Uncommon Ground: Get Real About Food

On July 23, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

 

Get Real About Food

It’s been five years since Congress passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which was hailed as the biggest food law in decades. The law languishes in federal agencies awaiting implementation.

Sen. Jon Tester previously amended the FSMA to exempt most small American farmers who sell directly to consumers.

President Barack Obama requested over $100 million in funding from Congress to implement the law by next year, but that’s a tall request given the chilly relationship the two bodies of government enjoy.

Policing a global food industry is no small task and will require more federal workers to inspect the massive agribusiness. The U.S. has just over a thousand inspectors for the nearly 400,000 domestic and foreign facilities that supply food. Compare that to the 6,000 meat facilities that each has an inspector.

Needless to say, modernizing the food business is a massive endeavor.

Rep. Ryan Zinke cosponsored a bill that bans the right of states to label GMO foods and preempts state regulation of bioengineered organisms. The bill quickly passed out of committee in route to a U.S. House floor vote.

This month Obama issued an executive order to modernize how bioengineered foods are approved. The White House ordered that three federal agencies work together to update their internal systems of regulations and streamline the effort to assure the safety biotech foods.

Obama’s order will attempt to work on issues like cloned milk and meat products, gene editing, yet put most procedural focus on food crops that have been engineered to tolerate weed killers.

Earlier this year, Michelle Obama announced new food labels in a fight against obesity. The hope is to revamp the nutrition labels featured on the more than 700,000 food products available throughout the nation.

The Center of Disease Control earlier said that obesity in the 2- to 5-year-old age group had fallen over 40 percent. Given that food-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity cost the county over $150 billion annually, there is much more work ahead to promote healthier eating.

The recent bird flu that killed a historic 50 million poultry in a matter of months and drove egg prices through the henhouse roof demonstrated that it’s time the feds act aggressively to protect consumers and the industry.

There is much speculation about how the bird flu rapidly spread from state to state but not many mentioned how most poultry are packed into small confined cages during egg production. No amount of antibiotic-laced feed will cure the overcrowding situation, which also plagues the swine industry.

The last Farm Bill refused to stipulate that California’s state law mandating roomier hen cages was illegal, yet lawsuits from Midwestern states were quick to materialize.

The Farm Bill is headed for the next update in the coming years. Perhaps Congress will smarten-up and stop subsidizing crops that contribute to sickness like tobacco, and put more focus onto healthy eating crops produced by American farmers.

If Congress wants to transform the Farm Bill into a food bill, it must focus on crops, which every reasonable nutritionist says a person should eat more of: vegetables and fruits.

Farmers like myself are still awaiting the same big-weather insurance protection offered to farmers who grow crops like sugar or cotton. Chaotic weather is a real problem that affects the nation’s food supply. With record heat and drought, simply sprouting seeds in hot ground can be problematic.

The next Farm Bill should put some research into organic seed and meat development to cope with the hotter planet, invest in technology like drip irrigation and planters’ paper, and continue the advancements that puts public infrastructure into communities to help move local foods from farm to consumer.

#

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

 

Uncommon Ground: Move On

On July 9, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

 

Move On

The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat advisory last week stating, “be prepared for some of the hottest weather ever recorded in the month of June.” It reached an intense 102 degrees on the farm.

We’ve reorganized some chores to be much earlier and later in the day to avoid the blazing sunshine, which stressed select plants.

Six months into the New Year, the growing season has been anything but predictable. That’s also true for politics, be it in Helena or Washington, D.C.

Gov. Steve Bullock established an impressive working relationship with the Republican-controlled Legislature. Bullock worked with the staunchly conservative Legislature to pass policies, which many thought would not happen anytime soon.

Bullock signed into law an expansion of Medicaid that allows lower wage earners to help purchase single-payer healthcare while using federal money to pay the vast majority of the bills.

