An Important Election For Agriculture
By Chris Noun
The upcoming congressional and presidential election is critical to agriculture and the nation's largest farm and ranch organization for a number of reasons.
This year, numerous representatives and senators have decided to retire or seek other offices. In all, 13 Republicans and 26 Democrats have announced they are leaving the House. Of those members, 12 are running for Senate seats. On the Democratic side, eight senators and five Republicans are packing up. The list could grow.
Both the House and Senate Agriculture committees will lose members to retirement. As the list stands now, the biggest losses will be on the House side, including the panel s chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who announced he will seek a Senate seat.
Joining Roberts in the exodus from the Agriculture Committee are former chairman and current ranking member Kika de la Garza (D-Texas), Reps. Charlie Rose (D-N.C.), Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.), Tim Johnson (D- S.D.) and Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). The Senate Agriculture Committee will bid farewell to Sens. David Pryor (D-Ark.) and Howell Heflin (D- Ala.).
Of the retiring members, several are winners of the American Farm Bureau Federation's Golden Plow Award. The Golden Plow is awarded to members of Congress whose voting records reflect Farm Bureau policies and philosophies, regardless of political party affiliation.
Golden Plow winners on the "retirement" or "seeking other office" list include: Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Pryor, Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), de la Garza, Roberts, Sen. Hank Brown (D-Colo.), Sen. Howell Heflin (D- Ala.), Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and Rep. Jimmy Hayes (R-La.).
In the presidential race, the Republican field includes candidates with connections to agriculture. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R- Kan.) has long been a Farm Bureau policy supporter. Senate Ag Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has strong ties to agriculture and farm issues. Steve Forbes has hung his hat on a flat tax proposal, but has been criticized by other candidates for lack of depth on other issues. Commentator Pat Buchanan is running on a social platform, calling for a rebuilding of America's moral structure.
For now, President Clinton is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Farmers and ranchers have a lot at stake in who fills the vacancies. New members will be seated on congressional committees that have a major impact on rural America, including farm policy, the environment, property rights, budget and taxes. It's likely that fewer of them will have direct involvement or background in agriculture. The widening gap between urban and rural America will continue to be reflected in Congress.
That's why Farm Bureau believes it is critical for farmers and ranchers to elect responsive and responsible members of Congress. Sending leaders to Washington to look after the interests of America's farmers and ranchers is more important than ever.
Chris Noun is assistant director of information for the American Farm Bureau Washington, D.C. Office.