diverse group of special interests that share very little but the desire to win elections to advance their agendas, and they have done just that.
Perhaps our industry’s failing is that we’ve spent too much time trying to speak with one unified voice within our industry. While it certainly would be beneficial for the industry and increase our clout, the advantages probably pale in comparison to finding and collaborating with other groups that agree with us.
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The death tax is one of those issues where this strategy has been employed. While it’s true we’ve had little success on this issue thus far, our alliance with small business and others who share our concerns has at least helped to keep the issue alive.