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Inside Washington

Rural America needs members on both sides of aisle

TAGS: Policy
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Democrats finding it harder to win in rural America, and that’s not always good for rural interests.

Political partisanship has increased in recent years, but rural America will need lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to advocate on its behalf.

Although Senate runoffs are required in Georgia, the close votes in many races prevent Democrats or Republicans from trying to justify actions based on a voter mandate. Still, the need for bipartisanship remains, especially in the Senate, along with hope that a legislative filibuster will continue that requires 60 votes to advance major legislation.

Mary Kay Thatcher, senior lead for federal government relations at Syngenta, explained that, especially with split chamber control anticipated, “The fact is, in agriculture, we desperately need members on both the Republican and Democrat side to argue what’s important for agriculture. If we don’t have bipartisan support, we’re up a creek without them.”

Thatcher said many Democrats considered friends of agriculture continue to get voted out, and their replacement is often more extreme. One of agriculture’s best advocates – House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) – lost his re-election bid. He served Minnesota for 30 years, but more importantly, he made sure to always share rural interests with Democratic leaders.

As much as rural America hates speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.), she did get the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement across the finish line, voted for every farm bill -- including support for crop insurance -- and has never allowed animal activists’ agenda to take root in federal policy.

Peterson clearly knew which buttons to push and when in order to get Pelosi’s help in protecting agriculture.

Do we have someone ready to do that now?

During a recent policy webinar hosted by Syngenta, Thatcher noted that of all the 435 House districts, 16% are considered “pure rural,” and another 26% are rural suburban. Only nine of the 70 seats in the pure rural districts are held by Democrats, but that will be reduced to just eight next Congress with Peterson's loss.

If and when House Democrats bring an infrastructure bill to the floor, Thatcher asked whether they will listen to those rural representatives to fix the Mississippi River locks and dams or if they'll choose to invest in urban infrastructure instead.

While trying to garner support for another economic stimulus and ongoing COVID-19 relief, where will the balance lie between both sides of the aisle when it comes to advocating for the interests of the constituents in rural America?

A global pandemic, trade disputes and severe weather have converged to take a mighty toll on agriculture and beyond, affecting families and communities across the U.S. We don’t need partisanship. We need members working together for the good of agriculture.

As American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall rightly noted: “Unprecedented challenges require courageous leadership and the willingness of all elected leaders to work across the aisle for the good of the nation. Agriculture provides a strong model for that, with a long tradition of aligning behind smart policy, not party lines. We urge all those chosen by the people to use the election to turn the page on partisanship and commit to working together. Show farmers, ranchers and families across America that we will rise to meet the challenges before us together as one nation.”

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