Farm bill: ‘National and equitable’WASHINGTON — Reflecting on the turbulent weather that continues in his home state, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the country still needs a strong, comprehensive farm bill.
By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek
WASHINGTON — Reflecting on the turbulent weather that continues in his home state, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the country still needs a strong, comprehensive farm bill.
And, he said, while Tea Party-minded members of the House are “idealistic
. . . the majority has a responsibility to govern.”
Speaking in an interview with Agweek, Lucas also said he thinks both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, think Congress should cut farm bill spending by $33 billion over 10 years, but that he hopes Congress will not cut that much.
Until he receives guidance on farm bill cuts from the supercommittee in charge of deficit reduction, Lucas said he thinks his agriculture committee is wise to “hold our cards close to the chest,” but he said he still likes the directs payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low and thinks nutrition programs should be examined for fraud, abuse and inefficiences.
He also said he doesn’t expect either the renewable fuels standard or the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill will be repealed.
Lucas, who owns a farm and cattle ranch near Cheyenne in Oklahoma’s Roger Mills County, grew up in a family that was half Democratic and half Republican, and became active in Republican politics at Oklahoma State University.
He was elected to the Oklahoma House in 1988 at age 28, and got a chance to run for Congress in 1994 when Glenn English, a 19-year conservative Democrat, resigned to become head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
The Almanac of American Politics has noted from Lucas’ home in Cheyenne, his district extends 80 miles south, 240 miles west to the Panhandle, and 270 miles east to the Tulsa, Okla., outskirts — more than 34,000 square miles.
From a Sept. 22 interview:
AGWEEK: Your district is huge, and it’s a long way from Washington.
LUCAS: When I finish up my town meeting series in Cimarron County, (Okla.) I’m actually 20 miles closer to an airport in Denver than in Oklahoma City.
I always tell folks when they think they want to run for Congress, “Hallelujah! Get after it. Get in your car and drive from Tulsa to Boise City, (Okla.) from Boise City to Hollis, (Okla.) and then back to Tulsa by way of northwest Oklahoma City, and if you’re still ready to go, let’s have some fun.”
AGWEEK: These are the people who might want to run against you?
LUCAS: I tell anyone that wants to get involved in congressional politics, “Make the drive. Then let’s have some fun, but you’ve got to make the drive first, because you cannot run on the assumption that you’re going to be a Tulsa congressman, an Oklahoma City congressman, or live in one corner.”
That’s why I do my 50 town meetings. This year has gotten complicated with all those canceled weeks, but I’ve been averaging 50 town meetings in my 32 counties, because you’ve got to be out there, go see those folks. Sometimes my urban colleagues don’t understand, but percentage-wise, my turnouts in those little towns, those little counties, is dramatically higher as far as percentage of the population, because I am maybe the only federal official that comes and sees them on a regular basis.
My senators do town meetings, but they have the whole state, so they can’t make every county every year the way I do.
AGWEEK: Even though you haven’t had any serious opposition?
LUCAS: Maybe that’s why I haven’t had serious opposition. I take care of and pay attention to my folks.
And I’ve crossed the 3.5 million-mile mark with American Airlines going home every weekend, too. There’s a line that I use in my town meetings to try and get across the joy of flying, which is challenge these days. I say the last line in my will — and I’m kidding a little bit — a codicil, whatever the legal term is, I’m not (a) lawyer, should be simply that the undertaker has to remove the airplane seal in print from my posterior from having sat in all those seats. Then people kind of understand.
But it’s served me well. When I was elected in ’94, I had three young kids; my wife, the family unit, the in-laws, all in the home community. My bride made 51 percent of the decisions. I commute, she runs the farm, and we almost have all three raised. The baby is a junior in college now.
AGWEEK: Your ancestors obviously came from somewhere else and settled in Oklahoma. Can you talk about that and where they settled?
LUCAS: I was raised in what we would define in central west Oklahoma as a culturally divided household. My father’s family came from Indiana, Miami County, north of Indianapolis, corn country on the banks of the Wabash, about 1900. I have two great-great-grandfathers who were veterans of the Union Army.
My mother’s family came from the northern part of Georgia, northeastern Alabama by way of east Texas in 1905. I have two great-grandfathers who were veterans of the Confederate Army, one in Alabama, one with the Georgia volunteer infantry. Both of the others were Yankees or Indiana people, a cultural mix. We’ve been there continuously since then.
