During the 18 years I was privileged to serve as editor of Southwest Farm Press, I had numerous opportunities to interact with Rep. Charlie Stenholm, a Blue Dog Democrat who believed in fiscal responsibility and a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers.
Early on, Charlie spoke often as the Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee; after he was gerrymandered out of office, he continued to offer his perspective on issues that affected agriculture. Audiences respected his reasoned and reasonable positions on many aspects of governance.
In more recent times, I have been privileged to hear Congressman Stenholm speak and to interview him and just chat about politics, especially the partisanship that currently prevents reasonable debate.
Charlie, on many occasions, lamented the lack of decorum in Congress and urged elected officials to get back to “regular order,” which he says means each branch of government doing the jobs they were elected to do.
That includes bringing bills before both the Senate and the House for examination and debate and then voting on the merits of the proposals.
It also includes maintaining the balance of power between executive and legislative branches, a process that’s hard to follow in these contentious times.
I can’t imagine that he would consider shutting down the government as “regular order.”
Charlie recalls a time when Democrats and Republicans could sit and discuss tedious issues without reverting to name-calling, misinformation, and rancor. He and Rep. Larry Combest, Republican from a nearby district and chairman of the House Ag Committee for years, worked together to find common ground to create a farm bill that offered a sound safety net, but not one that filled every pork barrel across the country.
He talked frequently on immigration reform, an issue that bedeviled legislators two decades ago and continues to incite anger, frustration and little progress.
Charlie pushed for a policy that recognizes the necessity for migrant labor, a critical need for agriculture. Many undocumented workers do the hard lifting, stooping and hauling required on many farms and ranches.
The process of documenting the men and women who want to cross the border to work is too time-consuming to be effective. It’s an issue that needs addressed, along with border security. Focusing only on punitive measures, I recall Charlie saying, is counterproductive. Workers from Mexico and other Latin America countries need the work; employers in the United States need the help.
The current situation addresses neither. The country is no closer to constructive immigration reform than it was 20 years ago; probably, it’s farther away from consensus.
Perhaps a wall is part of the solution. Perhaps technology offers better modern options. Perhaps reasonable compromises exist.
But nothing reasonable will occur as long as Congress and the White House persist in self-serving power plays and continue to operate in “irregular order.”