With Colorado Cattlemen's staff decked out in patriotic attire and a life-sized cardboard cut-out of CCA's chief executive Terry Fankhauser posing as Uncle Sam, it was clear organizers of this year's CCA convention hoped to inject some humor into what has become a tumultuous and unpredictable presidential election year.
With Colorado Cattlemen’s staff decked out in patriotic attire and a life-sized cardboard cut-out of CCA’s chief executive Terry Fankhauser posing as Uncle Sam, it was clear organizers of this year’s CCA convention hoped to inject some humor into what has become a tumultuous and unpredictable presidential election year.
“We are in a time of tremendous volatility in our political system,” said political organizer and former Colorado legislator Josh Penry.
Penry was part of a political panel that spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the convention’s opening session.
While a contentious presidential campaign that pits two historically unpopular candidates against each other is dominating media attention, many speakers throughout the day emphasized the importance of “down card” races, ranging from congressional representatives to city and county commissioners.
“I don't know what I’m going to do on Nov. 8,” said political pundit and former FEMA director Michael Brown, a featured speaker, capturing what seemed to be a common dilemma. “But I’m going to devote every ounce of energy I have to electing candidates for Congress who believe in the constitution, limited federal government and the bill of rights.”
The president does occupy an important role, Brown said, but encouraged his audience to remember that members of Congress hold even greater importance. He also encouraged them to consider their own sphere of influence. He sent convention-goers home with the challenge to start a meaningful conversation about the issues with at least one person in their immediate circle.
Anger at the political system is responsible for fueling the rise of political outsiders like Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Penry said.
“Even though it’s coming from a legitimate place, it’s worrisome,” he said.
Instead of being distracted by the presidential campaign, however, he urged CCA members to focus on three critical Colorado ballot initiatives. Specifically he urged them to work to defeat efforts to ban fracking, create a single-payer health care plan and raise the minimum wage. At the same time, he advocated for “Raise the Bar,” a Colorado campaign that would make it harder for special interest groups to amend the state’s constitution.
With another farm bill process looming on the horizon, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association chief lobbyist Colin Woodall described how the D.C. climate has changed considerably in the last 10 years. Roughly half of ag committee staffers used to have farm and ranch backgrounds, but that’s no longer the case, he said.
Lobbying reform has made it more difficult to bring staffers out to farms and ranches, so NCBA created a program to take the industry experts to them, Woodall said. Called Beef 101, the seminar begins with the basics for staff members who in some cases don’t know the difference between “a heifer and a Hereford,” Woodall said. NCBA also offers a year-round internship program in its Washington office.
“The House ag committee staff has four former NCBA interns that work for them now,” he said.
Funding raised through political action committees is also helping the organization influence the outcome in key political races, he said.
CCA members brought a diverse range of priority issues with them to the 149th annual convention.
Top-of-mind for outgoing president, Bob Patterson, of Kim, was passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
“I feel we need it badly. It will help our cattle prices, and, down the road, reduce tariffs,” he said. “It’s something we’ve worked on for a long time.”
New president, Tim Lehmann, who is from Gunnison, mentioned federal lands management and endangered species regulation as key concerns.
“On the Gunnison sage grouse, our voluntary conservation efforts have kind of been thrown to the wayside with the current administration,” he said.
Several convention-goers mentioned the growing disconnect between consumers and farmers with Paige Turecek, of Deer Trail, having a unique perspective on that issue. She is the wife of Ty Turecek, whose family was honored as this year’s Leopold Conservation Award winner.
Turecek is originally from the Denver suburb of Parker but said she now has a whole new appreciation for what farmers and ranchers do to produce food. She was so alarmed by the growing distrust of modern food production that she and her husband started a blog called “The View From Under a Cowboy Hat.”
She hopes to help transform the public’s opinion of agriculture into a more positive one.
“I think my generation’s challenge will be to preserve this way of life,” she said. “Our job is to defend it by connecting more effectively with the public.”