Bullock convinced the Legislature to pass the last water compact, helping finalize statewide adjudication of water rights. Judging by the record drought that is crippling agriculture in places like California, a water war is brewing and states that adjudicated water rights will fare much better.

Bullock also signed into law a bill to require more transparency for election spending, ending dark money for state elections. The law is a direct reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that said some could spend unlimited amounts of undisclosed money to sway voters.

Those were impressive policy advancements that people across Montana call progress. Couple those achievements with Bullock’s fiscal frugality and record job creation makes him a consequential leader.

In a surprise to many, the Supreme Court moved some progress of its own.

Last week the court said that people could keep the tax breaks that the Affordable Care Act put in play over five years ago, which make health insurance accessible to thousands of people across our county and state.

President Barack Obama said after the ruling, “This week, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law; after a Presidential election base in part on preserving or repealing this law; after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, we can now say this for certain: the Affordable Care Act still stands, it is working, and is here to stay.”

The next day after the court ruled on health care it rendered one of its most monumental decisions in decades. The court said that same-sex marriage is Constitutionally legal in our 50 United States.

Staunch Republicans won’t have much good to say about this kind of news. In fact it’s hard to find a candidate in the GOP presidential primary that will have anything positive to say about recent issues like marriage and health care. Many want issues like health care and marriage to remain divisive pawns, for politics sake.

Given this kind of affirmative movement it’s easy to see why American voters elected leaders to move the state and nation forward. Voters want trustworthy people like Bullock or Obama at the helm. They serve to backstop plenty of bad bills, but are also willing to collaborate and move us forward.

On many issues, some are stuck living in the past. It’s time to move on and conquer the biggest ecological treat to our way of life, a rapidly changing climate.

Not many political victories are easy to achieve. Many take decades of activism by real people across America. If people want change, continued advocacy is a must.

Many of the social justice issues facing our country are far from fixed. From racism to prisons to brutality on the streets, there is plenty of work ahead. Celebrate now but engage again; we cannot rest upon our laurels if the goal is justice and liberty for all Americans.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

Uncommon Ground: Trade Wars

On June 25, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek


Trade Wars

In a disappointment for eaters across America, the House passed a bill repealing a previous U.S. law mandating that meat imported from other countries contain a label delineating the origin.

Congressman Ryan Zinke voted to repeal country of origin labeling or COOL for imported meat products like cuts of beef, ground pork or beef, and poultry.

Meat labels indicate to consumers in which country the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. With meat processed and imported from all over the world, consumers may soon have no right to know this morsel of food information.

House Speaker John Boehner said that unless Congress repeals our COOL laws, American exporters might be faced with billions in retaliatory tariffs.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said that Canada and Mexico have yet to prove any monetary losses from U.S. meat labeling laws. That’s a forthcoming international dispute process. Supporters of meat labeling contend that over 60 countries have their own versions of COOL.

Referring to the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership international trade agreement being fast-tracked through Congress, President Barak Obama earlier said that no trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.

Zinke voted to give Obama fast-track authorization to negotiate the TPP. Zinke supported a companion customs bill, which prohibits things like climate change initiatives in trade but also adds six additional people to oversee negotiations. On the same day, Zinke opposed the bill to provide aid to any displaced U.S. workers.

We’ll have to see what the U.S. Senate says about repealing U.S. meat labeling laws, but it previously gave fast-track authority to Obama without the House amendments.

Policymakers should focus just as much attention assuring that domestic meats and vegetables find hungry stateside consumers, as they do on the ever-expanding import and export of food.

The last Farm Bill, with its many small grower policy advancements, largely subsidizes those who export food. Policy makers appear eager to ship away to other nations much of the best that America grows and import plenty of meats and vegetables for domestic consumption.

Recently on our farm, we were fortunate to get rain when pea-sized hail pellets hit a mile down the road. I hope our luck holds; it hasn’t every growing season. The great outdoors has been unconventionally turbulent with record-breaking heat.