My family weathered the drought and the economic depression, the “Great Depression” as they generally like to refer to the period. My grandparents, both sets, were young people at the time with small kids, and they were clearly scarred for the rest of their life by that experience. When you have Mother Nature fail you and the national economy collapse at the same time and you’re a farmer, it can’t be any worse than that.
My home county in 1930 had a little over 14,000 people. We actually, in this last Census, had the first population increase since 1930. We’re now back to a little under 3,000, that kind of a decline. Then not only did you have the Depression and the drought from the ‘30s, but the worst weather event — the drought in the early ‘50s, which took another slice of a generation of people out of western Oklahoma. We’re talking about primarily (to) California.
In the 1980s, after I had come home from college and was starting a farm, as a young man we went through the twin ag and energy bust, which took out banks, almost took out the national farm credit system. It just laid economic waste to my home area. I survived that.
I note to my colleagues and the folks back home at town meetings that I take federal farm policy very seriously. You can’t do anything about the weather. The ’30s and the ’50s were unavoidable because of the weather, and we’ve got a rough weather year going on in the Southwest right now.
The economic calamity of the ’30s and the economic calamity of the ’80s, in my opinion, (were) not a result of bad policy decisions, (but) most assuredly, both experiences were made dramatically worse by federal policy. The 1980s basically took out my generation of Vietnam farmers, because they came home from the Vietnam War and started farming. It just wiped them out, because they were the most exposed, the most leveraged.
My goal as chairman of the committee, my goal as ranking member, my goal as a member of the committee is to make sure that we have farm bill policy that’s good for rural America and production of agriculture, but, at the very least, does no harm. Avoid the ’80s. Avoid the 1930s. That’s where I come from in those regards.
The present drought is the worst that I’ve ever seen. My home area, the mean rainfall is 24 inches a year. Granted, this is the end of September, so we’ve still got October, November, and December to go, but by most measures, we’re running about 15 inches behind. It would have to almost be a monsoon for the rest of the year to catch up.
In my home area, in my home county, I don’t see how anyone sows wheat this fall because there is no subsoil moisture. You put the seed in the dust. You “dust it in,” as they say. You get an inch of rain or maybe two inches of rain. It might bring it up. With no subsoil moisture, plants will sprout, come up, and die. So it’s that tough.
From where I live, south, most of the cattle now have been sold over the last three months. The pastures are empty. You cross west of me into the Texas Panhandle — granted, they may have had some showers in the last three or four days — but for most of the summer, it’s looked like winter. They never had enough rain to bring the grass out of dormancy.
The key in my area of the world — you drive down the road, you can’t always gauge pasture conditions by looking at the pastures, but you look in the bare ditches. To the west of me and to the south of me, they didn’t have enough rain for weeds. There’s no sunflowers. There’s no Johnson grass. That’s when you know it’s a bad drought.
But crop insurance has worked. The NAP program on livestock has worked. All those things are working right now, but we’ll see what happens next year if this continues.
But it all goes back to that under core of my family that’s been in central west Oklahoma for a century now, plus. I would like to think we will be there another century, and I want to be a part of the farm bill process, the commodity title and rural development and ag research, all these things tying together to enable them to continue to be there.
To describe where I live, the neighbor to the east of me, a mile away, is a lady probably in her mid- to late ‘80s. It’s not always polite to ask what a lady’s age is. My neighbor two miles west, I think it’s a young couple. My neighbor to the south is eight miles, and if you go north of me, it may be 20-plus miles over into the next county. I’m in the open country.
AGWEEK: How did you get to school from there? Is there a school bus, or do you drive the kids?
LUCAS: In my day, we had an independent school district that must have been five miles away. High school then was 18 miles away. Where Lynda and I live now, the kids rode a school bus 17½ miles one way, so 35 miles a day on the bus.
Matter of fact, we were the end of the school bus route, on the end of the local electric pole line. I’m the end of the water line and I’m the end of the gravel road. And I thanked the county commissioner for graveling the public road a few years ago. Bless him. That was nice of him, as he was graveling the neighborhood, by the way.
I live in the country. Awesome views, great scenery. When it rains, lots of wildlife.
AGWEEK: Do you have both crops and livestock?
