A few weeks back, I covered a virtual panel on ag policy featuring two-thirds of South Dakota’s congressional delegation.
At least, it was supposed to be an update on ag policy. The first half or so seemed like more of a woe-is-me fest from Sen. Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson. To hear them tell it, the dysfunction of D.C. all comes down to the “other” side. They could get things done if only everyone thought like them.
To their credit, about half of the panel moved into real policy discussion, and Rounds and Johnson both have worked on important bipartisan issues, like allowing meat from state-inspected processors to be sold across state lines and allowing cover crops on prevented planting acres to be harvested earlier than Nov. 1. These are real needs and real issues affecting their state and the other states we cover at Agweek.
But as I closed out of the browser of the panel, I couldn’t help think, if they spend half of their time whining and half of their time working all of the time, they’re giving up an awful lot of opportunity to get things done.
It was a bit of a palate cleanser to talk days later to Todd Van Hoose, president and CEO of the Farm Credit Council. Van Hoose has worked in Washington for a long time, and we were discussing how those of us affected by poor rural infrastructure could cut through dysfunction and find solutions for our problems. What he said has been spinning around my head ever since.
“You know I travel everywhere, and a lot of rural America, and everybody's always talking about Congress does this, Congress does that. My point is, Congress is doing exactly what … you're telling them to do,” he said. “You know, if we're telling them to fight with each other, they'll fight with each other. If we tell them the most important thing is to get this thing done, they'll get it done. And so I think everybody should take some responsibility themselves to say, I'm going to advocate for this and if my member of Congress does not respond to that, I’m not going to be for” them.
What if, instead of taking on such a sports-team loyalty to a political party, each of us — voters and elected officials alike — took the time to research and then think rationally about the issues that truly affect us? What if, instead of shutting down an idea just because of who suggested it, we actively look for solutions and choose the best ones? What if, instead of spending time defending or denigrating political figures, we remember that each of them works for us and we can vote them out when they choose petty politics over their duties?
From my professional perspective, my new practice when interviewing politicians is going to be trying to cut them off when they start bashing their opposition and reminding them that their constituents don’t get to shut down from getting things done because they don’t agree with their co-workers. From my personal perspective, I’m going to work a lot harder at sending messages about things that will improve my rural community and the lives of my neighbors and my family.
When I was a lowly Associated Press intern covering the South Dakota Legislature quite a few years ago, I met Rounds and Johnson, both then in different positions than the ones they hold now. They both seemed to be advocates for South Dakota and dedicated public servants. I’m sure they are, just like I’m sure the people who represent me want to do their best at their jobs. My message for all of them: The next time you have an hour to talk about ag policy, spend an hour talking about what you’re doing and what your constituents need to do. Cut the complaining and find a way to get things done.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.