Impassioned speeches, protestors, balloons, pop stars and celebrities may have grabbed the headlines last month during the two political parties’ national conventions, but behind the hoopla, attendees were engaged in real, meaningful work, and the Society of American Florists was part of that action.
Last month in Cleveland and Philadelphia, SAF continued a 30-plus year tradition of representing the floral industry at Democratic and Republican conventions.
SAF’s attendance amounted to far more than symbolism, said Shawn McBurney, SAF’s senior director of government relations.
“In addition to the official floor proceedings broadcast on television, the conventions feature scores of receptions, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, policy briefings and other events,” he explained. “Attending those events are members of Congress, governors, state legislators, representatives from different industries, federal officials, and Hill staff, in addition to the convention delegates.”
By having an active presence in those events, SAF can make “important connections for the floral industry and learn about new policy proposals,” McBurney added. “At the same time, we are able to create or reaffirm relationships with individuals who can help us reach our legislative and regulatory goals.”
McBurney spent much of his time being particularly attuned to discussion on agriculture.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was the speaker at two agriculture events SAF attended at the Democratic Convention.
At those events, “Vilsack underscored the importance of agriculture to the U.S. economy, and SAF was able to make contact with key USDA officials and Hill professionals who can have an impact on SAF’s agricultural agenda,” McBurney said.
Other highlights of interest to SAF members from both events include:
Agriculture received a specific mention from the Democrats who approved the 2016 platform, promising to “build a stronger rural and agricultural economy.” The platform calls for an “increase in funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, with particular attention given to promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.”
“What that might mean for floral production practices or the types of federally-funded industry research that SAF would support is only speculation this point,” McBurney said.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) newly updated Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), a regulation SAF has helped craft and make more practical for growers since its inception in the early 1990s, also received a mention as the platform vowed to further “protect farmworkers from harmful pesticides and herbicides” and called for support of stronger safeguards for agricultural workers including such things as regulation of work hours.
Republicans also included verbiage related to agriculture in their platform. In Cleveland, SAF participated in a briefing with the agriculture policy advisor for the Trump campaign.
“Few specifics were given, but the Republican Party platform, approved at the convention, calls agricultural production and exports ‘central to the Republican agenda for jobs, growth, expanded trade, and prosperity,’” McBurney said.
The platform supports separating the food stamp program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), thus separating the program’s authorization from the 2018 Farm Bill, a move that would make passing a Farm Bill more difficult and possibly endanger research dollars important to the floral industry.
Why? Since the 1970’, the Farm Bill has included both food stamps and programs in production agriculture because that brings urban and rural lawmakers together to support the bill.
“There are fiscal conservatives who believe that the entire Farm Bill package is too expensive, and treating food stamps and agricultural programs in separate pieces of legislation would make it easier to find savings,” McBurney explained.
The question is, by splitting them, would there be enough support to pass either bill? Most people in agriculture policy people think it will be difficult.
One more issue for agriculture that is criticized in the GOP platform is the EPA Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which Republicans vow to overturn. WOTUS would give the EPA authority over the nation’s waterways, including even minor streams, drainage and irrigation ditches. SAF joined AmericanHort and the National Christmas Tree Association in November of 2015 in formal comments opposing the rule, saying the rule would “increase costs and adversely affect work performed near water … and will also expose horticultural businesses to the threat of increased lawsuits by private citizens and activists.”
Another important objective in attending the convention is to meet and mingle with people who can help move SAF’s legislative agenda. This often happens through impromptu get-togethers with a key SAF ally, associate, or hoped for partner on an issue important to the industry.
“These unplanned conversations happened numerous times at both conventions,” McBurney said. “For example, in Cleveland import challenges were discussed with an influential former member of Congress who was open to meeting in the future about that topic.”
And merely walking down the street, waiting in line or going from one event to another SAF met with, among others, Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-North Carolina) a key supporter of small business and a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. Jim Costa, (D-California) a prime advocate of the STARS Act, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-West Virginia), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a STARS supporter, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, (R-Wisconsin).
“The value of attending both conventions comes down to this: talking to people about issues of common interest and how to work together in the future,” McBurney said. “It’s as simple as that.