Why Do We Still Go To Washington DC?

Sitting on the plane for 6 hours, flying from the “left coast” to that other coast, one has a lot of time to reflect.  Today, I’m on my way to DC to spend the next 48 hours meeting with lawmakers, their staff and members of the Administration.  Over the past six years, I’ve probably averaged three trips a year to our nation’s capitol to advocate on behalf of our flower farms.  That’s 216 hours of flight time (yes, 9 full days on a plane)!  For me, that’s a lot of time to be without access to cell service, the internet and most importantly, my family.

The Commission’s 2012 delegation of California Flower farmers on “The Hill,” in Washington DC.

While more and more flights are providing Wifi, I still find plane flights a great opportunity for reflection.  And on this trip, I am reflecting on value of all of these trips to Washington DC.

It’s a healthy and important exercise to occasionally ask, “why do we continue to make this effort?”

With the public approval of Congress hovering at meager 12%, an international relations crisis involving Syria and continued delay and partisan deadlock on major issues such as the farm bill and immigration reform, the idea of having a productive and successful trip to Washington DC right now might sound far fetched.

However, it continues to be my experience that each of these trips result in bringing great value back to our farms.  Here are three reasons I believe our trips to Washington DC continue to be important to the future of our flower farmers:

1.  If we don’t go, who will?

First, it’s important to note that there are a lot of Ag organizations and associations already based in Washington DC. Many of them are already doing a lot of good work on addressing policy and regulations that positively or negatively impact their members, who are also our farms. However, not one of them are responsible for working exclusively on behalf of flower and greens farmers.  In fact, there is no other organization in Washington DC or from any other state that is solely focused on the issues facing the cut flower farmers of America.

California flower farmers testifying against Ecuador’s request for GSP at the International Trade Commission (ITC) in March 2013.

So, if we aren’t out there to address those specific issues that impact our farms directly, who will do it for us?  If an issue that directly impacts cut flower farms conflicts with the interests of agriculture generally, who will speak up for our farms?  I think we all know the answer to that question… nobody.

I learned long ago that, “if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

2.  Relationships Make a Difference

While I personally don’t agree that a person’s success is built on “who you know,” who you know does make a difference. Equally important is for people to know who you are.  This is especially true for relationships with members of Congress.  Out of all of the members of Congress that I have ever met and worked with, only one member of Congress really knew that California represented 80% of what’s left in domestic flower farming.  And only one member (the same one) knew that almost 80% of the flowers sold in the U.S. were coming in from South America, primarily Colombia.  Troubling.

Congresswoman Lois Capps enjoying a visit from California’s flower farmers in March 2012.

Of course that’s has all changed.  Between my trips, our annual fly-in and our Flowers for Congress program, the California Congressional delegation knows who the flower farmers of California are.  Building these relationships with members of Congress, their staff and members of the Administration is critically important to our farms now and in the future.

3.  Deadlock = Opportunity

Sometimes the best of times are the worst times.  How so?

Well, we expect to have our Representatives always working on the “big” stuff, passing important legislation that is in the best interest of our country’s future.  However, when the big stuff isn’t moving (like right now), it gives those of us who have issues and initiatives that are not as controversial and would otherwise be overshadowed, an opportunity to have our issues heard and even addressed.

So, we keep going.  We have to.

In my opinion, the alternative would put the livelihood of our family flower farms at risk.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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