A morning on Capitol Hill
By Jennifer M. Latzke
For many, the concept of lobbying their congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., can be a bit overwhelming.
However, the United States democracy only works when elected officials know the wishes of their constituents. And so, each spring before the cherry blossoms bloom, lobbyists from all segments of American life head to Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives and senators and discuss their wishes for the year's appropriations.
On Feb. 11, a small group of Colorado Wheat leaders took their issues to the Hill, as part of their annual trip to D.C. for the U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers joint board meeting. High Plains Journal was invited along for the morning to see the reality of a farm lobbyist's schedule.
(Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 CAWG 1)
7:45 to 8:30 a.m.-Dave Anderson, president of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, sips his coffee and composes his thoughts in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel. Anderson is no stranger to the Hill, having lobbied with his fellow Colorado wheat producers on several occasions. He said there are a lot of misconceptions among the general public about the accessibility of their elected officials. "We really have great access to our elected representatives," Anderson said.
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 3)
8:30 to 9 a.m.-After a quick ride on the D.C. Metro system, the Colorado wheat leaders have gathered in the basement cafeteria of the Cannon House Office Building to talk strategy one last time before their first meeting. Here, Richard Starkebaum, vice president of the Colorado Wheat Administration Committee (left) speaks with Darrell Hanavan, executive director of Colorado Wheat (right) about the research needs of wheat producers. Starkebaum and two other members of CWAC went along with the CAWG members in an educational role. Most of Colorado's delegation is new to the Hill, and they wanted to be able to answer any questions they might have about Colorado wheat research, promotion and education efforts.
"We always get a good reception on the Hill," Hanavan said. "Our delegation is getting larger and the last two censuses Colorado has gained representatives."
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 4b)
9 to 9:45 a.m.-At their first meeting of the morning, the growers met with Jonathan Asher, the agricultural aide for Rep. Jared Polis, D-CO. Anderson explained that sometimes scheduling doesn't allow the representative to meet one-on-one with constituents. In that case, they'll set a meeting with the representative's legislative assistant for agriculture. Polis, a freshman Democrat, represents the 2nd District of Colorado. He is Vice Chairman and Whip of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, and is a standing member of the House Science and Technology Committee. The Colorado team spoke with Asher about the scientific needs of the state's wheat producers, including the Central Great Plains Research Center, and wheat genetic research. Here, Hanavan (left) thanks Asher (right) for his time.
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 5)
9:45 to 10:30 a.m.-After navigating the basement corridors between the Cannon HOB and the Longworth HOB, the team finds the new offices of freshman Rep. Betsy Markey, D-CO, of the 4th District. Markey's district encompasses a mostly rural population, but it also includes Larimer and Weld counties, home to Fort Collins and Greeley, which cast 85 percent of the district's vote in the 2008 election. Markey was a former staffer for former Rep. Ken Salazar, who is now the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. In her first term she's landed assignments to the House Committee on Agriculture, and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, all of which make her a very valuable friend to Colorado agriculture.
The wheat producers discussed their concerns with rail competition in the state, as well as funding of the Agricultural Research Service, and the necessity of re-opening relations with Cuba. The team pauses for a photo with their new Congresswoman (from left) Jerry Cooksey, CAWG vice president; Chris Tallman, CAWG secretary-treasurer; Randy Wilks, CWAC president; Dave Anderson; Rep. Markey; Dan Anderson, CWAC secretary-treasurer; and Starkebaum.
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 6 or 6a)
10:30 to 11:15 a.m.-From the Longworth HOB it's yet another dash through a maze of corridors back to the Cannon HOB for a meeting with Ben Vonachen, agricultural aide for Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CO. Perlmutter represents the 7th District, which wraps around the city of Denver and runs from the Front Range to the Eastern Colorado prairie, and hosts the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Here Dave Anderson (left) reiterates some of the pressing research needs of Colorado farmers to Vonachen (right).
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 8 or 8b, grouped with 8c)
11:15 a.m. to noon-The Colorado delegation sits in the offices of Rep. John Salazar, D-CO, and discusses their issues with his Legislative Agriculture Aide Tate Rosenbusch. Rep. Salazar is in his third term representing the 3rd District, and is one of only a handful of actively farming Congressmen and therefore a friend to Colorado agricultural interests. He sits on the House Committee on Appropriations, as well as the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, among others. The key point the team brought home to both Salazar and his aide was that Colorado wheat growers are upset with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its definition of "actively farming" in its implementation of the 2008 farm bill. A letter was sent from the Senate to USDA asking for the agency to implement the law according to the intent of Congress, but there is no letter so far from the House. The growers asked Salazar if he would put forth a similar letter to USDA with others in the Colorado delegation.
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 9)
12 to 12:30 p.m.-From the Cannon HOB, the team trekked the three blocks to the Hart Senate Office Building for a meeting with junior Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO. Here the Colorado growers (from left) Dan Anderson, Wilks, Dave Anderson, and Tallman, discuss their goals for meeting with Bennet.
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 9a.1 and 9b)
12:30 to 1 p.m.-Cooksey explains a point about wheat interests to Sen. Bennet. Bennet was recently appointed by the Governor of Colorado to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Ken Salazar, who was named U.S. Secretary of the Interior by President Barack Obama. Bennet brings his experience as the Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools to the office.
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG 10b)
1 p.m.-The Colorado growers discussed several ag issues with Bennet, including the need for bilateral trade agreements, such as the pending U.S-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and re-opening relations with Cuba. Colorado exports more than 80 percent of its wheat production, and in the 2007-2008 marketing year, more than 73.3 million bushels were exported, at a value of about $440.7 million. The growers impressed upon Bennet how critical free and open trade is to Colorado's ag interests. Also vital to the agenda of wheat growers is the funding of the USDA-Foreign Ag Service, which matches producer checkoff dollars with federal funds for foreign market development.
Here the Colorado wheat growers pose with Sen. Bennet in one of his first constituent photos of his new term. From left, Dan Anderson, Starkebaum, Wilks, Sen. Bennet, Dave Anderson, Tallman, and Cooksey.
Latzke, Jennifer 2/23/09 (CAWG Group shot)
The Colorado wheat delegation spent the rest of their day visiting with the agricultural legislative aides for Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-CO, and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CO, before heading back to their accommodations for a meal and a recap of the day's accomplishments. For them, the work of educating their representatives and senators has only begun, though. When they return home, they'll continue their lobbying and educational efforts through letters to their leaders and by hosting visits throughout the year of legislators and their staffs, all in an effort to promote Colorado wheat and the issues of the growers back home.
Hanavan said the personal relationship between producer representatives and their congressional delegation is vital to advancing Colorado wheat interests. "We have to put faces to names, and producers in offices to talk to them," he said. "They have a different impact than if I go with the same message. Some of our legislators are in key positions to do good things for Colorado agriculture and wheat interests." The goal is to impress upon them that responsibility, he said.
Journal photos and story by Jennifer M. Latzke.