If you think a state legislator’s job is easy, you’ve never visited the Statehouse while the Legislature is in session. You quickly learn there’s more to making laws and passing budgets than just attending sponsored breakfasts and voting the party line. Everyone wants a moment of your time, and not everyone agrees with your point of view.
Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston, is a farmer and hog producer by trade. When the Legislature is in session, even if he’s home, he’s often attending meetings to listen to what people have to say. Or he’s doing homework, fact-checking information or fielding calls from constituents about various issues.
Listen, listen and listen some more!
I went to the Statehouse with the preconceived notion that because Republicans have a supermajority in both houses, they can do what they want. They don’t have to explain themselves or listen to those with opposing views. They can just do what they think is right and move on. But after talking to legislators and visiting Lehe in his office, I realized nothing was further from the truth. The same party doesn’t stay in control forever. Legislators who don’t listen to constituents, whether they like what they’re saying or not, don’t stay around very long.
The day I visited Lehe, Bill Friend and other legislators on the House Committee on Environmental Affairs were slated to hear debate on House Bill 1494. Proposed by the Indiana Pork Producers and carried by Don Wolkins, it seemed to be just a matter of common sense. The bill relates to making small changes in the confined feeding operation law. Farmers just changing the type of their operation or only making a minor expansion could apply for an amended permit. As it is now, they must once again go through the entire painstaking permit process they endured to build their facility in the first place. That’s not common sense!
Truth is, there are those who think it makes plenty of sense. There are even those who believe there shouldn’t be confined feeding operations in Indiana. Whenever a bill such as this appears, even for minor tweaking, it’s an opportunity for extremists to crawl out of the woodwork. And legislators are obligated to listen, even if they know what they’re doing is the right thing for both farmers and non-farmers.
Keep your perspective
There is a reason I bang on a keyboard and other people become legislators. I pride myself in knowing a common-sense solution when I see one. If it’s common sense, everyone ought to see it. Vote on it, pass it and move on.
The world doesn’t work that way — at least not the world of politics. If your skin isn’t thick enough to take criticism, and you can’t understand that people are often upset about what you stand for, not you personally, than the Statehouse is likely not for you. It’s not for me.
Thanks to Reps. Lehe, Friend, Wolkins and all the rest willing to put their views on the line and let the process take its course. Everyone’s views get heard, whether they make sense or not. Without these people, Indiana in general, and agriculture in particular, would have many more challenges than the state and industry face today.