If you're like most producers, you probably say, "I don't want anything to do with politics; I just want to raise pigs."
And, you probably wish everybody from the local health board, to the environmentalists, to your state legislature, to the politicians in Washington would just leave you alone.
"With all the controversy brought on by environmental issues as well as all the other things we've always dealt with, you are in the political business whether you want to be or not," says Roger Bone. Bone's a multi-client lobbyist for the North Carolina Pork Council.
It's even more critical for larger size producers, Bone says. He calls it a necessity. "Government is so much of a factor that you just have to be involved."
But, he advises, learn how to lobby effectively and responsibly.
"Often, half of what a lobbyist does is put out fires that somebody else created," he says. Don't let that keep you from being part of the lobbying effort. Instead, learn how to do it right so the fires never get started.
Favored Status Gone Politics is a numbers game; basically, the number of voters.
"I have said this in speeches and farm people don't like to hear it, but agriculture has been a very protected special interest group," Bone says. "Farmers have had a lot of tax breaks, for example.
"In my opinion, that is rightly so because of food needs," he adds. "Unfortunately, in the minds of urban people, food comes from the grocery store. They think pork comes from the grocery store, not a farm."
Bone believes the days are gone when agriculture is a protected special interest.
"The population of this country is being fed by a very small percentage of the people," he adds. "Other segments of the population have more votes and they are making the public policy."
Show And Tell Bone believes the pork industry has a real story to tell. There just aren't enough producers telling it to the right people.
"We have a lot of lawmakers who have heard about 'those big hog farms,' but they have never actually been on one," he says. "They have driven past them and smelled something and thought that was what the farm was all about.
"Get those people where they see what you're doing," he urges. "Push the technology. Many of you have high-tech operations that take care of the pollution problem. But if you hide it under a bushel basket, nobody ever sees the light.
"If you have lagoons, show them that the lagoons are working. If you're using basically the same system that small towns are using, show and tell them. They will relate to that because they know those systems work for towns," Bone adds.
Start Local As the late Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neil once said: "All politics is local."
"Show up at local events where your local lawmakers are and teach them what your business is all about," Bone suggests. "Your business isn't secretive."
Who has the best barbecue?
Hog producers, he says.
Provide the hog for a campaign fundraiser or other political event.
"It's really very simple," says Bone. "If you can get the local politics moving in the right direction, it will pyramid and work right on up."
A danger in that process is that the local people may already support you and it becomes like preaching to the choir. Bone's suggestion is to broaden that base so the lawmakers in the city are part of your show-and-tell audience - those who really aren't interested in hog production. They like to eat, too.
And, they too can identify with a waste treatment system that works on the same principle as their city's sewage treatment plant.
Back The Winner Party lines really shouldn't matter to a person in the lobbying process. But Bone does suggest you pick a candidate and get involved with his or her campaign.
"Lawmakers take advice from people they know and trust," says Gary Madson, vice president of public policy, National PorkProducers Council (NPPC). "To be effective, you have to be sure your representatives know you and trust you."
That means getting involved - even in their campaigns for office. "The only thing I want you to remember is to choose the winner," Bone says. "The losers are home when you and I need them. They don't have a vote."
Being involved means making contributions to the campaign and spending time and effort with the candidates. You are buying access to that lawmaker so you can express your opinion when it might make a difference..
"If any industry is going to be effective in lobbying, some of the producers within that industry have to be known to the lawmakers," Madson says.
"As a lobbyist, I look at myself as the quarterback on the football team," Bone adds. "If I don't have somebody to throw the football to and somebody to block for me, I can't get much done. Producers who are going to benefit or lose from new laws make the best ends, guards and tackles."
Madson tells about a Minnesota producer who called him to say that his Congressman was coming to his farm and the producer wanted to know what he should discuss with the lawmaker.
"We talked about some issues," Madson says. "But the really important thing was not what they would discuss. The important thing is that the producer is well enough acquainted with that Congressman that he will come to his home, sit down at the table and have dinner with him. When there is an issue that needs attention, the Congressman will know that producer, trust him and listen to him."