Temperatures hit 95 degrees and some vegetables simply bolted-to-seed. Every member of Congress working a shift in the field, versus their air-conditioned offices, would say 95 is hot for early June.

Alan Merrill with the Montana Farmers Union said that in wheat country, “you never used to start seeding in April.” Last week the farmers’ organization and the Montana Brewers Association scheduled a forum on changing climate, featuring Sen. Jon Tester and Montana Department of Agriculture director Ron de Yong.

Instead of dealing with big weather issues, Congress routinely chooses the expensive path of paying for select weather disasters like forest fires, crop killing droughts, fierce hailstorms, animal deaths, or rampant flooding.

Congress could help domestic farmers and American consumers by keeping COOL. Trade wars will continue, as countries like Canada move forward with bioengineered products like GMO apples or GMO salmon. There should be no mystery to where people’s food is grown.

Much of what Montana produces is exported with little added value beyond the modest farmer return. It makes little sense to import chicken parts from China if the idea was to help domestic farmers.

If the recent past is any indication of the future, the weather will become more turbulent and federal farm disaster aid will see escalating budgetary increases.

Only Congress is smart enough to subsidize crops like tobacco while subsidizing health insurance coverage. Congress should put more focus on promoting healthy domestic food to hungry Americans.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

Save Seed for Genetic Diversity

With snow melted off the south face of Big Mountain, many locals have planted their home gardens. It’s been a shockingly hot and dry spring with May temperatures in the 80s. Gratefully June brings rain.

On the farm, we’ve been field-testing new spinach. Abundant Bloomsdale is a cross between a cold hearty open-pollinated spinach variety and other disease-resistant ones.

The Organic Seed Alliance worked with numerous farms to develop the open-pollinated seed and judging by our production results, the future heirloom spinach is a huge hit with consumers.

 The variety was developed over the decade and publicly available this year. Growers are encouraged to save seeds and replant offspring to adapt the spinach to local weather. Bulk seed will become available to small growers next year.

The dark green leaves are crunchy and sweet, while the stems are succulent. The heavily savoyed leaves sit on top of sturdy stems. This makes for great looking bunches at the marketplace.

Judging by consumer reaction to these spinach test-plots and that neither the rows in the hoophouse nor the open field were fast to bolt-to-seed in the blazing hot sun, we’ll give this seed another planting for fall or next spring.

In the kitchen I chopped the spinach bunches, stem and all, into eatable pieces and wilted it by pouring a heated sauce of olive oil and apple cider vinegar on top. It tasted great.

During last year’s Farm Bill debate, Sen. Jon Tester introduced an amendment to clarify a proposal from the previous Farm Bill. Tester has long promoted more public research into conventional breeding techniques at places like land grant universities to only better Montana meats and seeds.

Tester’s proposal called for public research on public cultivar development through conventional breeding.

Recently on the documentary TV series VICE, Tester talked about bioengineered plant seeds and how farmers since the beginning of time have always had control of their seed. Tester said patented transgenic seeds offer a different way of doing business for agriculture.

When it comes to most bioengineered crops, farmers cannot save seed. The patented offspring is the intellectual property of the corporation that created the seeds back at the lab.

Even much agricultural research at public universities across the nation is somehow not part of the public domain.

Many conventional farmers traditionally saved their seed and replanted for a new season. On our farm, we have been saving seed garlic for more than two decades. We grow three varieties that have adapted well to the unpredictable growing conditions near the 49th parallel.

Many more families across the Flathead are getting their hands back into the dirt by growing some of their own food. It’s a great and fast-growing local food movement.

Local gardeners looking for seeds for their home beds may want to check out the Good Seed Company in Whitefish. They’ve been growing and sourcing heirloom and organic seeds since the 1980s.

The Good Seed Company promotes untreated, cold hardy, non-GMO and open-pollinated seeds. Robin Kelson wrote on her website, “I am dedicated to revitalizing and rebalancing our soils because I know that rebuilding our soils ability to generate nutrients is essential to putting nutrients back into our food.”