LUCAS: We were primarily a beef cattle operation, mamma cows. I put so much wheat in the ground, but I haven’t run a combine in a long, long time — mainly either to graze out or roll up in the ground bales and use for feed later in the winter. The wheat program where I’m at kind of complements the cattle program.
AGWEEK: Now, it sounded to me at the beginning of this conversation that you said that thought federal policy in the ‘30s made the situation worse.
LUCAS: The economic situation. Let’s face it. Until 1933, there was not a comprehensive farm bill.
The Supreme Court threw the first one out. So, basically, it was all the way until 1937 before you had a comprehensive kind of farm bill. That was the old allotment system, and we can debate about whether it worked or not, but in that sense, there was no ag policy to speak of through the beginning of the Depression.
But Federal Reserve policy, the way they handled the interest rates and the bond markets and how they responded to the Wall Street crash, the European gold flows and all of that, there were mistakes made by policy makers primarily at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury in the ’30s that compounded the problem.
Now, you roll into the 1980s, some of it dealt with the 1986 Tax Act. Some of it dealt with the bubble that occurred in energy properties and ag properties. We went from a period of basically fixed interest rates starting the 1930s until the beginning of the ’80s when interest rates in essence were deregulated. Producers who had made decisions on a certain rate of interest in the inflation period of ’78 and ’79 and ‘80, suddenly discovered that they were now paying 18 cents on the dollar.
At the worst of that, I borrowed cow feed money and I had enough collateral. I was an established customer, but I had borrowed money to buy cow feed at 21 percent at the worst point, and the inflation rate running 18, it made sense. The banker needed three points above that. I paid 21 cents on the dollar for my borrowed money, so that made an impression on me. It helped contribute to the economic problems.
AGWEEK: If you take the farm program from the ’30s to the way it exists today, do you think the farm program that we have today is basically good?
LUCAS: I believe that the flexibility we’ve had since 1996, (the) ability in almost every crop to raise what you want is a good thing. The supply control, supply management programs from the ’30s until ’96 basically created a system by which you raised a crop because your grandfather had raised that crop and established a base or for an allotment, depending on what the crop was. I don’t think that was the best possible economic policy.
Also, from the 1950s until 1996, Uncle Sam owned, in essence, this tremendous amount of grain that acted as a rock on top of prices. Just as supposedly the old system was supposed to provide a floor, you nonetheless had this government owned grain supply acting as a lid, so it was a very narrow range.
Since 1996, we’ve stepped away from that. We went down the route of flexibility. Literally, we’ve had grain prices in the last 10 years better than anyone could have imagined possible in 1996.
Now, it wasn’t without challenges. The payments and all the things that were done in the late ’90s to get from the old system to the present system was stressful. I had producers who spent an entire lifetime raising crops because that’s what their base was established in. (With) the target price system and the grain overhang, they knew the zone they worked in. Now you have to make decisions: What shall I raise? How shall I market it? So much more.
But I personally don’t believe producers want to give up that flexibility to have control over their own fate.
AGWEEK: As far as this year is concerned, it looks like the programs will work well enough that your producers can survive.
LUCAS: Yes. If you took a poll of my farmers and ranchers who have been coming to town meetings for the last two or three years, they would tell you if they had their druthers, they would take the ’08 farm bill, scratch out “8” and write “’12,” but, unfortunately, we don’t have the money to do that. We’re in a dramatically different environment, and that’s the world that (House Agriculture Committee ranking member) Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and I find ourselves in right now.
There are a number of different concepts out there, from what (Senate Budget Committee Chairman) Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is talking about, to Collin’s perspectives, to my perspectives, to (Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member) Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). I think we’re in a position where farm policy for the next five years may well be decided by this supercommittee or committee of 12, or however you want to describe them. Right now, they’re not organized to the point to provide any guidance as to what the real expectations are.
(President Obama and Boehner) are talking about $33 billion less to spend in the next five-year farm bill (over 10 years). Whether that’s a coincidence or a meeting of the minds that they happen to be using basically the same numbers, I’d say that might have a great deal of impact on what our final number is to be. Like most of my colleagues, I’d rather not have to reduce spending by that much. At this point in time, I just don’t know yet.
AGWEEK: I didn’t know that Boehner had been talking about $33 billion.