As a producer/part-time lobbyist, you can do your industry a lot of good. But there are some things you just don't do if you want to be a winner. Roger Bone lists these seven.
1. Don't let the political system overwhelm you. Overall, the system works and it's a pretty decent system, says Bone. He likens the legislative process to hot dogs. If you like hot dogs, you shouldn't ever watch them being made. You can be appalled at the democratic system in process, he explains. But, the results are usually pretty good.
2. Don't lose your credibility. An example Bone gives is if you were to say to a lawmaker: "My hog farm doesn't stink." Who will really believe that? You're there every day. You get used to the smell and, to you, it's not so bad. But if you tell somebody else that it doesn't smell bad sometimes, you have shot your credibility down to zero.
3. Don't divide so you can be conquered. In other words, don't fragment your industry. It's dangerous to have different groups speaking for different people within your industry. Unite with other pork producers so everybody is on the same page. The oldest game in the world in the political arena is to divide and conquer.
4. Don't forget about your local officials. "I think there will be as many problems in the future coming from local health departments and county commissioners as there will be from state and federal legislators," says Bone. "Then you will have real problems because you could have a different set of regulations in every community or every county."
Educate and lobby the local officials with your target being uniformity. Lack of uniformity is a real detriment to growth and expansion of hog operations, says Bone.
5. Don't give up too easily; but do leave room for compromise.
"One of the sad things I find is the emotional issue," says Bone. "So much of the information against the hog producer is driven by perception, not by facts, science and reality."
You don't have to give up the farm. But you may have to agree to do some things you don't think are really necessary - but that you can live with - to be able to accomplish your major goals. That's compromise.
6. Don't ever get in an argument with your lawmaker or a local official. Just remember one thing: That person has a vote - you don't. The loudest voice, if it is yours, will not prevail. You will not win. Learn to back away even if the person says something that makes you irate. If your personality simply clashes, back away and have somebody else take over.
7. If you start a fire, don't let it burn out of control. Contact your pork producers organization if you get into trouble or if you get in over your head. A problem won't go away. Therefore, don't take long to get back to the people who can help put out the fire.
If you think you won't have much impact on the lawmakers who represent you, pay attention to what Dave Schrader has to say. He's Minority Leader of the Iowa House. A Democrat, Schrader has served as a representative for 12 years. He knows what works and what doesn't.
"When you approach your own legislator, you are approaching a lawmaker who (a) wants to make good decisions, and (b) wants to get re-elected," Schrader says. "Therefore, the most effective lobbyist in the world is a constituent who has the opportunity to vote for that lawmaker and one the legislator respects for his judgment."
Compare that to the professional lobbyist. As Schrader puts it, the professional lobbyists know how to make their point and they do their job very well.
"But most legislators aren't going to feel compelled to make that lobbyist happy," says Schrader. That lobbyist isn't going to vote for or against the legislator. He isn't going to tell the lawmaker's other constituents if he feels the politician is doing a good job or not.
"Focus on that person you vote for," Schrader emphasizes. "Even if there is a lawmaker in a key position to make a decision that affects you, if you aren't from that person's district, that lawmaker is not really accountable to you personally." As Schrader puts it, your contact with that lawmaker is not going to be a "strong touch."
So what do you do to get your request for support to that lawmaker?
"Call your own local legislator and ask him or her to have a word with the key person on your behalf," Schrader suggests.
Another way to get your message to that key lawmaker is to have a producer you know in that legislator's district make the direct contact with him or her.
Ask For Commitment Be specific when you talk with your lawmaker. Then close by asking for his/her support. Don't call and say you want support on bill number 468A, for example.
Instead, Schrader suggests you call and say, 'Here is my position on the hog feedlot regulations bill,' for example. State your position clearly and briefly. Then, follow through and ask, 'Can I count on you to support this position?'
