Commentary: One person can effect change


Issue Date: January 27, 2010
Vito Chiesa

Farmer and Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa speaks at a 2008 state Capitol news conference in favor of successful legislation to reduce metal theft. The bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, left, is a farmer from Modesto.

I remember once standing in front of a congressional panel providing testimony to increase research funds for studies on the health of bees and on specialty crops. I began with an introduction, "Hello, my name is Vito Chiesa and I grow walnuts, almonds and peaches on land that has been in my family for 50 years. I am also a land steward, employer, water expert and marketer. Being a farmer today is more complex than in days past."

I concluded my allocated three minutes of testimony by stating, "I believe the farm community needs to become more involved in research funding decisions, whether it's a better understanding of the political process that governs funding, the tug and pull that occurs over competitive grants or what steps can be taken to better harmonize the flow of information and cooperation between the various research institutions."

I can now add to my introduction that I am the District 2 supervisor for Stanislaus County, and it is because of my experience with Farm Bureau that I decided to run for office. Had I never been exposed to the diversity of issues Farm Bureau addresses, I would have never realized how important it is for farmers and ranchers to hold elected positions.

Over 10 years ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C., on a National Affairs trip. There I was introduced to a new world of politics and issue advocacy at the grassroots level. Walking the halls of Congress opened my eyes to the importance of being involved in the political process.Visiting with our California delegation gave me a direct look at how disconnected our lawmakers are with how our food—their food—is grown and the contributions agriculture makes to our local, state and national economies.

From that point on, my interest in the political process grew and as president of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, I was able to participate firsthand in passing legislation that had major impacts for California's farmers and ranchers.

Working with Sen. Dick Monteith and Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, we were able to bring an agricultural issue dealing with partial sales tax exemptions for farm equipment, diesel and propane to the forefront. Tractors converged upon the Capitol, people took notice and when Gov. Gray Davis signed AB 426 into law, I knew that my actions had made a difference.

One person can effect change.

In my own operation, I saw and felt the challenges agriculture was facing. Issues with water, land use planning and overregulation made it increasingly difficult for me and my family to operate a profitable business. I watched as elected officials took up these items and could see there was not enough attention being given to those issues that had real impacts on our farming and ranching operations. I could not stand on the sidelines any longer; a farmer's perspective was needed to tackle the multiple issues facing my community.

There were a number of factors to consider before running for office—my family, my own farming operation, the time commitment—but when I did make the difficult decision to run for Stanislaus County supervisor, I realized that was the easy part.

How to get elected without any expertise was the really hard part.

Farm Bureau will be holding a campaign management seminar Feb. 16 and 17 in Sacramento to help farmers and ranchers who are considering a run for office learn how to run a successful campaign. The seminar was developed by the American Farm Bureau Federation with input from political consultants and staff of both major political parties, and utilizes a hands-on approach to making important campaign decisions.

The two-day schedule covers the topics of how to evaluate the candidate and electorate, build a campaign structure, raise money, enlist allies, create coalitions and get those last-minute Election Day votes.

With a 76 percent success rate across thousands of candidates who have participated nationwide, I only wish it was available when I decided to run.

If you are considering a run for office, remember that Farm Bureau's purpose is only made easier when farmers and ranchers like you step up to the plate.

Regardless of what level of government—be it local, county, state or national office—having someone who will represent the interests of farmers and ranchers is critical.

Take advantage of this opportunity to learn important lessons on running a successful campaign, be a winner and be a new voice for agriculture.

Campaign Management Seminar

Feb. 16-17, CFBF offices, 2300 River Plaza Dr., Sacramento
Fee: Candidate/Farm Bureau Member: $150; Candidate/Non-FB Member: $175
To register, contact Casey Gudel, (916) 561-4500 or cgudel@cfbf.com, or visit www.cfbf.com/campaign.
Deadline for registration is Feb. 8.

(Vito Chiesa is a farmer and the District 2 supervisor in Stanislaus County. He may be contacted at vchiesa@aol.com.)

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