LUCAS: Remember back when the speaker and the White House were in their negotiations? That’s the number that I heard him throw around then. Based on what the speaker had said at the time, I suppose, (is) where the White House got their number. I don’t know.
The fact that the president would reiterate it is new. The fact that the president would offer his guidance, his suggestions about how to do it seems to have inflamed all my friends, Senate and House.
But the number issue, though, I think that’s what we need to focus on right now. We’re not going to follow — I would hope not — the president’s proposal, and I would hope that the committee of 12 will let the committees of jurisdiction work out whatever the number ultimately is. Maybe it will be less. Knock on marble. It better not be more.
AGWEEK: I’ve heard a number of people say that $14 billion to $15 billion would be a more acceptable number. Sen. Conrad has mentioned that. Collin Peterson mentioned it. Do you have a number in mind as to what is acceptable?
LUCAS: No. And the reason I simply say that is I’m a realist. I’ll play the hand that’s dealt in the best possible way, because I need flexibility as well as a number.
The president’s proposal, $33 billion, (takes so much out) of the commodity title. That is so disproportionate. That is so unreasonable. There would be a revolution in the countryside.
That said, if you look at a number of the $15 billion proposals people are throwing around, in essence, it amounts to basically killing off the direct payment program and using that to do other things.
I’m very fond of the direct payment program, because it’s the most WTO (World Trade Organization)-compliant. It is the most defendable in what’s going to be an ongoing series of trade court battles. I’m also a realist. Not everything that I like is going to survive this process, but I’m not prepared at this point in time to cast anything aside until I see what the real number is we have to work with and gauge what I can do with that number.
Of course, in connection with consultation with Mr. Peterson, and, of course, the Senate, too, we’re all going to this dance together. We may not play on the same dance card, but we’re going to the dance together initially.
AGWEEK: Have you gotten any parameters from the supercommittee yet?
LUCAS: Not yet. I haven’t gotten a number. I haven’t gotten a parameter. The members of the committee — and I prefer not to discuss which ones — that I’ve had conversations with have basically said, “We have many irons in the fire, Frank. Your jurisdiction is an important issue, but ag is a small part of the $1.5 trillion situation. We’re not ignoring you. We just haven’t gotten down the list.”
AGWEEK: And yet you’re supposed to give guidance to them by Oct. 14. There’s not much time.
LUCAS: I hope they’ll give us a number soon. Until I get a number, I think we hold our cards to our chest.
Collin and I discuss this on various occasions. I think that we are in general agreement on that. No need to offer up something that might turn out to be unnecessary.
(It’s a) high stakes and deadly economic . . . call it “game,” call it “process,” we’re going through.
Because of the way this is structured, this is all new. This is learn-as-you-go. If we were going through a regular conference committee or dealing with the appropriators, you’d have 10, 20, 50 years of precedent to do things, but this is the rules are being made up as we go.
AGWEEK: In conservation, what do you want to be able to continue? I know it is very important to your district, more important than a lot of people may realize.
LUCAS: Absolutely, because we’re the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
We still don’t discuss John Steinbeck’s name in my family household. We just don’t do it.
In 2002, that was one of my great accomplishments as a chairman of a subcommittee with jurisdiction on conservation. When the resources were there and the opportunity availed itself, I did everything I possibly could. As a matter of fact, the battle cry that year was, “What are the unmet needs? Let’s meet them.”
Ironically, once we discovered what the needs were and we met those and people realized resources might be available, the demand exploded even more.
That said, I believe in spending reductions, you have to address essentially all parts of the farm bill. We’re spending about as much right now on conservation programs as we are on the commodity title. You can’t take, as the president would do, virtually all the savings out of the commodity title and just skip by on conservation. We’re all going to have to work through this together.
And in all fairness, we need to look at 75 percent of the present farm bill spending, social nutrition stuff. I have to believe that there’s some potential savings, efficiencies there, fraud issues that can be addressed. But that is an issue where, once again, we’ve got to have consensus. In a time of national economic need, you don’t want to hurt recipients. By the same token, you don’t want a penny wasted.
AGWEEK: You said the other day you didn’t think that the supercommittee would be willing to cut nutrition programs. Do you think there’s anything they might be able to do?
LUCAS: I’m still hopeful that the supercommittee will give us a number to work towards and not a policy.
