Be it at the national, state, county, or local level, many decisions that impact all citizens are made by elected government officials. While running for office is not on everyone’s bucket list, a panel discussion during the Dairy Business Association’s Dairy Strong conference encouraged audience members to at least consider it.
“Town government is where it all starts,” said Justin Peterson, a dairy farmer living in Bangor, Wis. Peterson is in his first term as a Bangor Town Board member, a position he was encouraged to run for by a retiring board member. That fellow farmer felt it was important someone involved with agriculture had a voice on their town board, and Peterson agreed.
“If we don’t have boots on the ground in rural areas of Wisconsin, ag could suffer,” Peterson said. “We have to keep our voices loud and proud.”
“If you have time and interest, do it,” encouraged Audrey Kusilek, a dairy farmer and District 26 Supervisor in Barron County. She felt compelled to run for a board position in her rural northwestern Wisconsin county due to poor representation of both farmers and women.
“It is important for farmers to be involved in local government,” she said, echoing Peterson’s thoughts. “Production ag needs a seat at the table.”
The longest tenured elected official on the panel was Travis Tranel, a Representative in the Wisconsin State Assembly currently serving in his seventh term. He owns and operates a dairy and a custom baling business in southwestern Wisconsin.
Tranel said he originally ran for this position because of his love for America and a desire to be involved. He lost his first election but was encouraged to run again and was victorious the second time around. He believes his ties to agriculture are a benefit.
“Because I represent a rural area, my constituents are pretty understanding I can’t be at some events because I am farming,” he noted. “I think they appreciate I am still farming.”
While Tranel’s agricultural roots run deep, he worries that he is very much in the minority. “I have grave concerns about legislature, town, and county boards. People who are serving on those boards are changing,” he said. “Today, some of them may have some tie to ag. In a generation, those ties are going to be few and far between, and that is so concerning.”
Tranel continued, “It is super important, as an industry, that we encourage our fellow farmers and people from rural areas to run and serve on these boards.”
With well over a decade of experience as a representative, Tranel said our government works better than we often give it credit for. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that there is always a democrat and republican divide, but the divide is more urban versus rural,” he said, further emphasizing the importance of elected officials agricultural knowledge.
Tranel said balancing farm work and holding a political office requires good time management and a strong desire to serve in that type of role. If an elected role is not in the cards for you, there are still ways to be involved.
“You can make a big difference without serving,” he said. “I hope you know your town and county representatives, and what district you live in. You should know those people, and they should know you. You should have their phone number, and they should answer your call.”
He further encouraged the audience by saying, “There are a lot of things you can do to get involved and be helpful without running for office.”