This is our 25th year of growing food in Whitefish and each season I learn more about the importance of seed, soil, wind and water.

Part of our Farm Bill created seven regional climate hubs across the nation to help farmers, who are often on the front lines of climate change, navigate new chaotic weather.

There are far too many big-weather challenges ahead for Montana growers to ignore. Farmers across the nation need more access to public seed research and classical breed development.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

 

Uncommon Ground: Not COOL

On May 28, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

Not COOL

The World Trade Organization recently issued its ruling that said labels stating the country of origin of meat products sold in the U.S. are an unfair trade barrier to places like Canada and Mexico. The WTO, led by a man from Brazil, said that tariffs may now be imposed by other countries onto some American exported goods unless changes occur.

In 2005, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer requested a bill in the Montana Legislature mandating that meat sold in the state but produced in another country must be labeled to indicate the country of origin. The country of origin labeling (COOL) bill overwhelmingly passed the Legislature and was carried by former Rep. Bob Bergren and then state Sen. Jon Tester.

In Congress, Tester supported the federal approach to country of origin labeling of meat, seafood, produce and fruit. COOL became the law as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

For now, the WTO ruling only applies to red meat. Canada led objections at the WTO that included countries like China, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and Guatemala. Apparently many feel it’s unfair for American consumers to know where meat is produced.

WTO cited a 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade update. The updated GATT agreement was under former President Bill Clinton. The agreement with 122 other nations created the WTO.

It’s ironic that a 20-year-old international trade agreement was used to disallow American consumers’ the right to know where food is produced. In a joint statement Canada and Mexico said, “We call on the United States to repeal COOL legislation and comply with its international obligations.”

House Agricultural Committee Chairman Mike Conaway from Texas said that he favors repeal of COOL and moved to pass a bill to fix the ensuing trade war by removing Americans’ right to know where meat is raised.

Time will tell how Congress bows to international trade winds, but food labels have become a thorny political issue. Intrinsically consumers have just as much right to know where their food is grown, as what’s in their food.

Congress is deciding whether to grant President Barack Obama the right to fast track negotiations with Asian countries on a Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. TPP is so far a proposed 12-country regulatory treaty with places like Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Taiwan.

Critics to TPP, like former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the Clinton Administration, have been busy skewering the secret trade negotiations. Reich claims that TPP gives power for multinational corporations to question any U.S. law that they find objectionable before another secret tribunal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Congress would pass the TPP fast-track authorization before Memorial Day. TPP is the latest flashpoint for food. Many critics say that TPP will promote bioengineered foods in countries that ban it or require the labeling of GMO ingredients.

If future international trade settlements before a tribunal on bioengineered food prohibits labels for countries that mandate transparency, like America’s country of origin meat law, many countries would rightly protest.

TPP may trade more Montana wheat or beef to far away places. It may push new growth regulators, already approved on some Canadian wheat but not in the U.S., onto places like Montana. Who knows?

Small farmers who spend decades working the soil often must compete with multinational-agribusiness for a share of the food market. Much produce like tomatoes and chard is grown in far away places like Mexico where the minimum wage is less than $5 per day and environmental laws are lax.

Hopefully Obama learned from past trade agreements and makes time to talk with farmers like Tester. People have a right to know where their food is produced and what’s in it. That seems fair.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2015  www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Food Fight

On May 13, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Food Fight

If political rumors come true, Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke will challenge two-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in the 2018 election. Zinke would likely first have to win reelection next fall and fend off any potential primary election challengers.

Zinke has worked hard in Montana during the recesses to talk with statewide constituents. Two recent policies in Washington indicated that there might be more to these speculative rumors.

During his campaign, Zinke made a big point to say that he supported the framework of the Republican balanced budget. Last fall’s budget framework was similar to the plan Congress agreed upon, yet Zinke recently voted in opposition.

