BY JEFF BROWN
The RFD Radio Network® devoted its “RFD Today” program Thursday to this week’s election, and Illinois Farm Bureau’s policy staff leads used the time to analyze how the results could impact Illinois farmers.
Here are some of the headlines IFB Executive Director of Governmental Affairs and Commodities Mark Gebhards, Director of National Legislation and Policy Development Adam Nielsen and Director of State Legislation Kevin Semlow wanted Illinois farmers to be aware of.
New officials mean new opportunities for farmer outreach
Gebhards, Nielsen and Semlow spoke Thursday morning as the presidential election remained undecided. Regardless of who wins any of the elections, Gebhards emphasized IFB wants to work with all officials.
“We are a bipartisan organization, and that is critically important to our ability to be at the table, to be in the room and to be successful in advocating for our policy positions,” he said. “In this day and age, when we live in a very polarized and partisan world, that becomes more and more of a challenge. I just remind folks, for us to be effective, whether it’s at the state level or the federal level or at the local level, it has to be done in a bipartisan way.
“We’ve been through change before. We’ve dealt with administrations as they come and go. Whatever party that might be, we as an organization stand ready to work as we always do, build those relationships and work on what our policy and positions and issues are. So we’re ready to get back to work just as soon as we know who the players are going to be.”
Congressional elections didn’t go according to the script some had laid out prior to Tuesday, Nielsen said, citing Republicans unexpectedly picking up seats in the U.S. House and Democrats’ inability to gain power in the Senate.
“The closeness of the race, no party seemed to have a strong advantage nationally,” he said. “That’s the biggest surprise for me.”
Races have yet to be called for one of Illinois’ U.S. House seats, but the state’s 20-member Congressional delegation, “will have two or three new members going into the next Congress.”
In the General Assembly, Republicans picked up at least one seat, maybe two, in the state House. But Democrats gained a seat in the Senate.
“So out of 59 senators, there’s only going to be 18 Republicans,” Semlow said.
More surprising, Semlow said Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady announced he won’t run for that position again.
“So there’s a leadership battle in that caucus that’ll be happening probably in November and December, into the January session.”
National ag committee leadership might not look familiar
A few elected officials who have represented farmers for decades in Congress will no longer be present. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson lost his bid for reelection in Minnesota and longtime leaders Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Mike Conaway retired.
It’s likely Peterson’s replacement to lead the Ag Committee won’t be from a district heavy in production agriculture.
“The next three Democrats with seniority on the committee are from urban-suburban areas,” Nielsen said. “That will have some significance as we move into the next Congress and the next farm bill debate.”
IFB will soon turn its attention to getting to know the next generation of ag leadership.
“You just put your head down and start building the relationships you need to build. I’m confident in our ability to do that,” Nielsen added. “No matter who ends up in that top spot, they’re going to be hearing from folks.”
Campaign against tax amendment triumphs
The effort to amend the state constitution with a new income tax structure failed. The vote tally showed 55% of Illinoisans voted against the amendment.
“We started this campaign almost two years ago, when the General Assembly first introduced the joint resolution to put it on the ballot,” Semlow said. “We opposed that based off of policy … and we just kept pushing through that, keeping it focused.”
IFB was part of a coalition that opposed the amendment and campaigned against it, and Farm Bureau members deserve a lot of credit for its defeat, Gebhards said.
“This is probably one of the strongest, most effective grassroots campaigns I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I take my hat off to our members, our county Farm Bureaus and the leadership. They did a magnificent job running this campaign out in the countryside.”
After the defeat of the state tax amendment, an ugly fiscal situation remains in Illinois. Gebhards hopes IFB can be part of the conversation with lawmakers on a new plan to balance the budget.
“The (primary) issue on the table for the state of Illinois is our fiscal situation, and that undoubtedly will be talked about in earnest,” Gebhards said. “We stand ready to come to the table and hopefully be a part of those discussions, because they are going to be very difficult discussions.”
In Washington, Nielsen expects Congress to focus on passing a budget continuing resolution and a COVID-19 relief bill. Longer term, plenty of challenges remain, including infrastructure needs, tax policy, environmental regulations and more.
Listen: The full interview with Gebhards, Nielsen and Semlow is available to download as a podcast by clicking here.
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.