I’m still an eternal optimist, and that’s what I’m lobbying for. In my great world of druthers, that’s the way I would do it. But if the supercommittee decides to give us their priorities, let’s be honest. That particular configuration of members?
AGWEEK: We have so many more people on food stamps.
LUCAS: As I said, I want to preserve benefits of every deserving citizen, but by the same token, there is so much money coming through there. Let’s just make sure the needy, the citizens who qualify are getting what they qualify for.
AGWEEK: Sen. Conrad has this proposal to combine programs. Has he shared it with you?
LUCAS: I have not had an opportunity to visit with the senator. His schedule and mine have not worked. We’ve actually tried a couple times.
I primarily focused my time and attention on (Senate Agriculture Committee Chair) Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), my counterpart, who is in effect the voice of the committee over there, and of course Pat Roberts, who I served under (when) he was chairman (of the House Agriculture Committee) in 1996, and Collin.
That’s a pretty good brain trust if you look at the issues there. Collin has a particular focus, perhaps on conservation. Stabenow has a particular focus on nutrition issues. Pat and I live and die the commodity title every day, and conservation. But I would expect Sen. Stabenow to be open to input from all of her members, just as I’m going to be open to mine.
It’s worth noting again — we have to try to create a bill that works for all regions of the country and all commodity groups. That’s the toughest challenge, I found, because there’s just differences in climate, soil type. There’s differences in world demand for particular crops.
We need to try and make sure our farm bill is national and equitable in scope. I think we can do that, but it’s just a part of the challenge, because there’s a tendency for those of us who are not chairmen or ranking members to kind of be a little more precise.
I care about Oklahoma and the Southwest. Don’t ever underestimate that for a moment, but I’ve got to have a bill that not only for the Okie wheat farmer and the like, but it would be kind of nice if those Indiana corn farmers thought it was a good thing, too, or some cotton farmer in Mississippi.
AGWEEK: What about the people who are interested in things like fruits and vegetables and organic and local?
LUCAS: They’re part of the equation. Never forget California and our friends in the Valley of Texas and all up and down the Gulf Coast, and there are vegetables and specialty crops outside of those areas, too. It’s not just those particular spots.
One other thought I would offer you. (Agriculture Secretary) Tom Vilsack indicated (the administration) wouldn’t be offering a farm bill.
But in fact, by the president’s budget recommendations to the supercommittee, that is a farm bill. It’s just something people need to remember. It is, in effect a farm bill, because he didn’t just say $33 (billion in cuts). He gave very specific parameters in his proposal, as I understand it, about how to handle the “33.” That is a farm bill.
AGWEEK: In the battle over the continuing resolution to fund the government for the next few months, there are members who didn’t vote for it, and I presume a lot of them would be considered tea party members.
How do you view this battle that’s going over appropriations? Do you think that has implications for how it’s going to be to get Republican members to vote for a farm bill when it comes up? What is your perspective on the Tea Party and the farm bill at this time?
LUCAS: I think today is another indication that we have a very strong idealistic group in the freshman and sophomore classes, idealistic particularly when it comes to fiscal issues.
You’ve heard me say before, “I drink iced tea, and I don’t put sugar in mine, either,” but the majority has responsibility to govern. Just as the minority has a right to be heard, the majority has a responsibility to govern.
Hopefully, as time goes by, the leadership and the membership can develop a more common understanding of each other, and we can move forward more efficiently.
Folks back home right now are nervous enough about the national economy. They watch enough evening news to know that the European economy is shakier than the American economy. They want us to do our job. They don’t want any accidents setting off a chain reaction that would affect them in their efforts to get by day to day, to make a living, to raise their families, and they’re right to have that expectation of us.
In the overall sense, (for) anyone who is concerned about the fiscal issues, we’ll spend less money this year or in the coming year on everything. Whether it’s by action of the supercommittee or if the supercommittee can’t function, through a sequestration process or if somehow that doesn’t happen, there will just be less money allocated by the various budget proposals next year through that farm bill. We’re just going to spend less on everything.
So anyone who thinks of themselves as a Tea Party person, you’re getting your way.
AGWEEK: You have said you held these audit hearings on divisions of the Agriculture Department in your committee, partly as an educational effort for the new members of the committee. How do you feel that’s gone?