The Republican budget plan calls for $5 trillion in cuts to balance the federal budget over the decade. Benefits in programs like Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps would likely see the bulk of cuts in balancing the federal budget deficit.

Following the vote, Zinke tweeted, “I just voted no on S. Con. Res. 11 –FY2016 Budget. I will not tolerate selling our #publiclands.” In a statement Zinke said, “Repealing ObamaCare and balancing the budget remain on top of my list of priorities, however I will never tolerate our land being sold or transferred.”

Sen. Jon Tester likewise voted against the Republican budget plan and tweeted, “This budget is bad for Montana because it opens the door to the sale of our public lands.”

Sen. Steve Daines voted for the Republican balanced budget plan that passed the Senate with 51 votes.

Another action in Washington that helped frame my attention toward a potential race between these two Montanans was Zinke’s recent co-sponsorship of Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo’s bill to block states from requiring that foods processed from bioengineered organisms be labeled.

States like Vermont have passed laws to mandate labeling of GMO foods. Connecticut and Maine will only enact with other state support. Citizen food movements across the nation have pushed ballot initiatives for mandatory labeling, many nearly passing.

Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont tried to again amend the federal Farm Bill to clarify a state’s right to label food products containing genetically engineered materials. Tester supported the Sanders amendment.

Zinke’s bill ends a state’s right to label food products containing bioengineered organisms. Some of these laboratory gene alterations to patented seeds hold claims to reduce carcinogens when potatoes are fried or slow browning when apples are sliced. Other seeds have genes engineered to allow growing food to tolerate direct applications of weed killers.

Tester is one of a handful of working famers and the only organic farmer in Congress. Tester is an active proponent of small and large farmers across the state and nation.

Tester sided with GMO sugar beet farmers when they nearly lost taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance in the last Farm Bill, yet has been very active on growing lentil, dry pea and chickpea markets.

A decade ago as a state lawmaker, Tester introduced a bill to establish liability for injury caused by the introduction of genetically engineered wheat into Montana. Over the decade, Tester became effective on real food issues.

I’ve talked with Zinke at several Whitefish farmers markets, served with him in past state Legislatures, and worked with him to permanently protect many acres of state public land around town.

I’ve also served with Tester and he’s been to the same markets. I’ve witnessed his base-building leadership style in the state Senate, worked with him to protect those same and more public lands, plus skunked him at cribbage over a beer. He’d likely challenge my memory of that big pegging loss margin.

It’s a long way until the midterms of 2018. Zinke and Tester would be wise to focus on passing policy that helps people, farmers and eaters. The Flathead, Montana, and the nation need leaders who govern.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2015  www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

 

Uncommon Ground: Welcome Home

On April 29, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Welcome Home

The 64th session of the Montana Legislature is over. Our legislators won’t meet again for two years, unless there is a financial emergency that warrants a call by the majority of members or the governor.

Columbia Falls and Kalispell have two new political champions. Freshmen lawmakers Zac Perry and Frank Garner did well and rose above the bitter grandstanding that often envelops politics. They helped pass laws that matter to people.

Perry sponsored the law that allows school districts to lease property for up to 15 years with options to purchase. Perry also sponsored the law that requires better financial reporting of state public lands, which are held in trust for the people.

Garner sponsored the law that revised the duties of the public safety council. Garner also sponsored the law to better distribute revenues to counties that have established drinking and driving prevention programs.

Our lawmakers spent the past four months sequestered in Helena debating policy. Often respectful and sometime cantankerous, lawmakers waded through thousands of bills and passed hundred of laws. Viewed broadly, the 64th did well.

Gov. Steve Bullock worked along side a Republican-controlled Legislature. Together the two branches provided oversight to each other, but got stuff done. That’s great news for people looking for productivity. Bullock, a Democrat, proved adept at working with the Republican Legislature to deliver results.

