Commentary: In-person meetings help officials understand ag issues


Issue Date: March 13, 2013
By Casey Gudel
California Farm Bureau board members David Roberti, Ken Doty and Terry Munz, left to right, discuss CFBF priority issues with Teresa Acuña, legislative director for Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, during a meeting in Washington, D.C., last week.
Photo/Dave Kranz
Casey Gudel

As winter turns to spring, nut and fruit trees begin to bloom, farmers begin to plant their crops—and the legislative season also begins to heat up in Sacramento and Washington.

Legislative and congressional leaders have established their priorities for the coming year and have introduced legislation to promote those agendas. In an odd-numbered year such as this one, four months after a general election, new members of the Legislature and Congress have settled into their offices, hired staff and received their committee assignments.

And Farm Bureau has re-established its presence as an effective voice for family farmers and ranchers in our state and national capitals.

Last week, for example, members of the California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and administration officials (see story).

This week, Farm Bureau leaders from throughout California came to Sacramento for the annual Leaders Conference, during which they visited the offices of nearly three-quarters of the members of the Legislature. Look for coverage of those visits in next week's Ag Alert®.

Such face-to-face meetings are crucial in making sure that elected officials understand how the actions they take can affect the lives and businesses of California family farmers and ranchers.

State legislators and members of Congress must make decisions about thousands of pieces of legislation on dozens and dozens of topics. They receive phone calls, emails and letters from constituents and advocates seeking to affect their votes. An in-person visit from a farmer or rancher allows them literally to put a face to an issue, turning what could otherwise be an abstract topic into a specific concern.

Farm Bureau encourages its members to schedule meetings with elected officials and with their staff members, and provides background information and suggestions for assuring that those meetings are successful. For example:

  • Schedule meetings in advance, be on time but be flexible, as elected officials' schedules can change frequently.
  • If you are coming as part of a group, designate a spokesperson to initiate introductions and begin the discussion. Each member of the group should introduce himself or herself, including where they farm and what they produce.
  • Be sure each member of the team is prepared to discuss a separate issue or a different aspect of the same issue. This helps the elected officials understand the impact of the issues on his or her constituents.
  • When appropriate, provide personal experience with an issue or examples of how a topic affects your farm, ranch or agricultural business. Those specific examples can be invaluable in helping elected officials understand the real-world impacts of the legislation and regulations enacted by state and federal government.
  • Dress professionally, be courteous and avoid being argumentative about issues. If you don't know the answer to a question posed by an elected official or staff member, respond that you'll find the answer and get back to them. State and county Farm Bureau staff can help you research the answer. Once you have it, make sure to follow up with the elected official.
  • Offer CFBF or your county Farm Bureau as a resource if the elected official has any questions. If appropriate, offer to take the elected official or staff member on a tour of agriculture in your area.
  • Ask the elected official if there are any special issues that his or her office is working on with which you might be able to help, and ask if there is any particular topic the elected official would like to discuss.

Later this month, both Congress and the state Legislature will take recesses, during which elected officials will be working from their district offices. Now is a good time to schedule appointments for those district work periods: The Legislature will be on recess from March 22-31, while members of Congress will be in their districts between March 25 and April 5. In addition, members of the Legislature are usually in their districts on Fridays, providing additional opportunities for meetings.

By staying in face-to-face contact with your elected officials, you assure that they continue to recognize Farm Bureau as a true grassroots organization focused on protecting California family farms and ranches.

It's also crucial to write to your legislators or members of Congress to make sure they're aware of the impact their votes may have, for good or ill, on farmers' ability to produce food and agricultural products. Be sure to sign up for the Farm Bureau political action program, Farm Team, to receive alerts and participate in activities that influence the outcome of elections and legislation. Click on the Farm Team icon at www.cfbf.com.

Thank you to all of you who take time from your busy lives to advocate on behalf of yourselves and your fellow farmers and ranchers.

(Casey Gudel is manager of political affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be reached at cgudel@cfbf.com.)

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