Get Out The Vote

January 27, 2016 02:24 AM
Get Out The Vote

Producers work polls, raise cash and prepare for big election year


Say what you will about money in politics. The fact is money talks, and Michigan producer Jeff VanderWerff says he thinks farmers can make a difference in government by bundling it wisely with like-minded peers through political action committees (PACs). 

Still other producers should consider elected office to exact change, he says, pointing to the positive influence a handful of Michigan state representatives from rural backgrounds have had on policies at the statehouse level. 

“You get folks together and you have a dinner or a cocktail hour, and you try to get a couple of candidates together to talk about issues and hear from folks.”TP_024_T16046-a-1

“I value my privacy, and I’d rather be like the Koch brothers and sit back and influence politics through some of my money and not be involved in the fray,” says VanderWerff, who farms near Sparta.

He acknowledges you don’t have to be a controversial billionaire to make a difference from where you sit in rural America, either. 

“As an election judge, I don’t like to get out there too much and say who I’m maybe thinking of voting for because I do think it’s important to be that independent person that people can trust.”TP_024_T16046-1

Across the U.S., producers are gearing up for a major presidential election year through actions large and small that they believe can open doors of opportunity with influential lawmakers. Some work as poll judges. Others advocate for specific farm issues or candidates. All encourage farmers to get involved. 

Election Oversight. Near the southeastern Minnesota city of Ridgeway, crop and dairy producer Melinda Groth saw an opportunity to make elections run more smoothly. Four years ago, she joined her local township board as clerk, which includes the responsibility of supervising elections. Groth became certified as a state election judge and quickly realized few others had the mandatory qualifications to assist her on 13-hour election days.

“Consistent representation both of our farm and of Kansas Farm Bureau really does help establish those relationships [with elected officials] that pay off long term.”TP_024_T16046-1-a

“There were maybe three to four people who were doing it at the beginning who were very, very tired at the end of the day,” Groth recalls, laughing. Through her efforts to recruit volunteers, the township now has 15 trained election judges.

Town Hall Organizers. Just outside McPherson, Kan., producers Katie and Derek Sawyer are organizing their county’s March caucus for registered Republicans. Derek, a fourth-generation farmer, is on the state resolutions committee for Kansas Farm Bureau. 

“The governor has started a 50-year water vision, and we’re going to start seeing a lot of changes as far as trying to extend the life of some of our aquifers,” Derek says. 

Katie notes they’ve found value in regular attendance at town hall meetings with policymakers, advocating for crop insurance and a voluntary unified GMO label. 

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