Commentary: Fill the knowledge gap for new elected representatives


Issue Date: November 14, 2018
By Cody Lyon
Cody Lyon
The U.S. Capitol will see new members of Congress as a result of this month’s elections. To assure those first- and second-term members recognize the importance of agricultural issues, Farm Bureau members should make contact with them before the end of the year.

"When all's said and done" is an old English saying that's appropriate today. After months of prognostications, punditry and predictions, campaign rallies, speeches, protests and endless advertisements, the voters have had their say and the elections are done.

What we know right now is what was predicted over the past few months: Republicans gained seats in the Senate while Democrats gained control in the House of Representatives.

Divided control of Congress requires a close working relationship to move legislation. The likelihood of this occurring is dependent on the leadership of both chambers. Watch closely to see who is chosen speaker of the House, because 41 incoming freshmen declared they would not support Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, for speaker or wanted different leadership.

The success of Democratic candidates will reshape the agenda of the House in the 116th Congress. That agenda should include improvements to the nation's infrastructure. International trade will remain a key topic as the administration seeks new trade deals with Japan, the European Union, U.K. and other countries.

My greatest concern is not in the new leadership, new committee chairs or the agenda for the 116th Congress, but the number of new members and the knowledge gap they have about key issues important to farmers and ranchers.

The incoming 116th Congress will have 110 to 125 members of Congress with less than two terms of experience. That's roughly one out of four who are facing a steep learning curve to understand the complexities of the world's largest gross domestic product and key issues important to farmers and ranchers.

Members of Congress do not know what farmers and ranchers do, and they need to.

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity.

Expect a frenzy inside the Beltway with groups trying to cultivate new champions on Capitol Hill. But before representatives can be champions for agriculture, they need to gain understanding about Farm Bureau's key issues.

What does this mean for farmers, ranchers and other rural residents?

It is imperative that you fill this knowledge gap as soon as possible. Beginning today, engage your members of Congress—especially the newly elected:

  • First, reach out, make contact and identify yourself as a Farm Bureau member.
  • Second, share your story and help legislators understand how federal policy affects the communities they represent.
  • Finally, set up an in-person meeting or a visit to your farm in the coming months.

Legislative and policy victories begin today, not in January when the 116th Congress is sworn in. Advocacy groups and constituents that start bridging the knowledge gap sooner rather than later will be the ones in position to better achieve their policy goals when Congress starts to vote on bills important to agriculture.

Before 2018 is done, what will you say to your representative and senators?

(Cody Lyon is managing director, advocacy & political affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.