LUCAS: I think it’s been very worthwhile. It’s kind of like the opening round of the oversight hearings we had, then followed by the audit hearings. You know the stats. Twenty-three members of the 46-member committee have never served on the Agriculture Committee before. I call the process bringing the new members up to speed and a continuing education for the senior members, because we’re all learning stuff together here.
Whether we have to be a part of an accelerated process as a result of the supercommittee or if we just are in regular order next summer in a farm bill, my 46 members, R’s and D’s alike, 46 counting myself, we’re going to have to make tough decisions, and the more knowledge and insight the members have, both junior and senior, the more likely we are to have a successful process that generates good policy.
AGWEEK: The National Milk Producers Federation has announced that it would make the Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program and Dairy Market Stabilization Program aspects of its reform proposal voluntary.
LUCAS: When Collin came (and asked about the issue), I said, “Collin, I’m with you. Just come up with something that has the consensus of the industry, and come up with something that saves some money, because we can’t offer legislation that adds new costs.”
Dairy policy since the 1930s has been one of the most difficult issues to address. It almost turned the ’96 farm bill upside down. Do you remember, the chairman of the Rules Committee, (then-Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y.) came stomping in. It was quite a process.
I don’t know that they are to that consensus yet, but I commend them for trying. Of all the sectors of agriculture production, setting aside weather issues in particular places, the dairy folks have had the most up and down roller coaster experience in the last decade, and they’ve had more bad years than good.
AGWEEK: What do you think the administration should do about the rewrite on the GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration) rule?
LUCAS: They need to get us that straightforward, clean, cost benefit analysis report, and then let’s all look together. The position I’ve taken all along is do no economic harm. Through three farm bills, the committee in Congress has (spoken on) much of the proposal.
There are a number of court cases. The courts have said many of the concepts in GIPSA (the proposed rule) are outside the bounds. While I don’t think it’s necessarily worthwhile to talk about particulars in the bills, I just simply think we need to see that cost benefit analysis.
Let’s all sit down and look together. Does it do more good than harm? Does it do more harm than good? And if the answer is it does more economic harm than good, then maybe we need to start all over.
Right now, setting weather aside in the Southwest, livestock markets are generally good. The greatest pressure is the feed issue, cost of feed, but things are working well. I don’t get complaints about these issues right now in the 3rd District of Oklahoma.
AGWEEK: How about the issue of GIPSA as it’s currently constituted?
LUCAS: “Leave what’s in place in place.” That’s what they say back home. “Don’t rock the boat, Congressman. Things are going okay. Don’t mess it up.”
AGWEEK: And what about the administration’s revised national animal identification proposal?
LUCAS: I think when they shifted to this attempt, it was an acknowledgement that they weren’t making progress with the previous plan. The appropriators have been just dancing all over them. We’ll see. I’ve got so many fires to fight right now up front.
AGWEEK: You’ve mentioned the cost of feed. What’s your general view on ethanol?
LUCAS: I’m in favor of all forms of American energy, from all sources, but I do believe that we have to increase the supply of feed grains if we’re going to make ethanol and biodiesel. And if we’re going to feed ourselves, our livestock and the world, we sow a number of acres. There’s been an accepted drop from 32 (million acres) down to 29.5 (in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to idle land.) That’s an indication that the market has said some of this land should be back in production. I support that.
When we put the farm bill together, we need to discuss how land of a certain quality, lower environmental sensitivity level, should have the easier options come back into production.
Most of the ethanol issues really don’t fall in the ag committee jurisdiction. Blenders’ tax is Ways and Means. Renewable fuel standard is Energy and Commerce, but at approximately $5 billion a year, I’d say that the blenders’ tax credit has a hard time surviving. As long as the renewable fuel standard is still in place, an approximate 13 billion gallon a year demand, I think my grain friends will be just fine.
AGWEEK: You’re in favor of keeping the RFS in place?
LUCAS: That’s a hot subject in Oklahoma. I don’t see that there will be an opportunity to change it one way or the other, so it’s kind of academic to me.
AGWEEK: What should happen with implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill? How can the Commodity Futures Trading Commission implement the bill in a responsible fashion?
LUCAS: I have said publicly and privately to the chairman and members of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that slowing down the rulemaking process, operating within the spirit of the law, just as much as within the letter of the law, are things to do. Take more input. Don’t get in a hurry.
