Get involved in public office, advocacy
Thursday, December 28, 2017
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
Outside of interacting with legislators, I spend a lot of my time working with staff at the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). These are the two state agencies that have the most impact on our farmers. Both have seen significant leadership changes in the last couple months.
At the DNR, Secretary Cathy Stepp has left for a position at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was replaced by Dan Meyer, a former state legislator from northern Wisconsin. Secretary Meyer has also hired Jake Curtis as the new head of DNR’s legal department.
At DATCP, Secretary Ben Brancel retired and was replaced by state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf. DATCP’s former legislative liaison, Keeley Moll, has been promoted to deputy secretary. In addition, a new assistant deputy secretary will be named soon as Sandy Chalmers has left to become the state’s new Farm Service Agency director.
Secretary Harsdorf is well-known to many in agriculture. She has a dairy farming background and has been a tremendous ally during her time in public service. I’m sure that will continue.
At a recent gathering of agricultural organizations, Secretary Harsdorf was asked what advice she would give to those advocating for agriculture. The lobbyist asking the question noted that the landscape has changed since she first entered the Legislature. There are far fewer ag voices in government.
The secretary offered good advice about how to connect better with those who do not grasp our issues, but might have similar issues of their own. She also talked about the need to encourage more people with an agricultural background to run for public office. She spoke to how that was a factor in her decision to run initially.
This does not necessarily mean you must run for the Legislature. You might want to participate in local government. Our school boards need people who understand agriculture and its importance to the state’s economy. Town boards need members to stand up for rural infrastructure and the farmers who rely on it. Even in counties that are primarily rural, there are county boards without a single farmer.
DBA and other ag groups must do a better job of identifying members to run for office and giving them the tools to be successful. My colleague, Aaron Stauffacher, attended the Indiana Farm Bureau’s Campaign School this fall. The hope is to eventually offer similar programming here for those taking the leap into politics.
If you are not ready to take that plunge yet, there are plenty of other ways to get involved. As an association, we are here to support you and provide you with what you need to influence change.
At Dairy Strong 2018, Aaron, Shawn Pfaff (one of DBA’s contract lobbyists) and I are going to make a presentation on how to participate and persuade more effectively. Our breakout session will be a crash course on lobbying and advocacy. It will be perfect for those who want to do more but might be intimidated by a lack of understanding of how government works. If you have any interest in this topic, I hope you will join us. The breakout sessions will be available on Dairy Strong’s YouTube channel after the conference.
We will also give you the chance to test out your newly acquired skills and confidence. Jan. 24 is Ag Day at the Capitol. This annual event is organized by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. DBA and several other ag groups are co-sponsors.
The event will feature a speech by Gov. Scott Walker, a briefing on legislative issues and the chance to meet with your legislators about the issues that matter to you. If you are able, please join your fellow DBA members and other farmers in this great opportunity.
Let’s turn up agriculture’s voice in government.