fb - voice of agriculture
October 2000

Help Elect Knowledgeable Candidates

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

In the old days, in the old countries, this time of year was traditionally harvest time. Because so much of the population was engaged in production agriculture in our nation's early years, elections were scheduled to permit farmers the time to vote. That is why we presently have national elections in November. Why Tuesday? Election planners wanted people to vote at the start of the week but reasoned that farmers would be required to travel on Sunday if they were to reach far-away polling places on Monday. So that is one reason we vote on Tuesday.

But do we vote? National turnout for elections continues a downward trend that would shock our founding farmers. In 1960, a little over 63 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. For our last presidential election, in 1996, only 49 percent of the voting-age population even bothered to show up. In round numbers, there were 200 million people of voting age. Less than 150 million registered to vote. Less than 100 million voted to elect the most powerful person on the planet.

Rather than bemoaning this trend, we in agriculture should recognize and seize the opportunity offered to us. Although we are relatively few in numbers, by exercising our right to vote, we will have a disproportionate impact on who runs this nation. Most of the farm families I know look at voting as an important civic responsibility, a duty. It is as much a part of our lives as planting and harvesting. So I am optimistic about what we can achieve nationally.

Farm Bureau Tools We Can Use

Farm Bureau at all levels offers farm and ranch families the tools to help us become more informed and more influential. Members can see how their Representative and Senators voted on issues of importance to farm families by reviewing their voting records, which AFBF lists in our national publication "FB News" and our website "www.fb.org." AFBF also identifies those elected leaders who have helped further our agricultural agenda and recognizes them with our Golden Plow or Friend of Farm Bureau Award. State Farm Bureaus offer similar informational tools.

Our farms' futures, our families' futures, our nation's future are all on the line, every election. We need to actively support and elect leaders who are philosophically aligned with the goals we express in our member-written Farm Bureau policy book. As the 106th Congress ends, and a presidential term comes to a close, farmers must not forget those who helped and those who hindered progress toward agricultural prosperity.

We need sensible answers from those who sought to make a political wedge of a no-brainer issue like improving trade with China. We want an explanation from those who opposed eliminating self-defeating unilateral trade sanctions. We need to determine why there was no effort to reform restrictive food safety regulations, when more than half of all Representatives supported such legislation. We must remember those who missed the opportunity to kill the death tax and eliminate estate taxes which destroy our farms and small businesses, as well as our heritage.

Ample Opportunity for the Right Changes

In the Senate, 34 seats are up for re-election. Current make-up is 54 Republicans, 46 Democrats. In the House, all seats are up for election. Current make-up is 222 Republicans, 210 Democrats, 2 Independents and 1 vacancy. Congress, of course, determines the nation's budget and how it is funded -- make that how much we will be taxed. The Office of the President, of course, is responsible for the operations of the various departments and agencies, for trade negotiations, and for Supreme Court nominees. This area, in particular, is of increasing importance to farm and ranch families since Farm Bureau is increasingly relying on the courts to protect our constitutional rights.

It is up to you and me to satisfy our civic duty. Vote for the people who share our values and our visions. Although we are a minority, the farm community can still have an impact. Let us get our neighbors to the polls to elect people who will help us improve profitability for farmers and the quality of life for rural families.