Hort president David Douglas, left, and Jennifer Armen discussed tree fruit interests with Senator Linda Evans-Parlette in her Olympia office.
Thirty tree fruit industry members converged on the Washington State legislature on January 31 to meet with 66 senators and representatives about issues of critical importance to our industry.
Meetings with key committee chairs and members of leadership in both parties were targeted to press home the considerable economic impact that tree fruits have on the state’s economy. Many of the legislators commented on how important it is for them to hear directly from constituents who will be impacted by proposed legislation.
There is no substitute for the growers telling their stories of how a proposed measure will impact their orchard operations. Both legislators and their staffers look forward to our annual visit as—thanks to generous contributions of pears, apples, juice, sliced apples, and other promotional items—we come armed with gift packs of our seasonal specialties!
I am often asked, “Do these meetings with our legislators do any good?” The answer is simple: more good than you know. Hundreds of pieces of legislation are introduced each session and the size of the legislative and caucus staff is exceedingly small. It is impossible for them to become experts on each and every bill.
The lobbyists who work for Washington State Horticultural Association and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association—Jim Halstrom and Dave Ducharme—rely on our organizations to provide guidance as to our positions on the various measures. And it all comes together effectively when real growers, real packers, and real shippers tell their story. Armed with talking points developed collectively by our industry organizations, teams of three or four members divide up the issues and descend upon legislators and their aides to press home the critical message each issue requires.
Most legislators lack an agricultural background. What we do and how we do it is exceedingly foreign to them. It is our job as industry advocates to set the record straight by educating those who lack an understanding of how a measure may significantly impact our industry.
Let me digress. The education process commences well in advance of our annual trip to Olympia. During the summer of 2009 and 2011, we sponsored tours for legislators and their staff to help them learn more about our industry. How fruit is grown, how it is picked and packed, how pesticides are applied, how organic fruit is grown, how fruit is sold, how workers are treated, how they are housed, how food safety is impacting what we do, how important are export markets, and so much more, form key components of what we convey to program participants.
For example, the chair of the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee has attended both tours and was joined by the chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in addition to key committee members. The popularity of this program continues to grow, and we appreciate the assistance of YVGSA’s Jon DeVaney in making it so.
In December, just prior to the start of the January regular session, various agricultural groups meet along with their government affairs specialists (okay, lobbyists) to discuss the likely issues of principal impact to us all. You should understand there is considerable synergy between the ag interest groups and a high degree of cooperation in practice, not just in spirit.
Just as in Congress, agricultural interests are bipartisan with support from both Republicans and Democrats needed to either move or kill a measure. We must support those legislators who are supporting us, and that means addressing the need for financial support to see that our friends in both parties are returned to the legislature. Let’s face facts: we are a special-interest group that has for too long neglected to broadly fund Hort PAC in such a way that it can be responsive to supporting our friends in Olympia when they are running for either election or reelection to office.
Agricultural issues and interests are owned by neither party. We have been fighting a bill that would require 24-hour prior notice to facilities (schools, daycare providers, nursing homes, homes, etc.) located within a quarter of a mile of the location to be sprayed aerially or by airblast sprayer. In addition, notice must be given to “…any person outdoors….” Precisely how you are to determine who those folks might be is anybody’s guess! Issues such as this one must be dealt with on their merits and require reasonable, thoughtful discussion with open-minded folks to make proponents see that this is regulatory overkill and would be nearly impossible for many growers to comply with.
We need those discussions to be with legislators from both parties who bring understanding of what it takes to operate a business and who understand the economic consequences of measures that come before the legislature.
We all tend to support our local representative or senator, and many of you do open your checkbooks accordingly at both the state and national levels. What is too often missed is how the makeup of the House or Senate in Olympia also impacts us greatly. We in north central Washington have three Republican legislators who support our interests. It is well to remember that all three are in the minority in House and Senate.
Even with our legislative friends in the Yakima districts, we are outnumbered by western Washington’s huge population base…and by folks who neither understand the importance of agriculture to the economy of our state nor have any concept of how orchard operations are conducted. We need to educate; we need to help those who understand agriculture get elected all across Washington State.