The Republican Legislature expanded Medicaid in Montana. Thousands of working-poor citizens in the Flathead will soon have access to basic medicine. Montana became the 29th state in the nation to accept millions of federal dollars to help pay for basic healthcare at the doctors or local hospitals.

Democrat Perry and Republican Garner voted to expand Medicaid. They embraced the bipartisan spirit that Flathead voters deserve. These lawmakers set aside ideological differences and found common ground on tough policy decisions.

Perry and Garner also agreed on disclosure for election spending in Montana. They helped pass a law that shines light into the darkest of money spent to influence elections, and required that electronic reporting be done accurately and promptly. Transparency will help to clean up some of the dirty shenanigans that have plagued political campaigns in recent years.

On a matter of great cost to homeowners and small business owners, Perry and Garner agreed. The 64th Legislature proposed to reduce property tax reappraisal cycles from every six years to two years. Perry and Garner opposed reducing reappraisal frequencies.

The 2003 reappraisal cut statewide property taxes by $10 million over the biennium while the 2009 reappraisal increased taxes over $6 million. The 2015 reappraisal will up property taxes by $20 million over two years.

The bulk of the latest tax increase comes from homeowners whose market valuations increased at above the statewide average rate. Homeowner tax valuation increases will be applied onto tax bills six times faster, all in the first year of the new two-year reappraisal versus the traditional six-year incremental valuation increase.

Homeowners whose tax valuation decreased during the Great Recession enjoy tax valuation savings on year one, regardless if the reappraisal frequency is two or six years. But homeowners lose the predictability of having recession reductions frozen for the next six years.

Many of our lawmakers buy into the rhetoric that taxpayers want simple math to explain expensive taxes. What people living in their homes deserve are lower property taxes and predictability into the next decade, not simply the next Legislature.

Columbia Falls and Kalispell citizens should welcome home the new lawmakers they sent to Helena in January. Perry and Garner have a bright future in representing their districts and deserve thanks for their freshman-year performance. The 2017 Legislature is far away, but Perry and Garner can do a lot of good over the interim to serve their communities.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2015  www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

Uncommon Ground: Campaigns Matter

On November 12, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

Campaigns Matter

Big-data pollsters were right: Election Day was a Republican wave. It mimicked the last midterm elections with some remarkable differences. The Montana delegation in the 114th Congress includes former Whitefish state Sen. Ryan Zinke.

Congressman-elect Zinke can serve Montana well. Having served with Zinke in the past state Legislature, I knew him to be quite moderate on many issues of importance.

In the Legislature, Zinke was instrumental in securing funding for Flathead Valley’s state parks. Zinke previously served with me on a nonprofit organization conserving the state public lands around Whitefish.

Zinke indicated that Congress must govern, to enact a plan for the biggest issues facing the nation. In the Flathead, many expect Congress’ ideological hold placed upon North Fork conservation to magically evaporate.

After being bashed by unfathomable amounts of out-of-state political cash and horrid campaign negativity, Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat was handily re-elected.

Wheat won the Flathead vote, and statewide garnered nearly 60 percent of the vote. Wheat took re-election seriously and campaigned the old-fashioned way. Wheat stuck to the issues, refrained from negativity, and talked directly to voters.

After his win, Wheat said, “What people want is real information; they don’t want all this negativity. The real key was, all of my ads were me, personally talking to people.”

Apparently, voters also appreciated the ideological ranking, which the 100,000-piece Stanford University live research mailer held; portraying Wheat as left of center. When it comes to justice, people simply want a fair shake.

The Wheat victory was a great testament to the power of campaigns over the fundamentals of a national midterm election. That’s super news given that in upcoming years, several more justices will seek re-election.

About 220,000 Montanans chose early voting as their means to cast a ballot. Absentee ballot turnout was traditionally high. But overall, 45 percent of registered voters chose not to vote. That hasn’t happened for over a decade.