They’ve chosen as a whole to move in a very aggressive fashion. We’ve had our hearings at subcommittee and full committee. We’ve had the chairman and different commissioners before the committee and subcommittee many times. Don’t be surprised if in October, maybe late October, there may be some legislative suggestions coming out of the ag committee.
I’m not prepared to discuss details, because I view this as very precise efforts, not wholesale change. Nobody is going to repeal Dodd-Frank, but maybe we need to address or clean up, as we would say in Oklahoma, a few of the edges.
I don’t have the markets to trade these instruments, but I have the customers who use these instruments, the aggies and the oil and gas people who use these products to try and stabilize their input to cost, try and stabilize the price of the products they market. It’s important to my folks. So my perspective has been the end user from day one, and that I think is where we’re coming from in this.
But it is very complicated — the law, and the potential economic sensitivity is so great. Back to that doctrine of don’t make mistakes, don’t cause harm, I want to help, not hurt, this part of the economy. So we’re moving cautiously.
AGWEEK: Turning to broader issues, Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who has advised President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and is now running against Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., was born in Oklahoma. There have been a lot of interesting people who have been born in Oklahoma and gone into national life.
LUCAS: Will Rogers to Elizabeth Warren.
AGWEEK: What do you think her Oklahoma experiences have meant to her perspective on the world, both in her job in the Obama administration and now in her run for the Senate?
LUCAS: I believe the very strong, what we would refer to as, “populist perspective” that she carries reflects the Oklahoma of her birth. Oklahoma has changed dramatically, but it appears that she still carries that version of economic populism.
AGWEEK: Could you talk a little bit more about how Oklahoma has changed from the time of her birth? (Warren was born in Oklahoma City in 1949).
LUCAS: In the ’50s, we were still a state where the Republican Party almost did not exist. We were a state where the senior generation of Democratic leadership were all victims of the Great Depression, where there was a small faction of conservative Democrats who did not align themselves with Franklin Roosevelt. Gov. (Leon C.) “Red” Phillips was a classic example in the ’40s, but the majority of the establishment aligned themselves with the New Deal and those kind of policies.
Even if you go back before then, prior to World War I, Oklahoma had one of the most active Socialist parties in America. My state senator, my state representative, half my courthouse in 1914 were Socialist Party members. Eugene Debs got quite the nice number of votes in Roger Mills County and in western Oklahoma.
The changes probably began about the time Elizabeth was born, and accelerated with Ronald Reagan. The most idealistic Southern liberal of my lifetime, of course, was Lyndon Johnson. And Lyndon pushed Oklahoma farther away from that.
AGWEEK: Do you think it was his advocacy on behalf of civil rights that pushed that?
LUCAS: No, it was not the civil rights issue. It was his economic policies, his social welfare policies, engaging in a war with no plan to win. It was all of those issues.
Oklahoma is the only Southern state that’s not a part of the Voting Rights Act jurisdiction. We do not have to have our laws or our lines approved by the Justice Department. You say “why is that?” We’ve got 38 different Indian tribes. I have substantial African-American populations. We’ve been diverse from Day 1. It’s made it a wonderful place.
My Democrat governor in the ’50s, Raymond Gary, actually took us towards desegregation instead of in the direction of the rest of the South. He didn’t get re-elected, but he did the right thing. Sometimes there are people in history who really did amazing things who have been ignored on the national scene. Gov. Gary was one of those guys. Raymond Gary, elected in ’54. He had been head of the state Senate, president pro tem.
AGWEEK: Is there anything you wished I had asked you about that I haven’t?
LUCAS: Talking about the Great Depression, in the 1940s, my grandfather Lucas took his family to Oregon and worked for two years in Mr. Kaiser’s shipyards. In that day and time, you could work as long as you could stand up, work overtime. He put enough cash together to come back to Oklahoma, and that’s how he got started after the Depression was over with.
This might offend my Oregon friends, but I can remember someone asking my grandfather, “You lived in Oregon. You’re working these 60-hour weeks. You are getting construction wage, getting more money that you ever made. Why did you come home to Oklahoma in 1944?”
The old man’s response was, “The Lord did not intend for anybody to wear a raincoat to work two days out of three.”
It rained up there; my grandmother’s garden in the back raised more vegetables than anybody could eat. He went home to the dry climate he came from.
True story, for what it’s worth.