SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A farmer who ran for office in November says he believes things would run more smoothly in Illinois if more farmers were in the General Assembly.
For one thing, he said farmers know how to balance a budget.
“It could be a cure for the gridlock in Springfield if there were more farmers,” said John Bartman, who farms about 900 acres including corn and soybeans. “There are only four farmers in the State House and none in the Senate.”
The McHenry County farmer ran as a Democrat against Steven Reick to represent District 63 in northeastern Illinois. While the process was grueling and Bartman didn’t win in his attempt for a seat, it hasn’t dimmed his desire to see more farmers in government, he said during a speech at the Illinois Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Leadership Conference in Springfield March 1.
“We as farmers are small business owners,” he said. “People don’t understand our industry and where we are coming from.”
In an informal survey of the audience, he found more than one-quarter of farmers in attendance also held some kind of elected office, such as a county board member or school board member.
Before taking the leap to running for a higher public office, he noted there are things to consider. Your family has to be on the same page, he said. The campaign can be messy, and he said it was difficult for his parents to watch advertisements on television against him.
Michele Aavang, a McHenry County farmer and a county board member, was pleased to see Bartman run for higher office in her district. The Republican said it is a little difficult to root for someone in the opposite party, but she is pleased to see agriculture getting a voice in a county so close to Chicago.
“It’s wonderful he was willing to get involved and give the time commitment,” she said.
Bartman said it was also important to have help with fieldwork and agronomic decisions ,so he could be involved in the campaign and still harvest on time. It’s essential to have someone monitoring your marketing plan, as you might miss the opportunity to sell at the best time while on the campaign trail.
A candidate also needs someone to help them manage social media, he said. In these ways, farmers can support others who are willing to speak out for them.
He said advocates of agriculture, including IFB staff, spend the majority of time looking for and fighting bills that are bad for agriculture. He would like to see time spent on initiatives that are good for agriculture and other small businesses.
For example, a jobs program that could connect inner city Chicago students with jobs selling produce generated in nearby counties could benefit both communities, he said.
Bartman acknowledged fundraising is a difficult part of the process, but he said not to let money discourage you from taking part in the process.
Fundraising has affected how government is operated, agreed Michael Smerconish, an radio host, television presenter and author. These days, politicians are only in the capital Tuesday through Thursday, and go home to raise money on the weekends. They don’t get to build the foundation on weekends that might lead to compromise in government, the political commentator said.
He gave the example of how President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill were friends who, while on the opposite sides of the aisle, could work things out. It is harder to be enemies with someone you know, he said.
Smerconish, who jokes about being the only CNN commentator the new president says he likes, said the first 40 days of the presidency have been tumultuous. The commentator said he knows farmers are concerned about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but noted President Donald Trump hasn’t given the 90-day notice that he wants to renegotiate yet.
Adam Nielsen, IFB director of national legislation and policy development, said trade deals have been good to agriculture, and they will be watched closely. He also said the new president’s push for tax reform and reduced regulation may be good for farmers.
He said the end of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) is very good news.
“A lot of effort was put into fighting WOTUS. We should throw a party,” Nielsen said.