Election gives farmers opportunities to voice their concerns to lawmakers

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
This year's election on all levels is making it more important than ever for farmers to tell their lawmakers what they want to see happening in their communities and their industry.

This year's election on all levels is making it more important than ever for farmers to tell their lawmakers what they want to see happening in their communities and their industry, said John Holevoet, Dairy Business Association director of governmental affairs.

Holevoet spoke on the Dairy Stream podcast recently, hosted by Mike Austin and produced by the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Cooperative. He said that even though the Republicans maintained a strong hold on both the state Assembly and Senate, 2021 will be a budget year, which is the best time to get your concerns out there for elected officials to hear.

He also said that many "orphan bills," including some ag-related bills, were abandoned at the end of the legislative session this past spring due to COVID-19, where the Wisconsin Legislature failed to meet one last time to pass bills that otherwise were going to be signed into law. This budget year will provide opportunities to get those bills back on the table, he said.

"There was a whole host of bills that made it all the way through the committee process and made it all the way through an Assembly vote, but the last floor day for the state Senate was cancelled because of Covid and they never came back in to re-have that day," Holevoet said. "There was a whole bunch of bills that sort of made it almost all the way across the finish line and then got cut short by that, so we're looking into some of those issues."

Redistricting following the conclusion of the 2020 US Census may also affect state politics going forward, Holevoet said, because both parties will have to compromise on new maps due to the Republicans lacking a "veto-proof" majority to pass new maps without crossing the aisle.

Holevoet said Wisconsin saw some political shifts this year considering both the presidential and the state elections, specifically in the Milwaukee suburbs, where Republicans lost two seats in the Assembly. However, Republicans also gained two seats in more rural areas, so the shift is not uniform statewide, he said. Holevoet said the rural-urban voter divide has continued to make itself known in these cases.

John Holevoet

"One trend that didn't really emerge this year but certainly was just underlined and re-emphasized this election cycle (was) the rural-urban divide," Holevoet said. "The divide continues to grow and expand and become more pronounced, and because of the way our state population just falls, where we're at seems to indicate that Republicans are well-positioned to maintain majorities in practice because of geography, where the populations are spread out."

Future elections may also see increases in absentee voting, even without a pandemic, Holevoet said, because people have recognized the convenience of voting that way instead of standing in line on Election Day. And since this was such a highly polarized election, Holevoet said he's interested in seeing if these massive turnout numbers will continue to sustain themselves, or if this election was merely an outlier.

Holevoet said rural Wisconsin was one of those areas that increased voter turnout significantly, adding that those numbers will ensure the importance of rural voters as stakeholders in public policy. 

"Rural Wisconsin showed up – showed up in a big way – to vote, and that is good," Holevoet said. "It shows the importance of us as a voting bloc, it helps us to better solidify our position as an important stakeholder in Madison. It also shows that there's hopefully ag support growing in the legislature."

DBA's highest priorities right now, Holevoet said, include long-term concerns like funding for sustainable rural roads and decreasing regulations for large farms, like concentrated animal feeding operations. He said the fact that there are many bipartisan policy issues in the ag industry will help with farmers' visibility on the state budget to be passed next year.

Holevoet said that even though the state capitol is closed right now, you can still contact your local lawmakers via email, phone or virtual meeting. You can also have them come visit your farm in person if possible, and Holevoet said DBA can facilitate that meeting if needed. He said DBA is also planning on holding their annual lobbying event, Dairy Day, in the coming months, except it will be virtual due to COVID-19 and the capitol being closed.

"Because the capitol's closed does not mean you still can't be engaged, does not mean you should stop trying to connect with your local lawmakers and share with them priorities are important to you, talk more about the challenges that you're facing," Holevoet said. "Those are all things they need to hear."