Pocatello—The Executive Vice President of the Nations most powerful Agriculture Lobby visited the Idaho Farm Bureau last month.
Julie Anna Potts addressed the Idaho Farmer Bureau’s 78th Annual Meeting and talked about the importance of State and County Farm Bureaus to the American Farm Bureau’s lobby efforts. Potts says she’s been working on Capitol Hill since graduating from College and says the success of Farm Bureau is unmatched. We talked to Ms. Potts at the Annual Meeting.
Have things changed with the Trump Administration?
From the start, I saw the opportunities to affect change and influence issues on the Hill like never before and I’m talking Administration issues and court cases. Specifically, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Farm Bureau with a greater opportunity to influence with the Executive Branch as we do right now. No matter how you feel about the President, we have opportunities we haven’t had before. We have an open door to us and that's incredibly important. We’ve seen movement on the issues that we’ve been dealing with for decades. Our top issues, the issues you’re not reading in the paper, we're finally invited to the table in ways we haven’t been in the past. I’d venture to say that right now the American Farm Bureau is the most influential voice in agriculture.
Do you think this administration is making progress on red tape? Cutting rules and regulations that’ll make farming and ranching less encumbered?
Yes. First of all, on a very positive note the Federal Lands issue, the Endangered Species Act, and Water Quality issues are all in the process of regulatory reform. The question is how do we change the ways rules are put in place to make real, permanent change in the process? We have an open dialogue with the Department of Interior and we have a dialogue with the Environmental Protection Agency and we even have the ear of the West Wing of the White House. Having that connection gives us a voice and we know whats going on. We can call upon that connection when needed and that's huge.
The EPA’s Waters of the US was a great victory, but is it over?
In respect to Waters of the United States rule, we’ve been working diligently to help the Administration understand the legal technicalities of reviewing and renewing the rule. I don’t have to tell you that it’s a bad rule. Thankfully the Trump Administration is taking it off the table. But for us to have a real winner with WOTUS we all have to establish a clear understanding of where federal authority ends and where state authority begins regarding water quality. It’s very important that we put clear rules in place and simply repealing it is not enough. We have experts in our office to help articulate that and we have expert counsel with experience in water issues and environmental law. I think we have the greatest resources available in Washington for assisting this administration and getting it right and making it legally defensible. I’m so proud that we have that door open and we’re working hard with the Trump administration. We want to make sure it won’t be rolled back by future administrations.
One of the biggest AFBF successes in many years on the Hill was the WOTUS issue, why?
It was Grass root politics and it’s a tremendous story. The Waters of the US rule was a clear-cut example of Federal encroachment on land without Congressional approval. This issue is one that Farm Bureau had worked on for decades then all the sudden they introduced the rule and we had to mobilize.
This issue was a threat to our property rights and we saw what the government could do to the rights in a regulatory environment. So WOTUS got to a real emotional level and that was key to our success. There’s no other group in Washington who understood the technicalities of that regulation and could articulate it like the Farm Bureau. We involved our grassroots leaders who said: “I’m putting my name on this, we’re going to ditch the rule.” The second thing is that we put every tool and tagline into the mix and ran with it. We added some very creative videos from farmers that struck a cord. I think the third thing when it came to a long-term strategy we added a delay action to keep the rule from being adopted and all that added up to a textbook example of grass root politics.
I was very proud that a difficult issue for property owners and industries was struck down and our members led the charge. Big business, small business, landowners, followed our lead and carried our message so much so that when the EPA engaged in illegal campaigning on behalf of the rule, they actually used language, ‘ditch the myth’ and that was directly responsive to our ditch the rule tag-line and we were extremely proud of that.
Are there other Issues as big as WOTUS on the horizon?
I’m sure you’ve heard about the Monuments of the US and the Bear Ears monument in Utah.That’s a huge issue we continue to do work on, even after President Trump’s announcement to cut back acres. That’s the result of the kind of conversations we’ve had with the White House and State Farm Bureaus. The Bears Ears National Monument will go from roughly 1.3 million acres to roughly 228,000 — only about 15 percent of its original size. And Grand Staircase will be diminished by roughly half, from its nearly 1.9 million acres to about 1 million.We teamed up with County and State Farm Bureaus and they helped us lobby and work the social media channels.
On the other hand, we still have a labor issue and that’s a huge challenge. State Farm Bureaus say it’s the single biggest threat to farm operations. I don’t have to tell you that we need an adequate, legal labor supply. That’s a priority and we are working on that non-stop on Capitol Hill but the challenges remain on the immigration side. And so our point man on these issues is our President, Zippy Duvall. He’s been invited to speak with the committees of authorization when we have difficulties with legislative proposals. He’s in constant touch with President Trump about the need to fix this agriculture and its tricky handling and understanding the other issues. But it’s happening. We need something in place that is workable while supplying labor to the farm and administered by the USDA. It’s critical to keep it under the USDA umbrella.
Whats the importance of States in affecting change on Ag issues in Washington?
States like Idaho are unbelievably important. I once worked on the Hill as Chief Counsel on the Senate Ag Committee. Constituents who came from states to talk about their issues in front of the committee have a big impact on the Committee members. Farmer testimony is more important than a lobbyist and those living inside the beltway. When it comes to testimony real voters make a difference. I think the Farm Bureau’s greatest strength is the fact that we have an organization in every county and political strength in every state. Also, think of it, every County Farm Bureau has a relationship with their Congressional Delegation and they have Statehouse contacts with their lawmakers and their Governors at the State Capitol so it gives us to influence and depth that other Ag organizations don’t have.
One of our Senators told us that our Ag Ambassadors are more powerful in many respects than paid lobbyists. Is that true?
That's exactly right. We have within Farm Bureau people with real stories. In terms of lobbying, you hear a lot about the importance of telling stories. Whether through social media or face to face visits on Capitol Hill. Senators need the ability to retell a story and do it authentically when they’re working an issue. Better yet, a story from the mouth of a farmer or rancher affected by an issue is real. Its also very authentic and I’d say its impactful. It packs more punch than a story from a lobbyist. I would add that when the Ag Ambassadors come to Capitol Hill in the spring you can see and feel the change on the Hill. The Farm Bureau both the State and AFBF gives members a strong briefing and the informational tools to lobby effectively. Through the visits and subsequent social media, the Farm Bureau is unmatched by other organizations.
Congress passed the historic tax cut before the Christmas break, But AFBF was focused on Tax Reform, Why?
Tax reform is something that we have been asking for, for many years, but only if its good for Farmers and Ranchers. We want a lower tax rate on farmers and ranchers and we want to keep the interest deductions that we have. We don’t want those deductions to go away, we want the expensing deductions that we have. We’re also worried about cash accounting and the elimination of the estate tax.