Early voting was part of the law enacted during the 2005 Legislature that also gave Montanans the right to register on Election Day. Fifty-seven percent of voters rejected the Republican legislative effort to ban same-day voter registration. That sends a clear message to lawmakers who repeatedly try to make it harder to vote.

By less than a 50-vote margin, Columbia Falls’ voters chose substitute teacher Zac Perry to represent the area. Rep-elect Perry ran an excellent campaign that illustrates the changing political nature of the north valley.

Perry, a substitute high school teacher, unwittingly mimicked the campaign approach of Wheat; he spoke directly to voters and refrained from negativity. Perry took back the legislative seat previously held by Democrat Doug Cordier.

Perry’s win sends a signal to Democrats on how to campaign. The 36-year-old Perry joins Rep. Ed Lieser in the 2015 Montana Legislature.

Lieser handily defeated his Republican opponent with 55 percent of the vote. Lieser, a retired forester, has been instrumental on public lands conservation and can serve Whitefish homeowners well during this cycle’s property tax reappraisal.

Lieser garnered more votes than Zinke in downtown Whitefish and Perry did the same in downtown Columbia Falls. Justice Wheat won both downtowns by over 60 percent. All four candidates ran impressive campaigns for their districts.

Especially in the face of national trends and big money political spending, campaigns matter. Lieser, Perry, Wheat and Zinke can do great things for all Montanans. They have each earned the trust of the Flathead and Montana. Given what I personally know about these public servants, I expect great things to come. Do us proud.

Politics is the art of compromise. Too often we have lost this old-fashioned trait to hyper party politics. It’s time to acknowledge that campaigns matter and real people craft real solutions.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Ten Minutes, Six Years

On November 2, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Ten Minutes, Six Years

Tuesday is Election Day. Tuesday’s ballot represents a once in six-year vote on who citizens want as the next Montana U.S. senator and Flathead County commissioner. It’s a two-year vote on races like the U.S. and state House.

Republicans are looking at polls with reassurance that their party may again rule Congress.

Recently, Montana State University Billings released a small sample poll – as it has for past decades. The MSUB poll says Republicans are winning the federal statewide races.

A big obstacle to predicting voter results is voter turnout. When Tester won in 2012, over 72 percent of registered voters in Montana voted. That’s down from the nearly three-quarters of voters who went to the polls four years prior when Barack Obama campaigned in the state.

Tuesday is a midterm election. In the last midterm of 2010, a meager 56 percent of registered voters statewide cast a ballot. That Montana Legislature saw a historic number of vetoes from the governor.

Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer said their policy, “makes some of them look bat-crap crazy.” Former Republican Rep. Walter McNutt told his colleagues to, “quit scaring our constituents and quit letting us look like a bunch of buffoons.”

If many citizens choose not to vote Tuesday, expect some wacky bills to ensue. Bills to cut Medicare, call for state secession, pay in gold bullions, and mandate counseling for women seeking a divorce from a bad situation.

In 2011, more people voted in Whitefish than before. Years later, the slate of younger, more-progressive candidates still serves the municipality well. That’s the point; exercise our right to vote and the next politicians will serve for years.

The conservative MSUB poll held one promising result, opposition to ending Election Day voter registration. Republicans have been trying to repeal this law since Tester won the U.S. Senate race back in 2006, when lines of younger voters waited hours to cast a ballot.

The MSUB poll indicated 56 percent opposed LR-126. A meager 36 percent favored the Legislature’s referendum, or LR-126 on Tuesday’s ballot. Vote no on LR-126 – the policy targets veterans, seniors and renters. Voting should remain easy and secure. It’s wrongheaded to make it harder for some citizens to exercise their right to vote.

Polls indicate that Rep. Amanda Curtis may lose her bid to become the first Montana woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. But what polls are worse at gauging is how many people will vote. Curtis can win if turnout is large like 2004, 2008, 2012, or like 1992 when Bill Clinton carried the state.

