IFB 'power of numbers' highlights farmer views in Capitol

Representing downstate districts continues to be a challenge, say two such General Assembly members, but Adopt-A-Legislator and other programs prove successful at educating urban legislators on property rights and other issues.

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State Rep. Tim Butler, left, R-Springfield, and Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, answer questions during the Illinois Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Leadership Conference last week in Springfield. The lawmakers discussed the value of helping urban legislators better understand agriculture and rural issues. (Photo by Kay Shipman)

By Kay Shipman

Farmers’ outreach efforts with urban legislators and work through Illinois Farm Bureau extends agriculture’s influence in Springfield through “the power of numbers,” a state senator said at IFB’s Governmental Affairs Leadership Conference last week.

“Illinois Farm Bureau allows you to have a bigger voice and a fair fight,” Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, said during a state legislative session.  

Bennett and state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, shared the challenge of representing downstate districts with major agricultural industry in General Assembly chambers dominated by urban lawmakers.

“The Adopt-A-Legislator program is one of the best programs,” Butler told county Farm Bureau leaders.

Butler said he came to appreciate the importance of on-farm experiences when he and Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, stood among 5,000 turkeys on a Tazewell County farm. At that time, Cunningham chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“I realized then those are good experiences for people to see,” Butler said. “Developing relationships is how we will move the ball forward. It is incumbent on us to educate people about agriculture.”

More from IFB’s Governmental Affairs Leadership Conference:

Legal issues Illinois farmers should have on their radar. Read more here.

Stakeholders share efforts to improve water quality. Read more here.

IFB active on tariffs; reaction will be based on whether trading partners retaliate. Read more here.

Bennett, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, pointed out no farmer currently serves in the Senate following the retirement of John Sullivan.

Although not a farmer, Bennett said he understands the importance of property rights related to development of commercial solar energy projects. Bennett is sponsoring IFB priority legislation to require commercial solar energy developers to enter into an agricultural mitigation agreement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The goal is to protect landowners and assure land impacted by construction and deconstruction be property restored.

The state’s fiscal condition continues to be a challenge, but neither legislator anticipated the General Assembly passing a revenue increase this session. “You’re going to have to find ways to cut expenses,” Bennett added.

Both lawmakers agreed Illinois faces serious challenges of population outmigration and a big loss of high school graduates attending colleges and universities out of state.

Population outmigration will mean the loss of at least one congressional seat, Bennett noted. Butler called the outmigration of high school graduates “the defining issue of our time.”

Bennett said a bipartisan working group is exploring ways to “keep students home.”

Butler challenged the audience to share positive stories about Illinois and why people should locate in the state. “It’s on all of us,” the representative said.

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