After Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, he appointed to his cabinet the very opponents he had vanquished in the bitter and hard-fought battle for the Republican nomination the year before. The team of rivals, representing very different ideological positions within the GOP of the time, helped the president go on to win the Civil War, abolish slavery and keep the country intact.
I thought of Lincoln’s team of rivals as I moderated a recent discussion in Washington on the upcoming farm bill reauthorization.
The panel, composed of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Richard Fordyce, who served as Farm Service Agency administrator during the Trump administration, echoed the team of rivals' approach by challenging corn growers to take the lead in broadening the coalition engaged in the farm bill and fostering relationships with stakeholders outside of commodity and livestock organizations.
Heitkamp used food security as an example, noting that increasingly members on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are prioritizing domestic and international food security. She said to be successful, corn growers are going to have to build relationships with members of Congress who focus on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“Not every congressional district has a farmer. But they do have people who need food and security assistance,” Heitkamp observed.
The panelists stated that corn growers have a lot to offer groups outside the ag community, noting for example, that we have a great story to tell on helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions that could help us collaborate more with conservation and environmental organizations.
Our discussion, which delved into the farm bill process and is available online, got me to thinking about how some of our recent wins were made possible precisely because we broadened our messages and worked with policymakers on both sides of the aisle.
For example, our bipartisan work in Congress created an atmosphere where we could send a strong signal to the administration about biofuels having the ability to lower the skyrocketing prices drivers were paying at the pump while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the president used his authority to extend consumer access to higher levels of ethanol through this summer.
I also credit our bipartisan work for the recent win with the U.S. International Trade Commission. After months of speculation that ITC would grant a petition by a U.S. fertilizer company to place duties on nitrogen fertilizers imported from Russia and Trinidad and Tobago, in mid-July, the commissioners ruled against imposing such duties.
And in late July, senators worked across party lines to introduce the Next Generation Fuels Act in the U.S. Senate. The bill would allow for higher blends of ethanol, saving consumers money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We must continue to think strategically about the ways in which we can forge relationships with people and groups outside the agricultural industry. As the upcoming midterm elections approach, it is also important that we support candidates who express a willingness to work across the political divide in the interest of helping farmers succeed.
While political firebrands can be appealing and effective at getting their point of view across, we also need consensus builders to deliver results, especially during trying and tumultuous times.
My years in Washington have shown me that great things can be accomplished when advocates build inclusive coalitions.
As Lincoln taught us, politics makes for strange bedfellows.