But if Tuesday’s turnout is dismal like the last midterm in 2010 or near 2006, expect renewed firebrand politics across the state and nation. Policy like dismantling women’s healthcare or paying employees in gold bullions will be in the news.

There are oddly no western Montana Senate debates. Given Curtis’ impressive televised performance last week in Billings, she secured the votes of plenty of undecided Montanans. The MSUB poll, taken before the debate, held 20 percent undecided. Newer polls will differ.

Voting is easy, takes 10 minutes, and it’s up to a six-year choice. Voters may never again have a choice to send a young high school math teacher to fix the mess left by the boys of the 113th Congress. With enough votes on Tuesday, state Rep. Amanda Curtis will be alongside Sen. Jon Tester in the 114th Congress serving middle-class Montanans.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

Uncommon Ground: Voting Time

On October 15, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

 

Voting Time

Last week, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester helped veterans open the Veterans’ Center at Flathead Valley Community College. The facility helps veterans with benefits and college. Afterwards, Tester was to present the Bronze Star to the family of a World War II veteran.

Tester was at Whitefish City Beach to support Rep. Ed Lieser. Lieser has done a great job at representing the Whitefish area. Lieser, a Vietnam War veteran and a retired forester, said that he would continue as a strong advocate of local jobs, keeping public lands open, clean water, and better access to healthcare.

During the last Montana Legislature, Lieser served in the tax and natural resources committees. In the Legislative interim Lieser has been active on the Environmental Quality Council protecting our public lands.

Lieser is a stout advocate of keeping taxes low and fair, and public lands in public ownership. In the upcoming January session of the Legislature, the bigger issues will be property tax reappraisal and management of public lands. Most trust Lieser to be on the side of reason.

Public Service Commission candidate Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh was also at City Beach with Tester and Lieser. I’ve worked with Hollenbaugh in past Legislatures and found him to be one hard working individual. Hollenbaugh is solutions oriented and has an amazing ability to work with anyone toward better policy.

Hollenbaugh spoke briefly about how the current PSC has spent the past year rubber-stamping rate increases for the power industry. Hollenbaugh said that consumers see a double digit increase in rates thanks to the current PSC.

Hollenbaugh campaigns in a PSC district that includes the Flathead. The current all-Republican, five-member commission has become highly ideological and approved big rate increases onto homeowners and small businesses while snubbing power from small independents that produce cheaper power from wind.

Hollenbaugh is no rubber-stamper. Hollenbaugh is one of the good guys, not politically divisive and known to get things done. That’s good news for anyone looking for real solutions from real people.

Given the shockingly ideological decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, political surrogates can dump unlimited money into Montana to tarnish U.S. Senate candidate and Butte Rep. Amanda Curtis as something she is not.

Tester said that it is frustrating to see political surrogates misrepresenting the reality that the solvency of Medicare has increased 10 years under his watch.

Oddly it doesn’t much matter what candidates say or do in office, some will now twist the record with endless television ads. With millions of dollars of secret money pouring into Montana elections, the only choice left to voters is trust.

While serving in the Legislature, Curtis sponsored nine bills, two of which became law. Curtis sought to use state lottery revenues for scholarships to help students afford college. Curtis worked on energy usage disclosure in state public buildings. Curtis worked to make roads safer. And Curtis worked on a cost of living adjustment for volunteer firefighters.

Curtis sponsored the Hire Montana First Act at the request of Gov. Steve Bullock. The bill provided incentives to hire more Montanans to public works projects and certain construction facilities.

Lieser supported Curtis’ Hire Montana First Act as did Tea Party darling, Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula. All other Flathead House members opposed debate. It’s unfathomable to many voters why some oppose hiring more Montanans for local projects. But in Helena, that’s just politics.

Ballots are now in the hands of many voters. How many voters cast a ballot is the No. 1 decider in outcomes. If young voters, women voters and middle-class voters want reason or change, then cast a vote. Voting is simple and it matters greatly for up to six years to come.

###

-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.