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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Farm Bureau members influence Legislature

Thursday, March 3, 2005

They don't wear three-piece suits. They don't address people by formal titles. They don't share their life stories. They don't try to make themselves heard over a crowd of lobbyists.

But what David Schopmeyer and Jack Knust make sure they do each time they take a trip to the Statehouse on behalf of Clay County Farm Bureau is call legislators by their first names.

"You'll get more done if they know you by your first name," said Knust, Clay County Farm Bureau President. "In my own mind, I think we can get more accomplished by personally knowing them."

While some concerned citizens prefer to make phone calls or send e-mails, Schopmeyer, the Clay County Farm Bureau Legislative Liaison Person, said he believes speaking with legislators in person makes a greater impact.

"I really believe we're doing the right thing by going there," he said. "There's nothing like face-to-face, one-on-one contact."

"Go up there and be courteous to them, state your case and move on," Knust added. "They don't want to hear your life story."

As local Farm Bureau members, the two men visit the statehouse about three times per legislative session, and speak to lawmakers on behalf of the 2,100 Clay County members. While the organization's name implies a close association with farming, Schopmeyer and Knust explained it was formed for the purpose of improving net income and quality of life in rural America. And as the popularity of fresh produce, herbs, quality meats and dairy products increases and consumers become more interested in where their food comes from, the national group has a greater effect on the average city dweller.

"We have issues that include towns. We try to help everyone, and we're very interested in our youth," Knust said. "That is what our goal is."

"It's not just farms anymore. We're reaching into urban areas," Schopmeyer added.

The two men research issues and proposed bills that are likely to have an impact on county residents, and take their concerns directly to legislators at the statehouse. They make sure to go on days when they know politicians aren't being inundated by a flood of other lobbyists and citizens, and often invite them to enjoy an informal lunch.

During their recent trip, Schopmeyer and Knust also invited local legislators Sen. Richard Bray (R-37), Sen. John Waterman (R-39), Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-43), Rep. Andrew Thomas (R-44) and Rep. Vern Tincher (D-46) to take part in a Clay County Cracker Barrel meeting scheduled for March. Clay County Farm Bureau and the Clay County Chamber of Commerce work together to sponsor the public meetings, providing a forum for state-level politicians and local residents to exchange ideas. Coordinating the schedules of all five politicians, who also have obligations in other areas, is often a challenge.

"If you're really interested, come prepared to listen to them," Knust said. "Everyone should be interested in the legislature."

The February Cracker Barrel meeting at the Brazil YMCA created a dialog between legislators and citizens that lasted well past the event's scheduled cut-off time. The March meeting, set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 19 at the Cory Fire Station, will include discussion of the certified food handler bill, property tax penalty bill, speed limit bill and any other concerns raised by citizens or politicians.

While Knust and Schopmeyer work through Farm Bureau to make legislators more accessible to local residents, the two men are also working to establish a state-level department of agriculture. Indiana is one of five states lacking an agriculture department.

"Farm Bureau is well-represented in our legislature. We're a small minority, but we're one of the more vocal agencies," Knust said. "We represent a lot of different interests in the state."

Schopmeyer agreed and added, "We're small in number but great in assets."

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