The legislative proposals of Republicans and Democrats continue to offer policy solutions that define the role of government differently. It is now hard to identify middle ground in either party, so there are few opportunities for bipartisan action. None of this is surprising news, but how did we get there and what does it mean for farm producers?
The 2018 mid-term elections enlarged the growing urban/rural partisan divide. Republicans lost widely in suburban districts and no longer represent a single urban district. The new Democratic majority in the House has led to a change in the makeup of the Agriculture Committee, where Members are more likely to represent urban districts rather than rural or farm districts. This means that farm advocates will be challenged to help urban and suburban lawmakers understand the realities of modern agriculture and tell their stories in a way that is relevant to those with no direct experience in the industry.
There’s much at stake for agriculture. Ongoing trade disputes and five years of low commodity prices are taking a toll on the farm economy. While the Trump Administration’s Market Facilitation Payments are helping offset some of the temporary pain of the tariff wars, all farmers would much rather have robust international markets for their products.
All farm businesses need markets for their crops and products. International trade continues to dominate the policy agenda since more than 20 percent of U.S. farm production is exported. Agricultural sales to China have fallen to about a third of previous levels. On the bright side, USMCA seems to have bipartisan support. Ratification by Congress will show that the U.S. can make multilateral deals and be a responsible trading partner.
One key cause of the current political polarization is the disappearance of swing Congressional districts, which are geographic voting areas within states that might swing between Republican or Democratic control, from one election to the next. Each state determines the layout and composition of these voting districts for the U.S. House of Representatives based on the U.S. Census. When this process results in oddly shaped voting districts that are configured to concentrate reliably partisan groups of voters in order to favor one party over another, it results in the severe political polarization we see in Congress today.
After the next presidential election, the 2020 U.S. Census will require mandatory redistricting. Rural areas in states like New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania will probably lose seats in the House of Representatives to fast growing suburbs in Southwestern states. With rural representation declining, key leaders with deep ties to agriculture, like Arkansas’ Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Rick Crawford, become even more important in defending the interests of agriculture and rural communities.
State-by-state redistricting based on the 2020 Census will certainly alter voting districts. But it likely won’t bend the trend that has resulted in the most diverse Congress ever—more women, more Native Americans and more minorities overall.
The upcoming presidential election will have the highest turnout in history according to campaign analysts. And while rural issues are unlikely to dominate the debate, every vote will count in what most analysts believe will be a very close race. Rural voters are a key demographic in President Trump’s reelection strategy, and Democrats will likely look to make progress with rural voters in key presidential election states.
With all this uncertainty and polarization, it’s more important than ever for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities to make their voices heard in Washington. We in Farm Credit will do our part.
During the Farm Bill debate, our grassroots network of agricutural producers and others generated thousands of messages to lawmakers in Washington urging them to pass the Farm Bill. More than 15,000 farmers, ranchers, and others are already part of our grassroots network and to date we have generated nearly 50,000 messages to Congress.
We encourage everyone who supports U.S. agriculture and our rural communities to be involved. We are making available an easy-to-use tool that enables users to instantly send a message to their members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives directly from their phones. To find out more and make your voice heard in Washington, join the effort!