"That way, you know if he's on your side or not," says Schrader. "If not, he should give you a good reason for taking the opposite side and that will help you know how to proceed from there."
What Schrader describes as one of the crazier issues he has encountered serves as an example of what not to do. The issue was to allow deer hunting with handguns.
"I'm a hunter," he says. "But the idea of hunting deer with handguns seems to me to be nuts.
"This guy called and said, 'You have to do this, blah, blah, blah...' and I asked him if he had ever hunted deer with a handgun," says Schrader. "He said, 'No, I just got this letter from the NRA (National Rifle Association) saying I should call you.' By the time we were through talking, he had reversed his position and agreed with me."
You don't necessarily want to go against your industry organization's position. But, if you don't really understand the issue, it can be like the saying, "Be careful what you pray for; you might get it."
Letters Work - Locally Another thing Schrader finds valuable is letters. Even if you have made a phone call or personal visit, he suggests a follow-up letter.
"That may not work as well at the national level," he says. "In Iowa, when you write a letter, it's the legislator who gets it, not a staff person (like it may be at the federal level).
"With a phone call, it's finished when the visit ends," he explains. "With a letter, the transaction isn't done until the lawmaker has given it thought and given a written answer. You've kept it in front of the lawmaker longer."
Finally, Schrader supports the idea of inviting your representatives in your statehouse to see, first-hand, what you are doing.
"Jerry Van Wyk is an expansion-minded producer in my area," he says. "When he called to say, 'I have built a new facility and I would like for you to come out and see it,' you bet I went out. He had invited some neighbors and business people so I was able to hear what they were thinking, too."
You have the opportunity to meet with your state or federal lawmaker. Now, what do you do? These guidelines come from Gary Madson, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) vice president of public policy.
* Have a specific agenda. A face-to-face meeting is a chance to provide some education and to ask for support of legislation you feel will benefit your industry or to oppose legislation you feel will hurt.
* Don't overwhelm your lawmaker with too many people. Go alone or bring only one or two people who have something pertinent to share about the issue.
* Know your issue well and know how it affects your industry, your business and your community. Your state pork producer organization and/or NPPC can provide you with facts and positions on issues as well as the current status of any legislation.
* Concentrate on only one or two issues. Be concise and well organized. You should be able to state your views in about 10 min., including time to hear your lawmaker's thoughts. While state and local officials may allow a little more time, lawmakers at the federal level generally favor meetings of 20 min. or less.
* Allow an open exchange of ideas. Don't antagonize or lecture the lawmaker. But also don't say only what you think the lawmaker wants to hear. Be straightforward, but courteous, in giving your views. Be receptive to the lawmaker's questions and comments.
* If you are asked a question you can't answer, don't guess. Say you will look into the question and give the lawmaker an answer as soon as possible. Ask for the name and phone number of a staff person you can contact.
* Have a one-page summary of the key points about the issue and your position on it to leave with the lawmaker. The pork issues handbook is an excellent source for information about NPPC's views.
* Always say "thank you." Even if you don't like the results, thank the lawmaker for taking the time to listen. Thank you will get you a long way.
* After the meeting, follow up with a thank you letter and re-emphasize the key points you discussed.
* Advise your pork producers organization of any developments or information you learned at your meeting.
When You Phone Guidelines for phone calls are basically the same with a few additions.
* Plan for a 3-minute call.
* Have your key points written down.
* Identify yourself. If you are a constituent, give your address.
* Ask if the lawmaker supports your position. If so, thank the lawmaker.
* If the lawmaker is undecided or opposed to your position, ask why and politely and factually address his/her concerns.
Understand that during a typical six-month period, members of the U.S. Congress receive an average of about 16.4 million phone calls.
When You Write Here are some additional letter writing tips when you write to your lawmakers.
* Type your letter. Use your letterhead.
* Address the lawmaker correctly, using his/her title such as Senator or Congressman.
* State who you are and why you are writing.
* Cover only one issue. Keep your comments short and to the point. Try to keep your letter to one page.
* Avoid form letters. Your words are best.