LANSING — Eight participants this week graduated from Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) inaugural Academy for Political Leadership. A beefed-up expansion of the organization’s long-running Campaign Management Training Workshop, the Academy represents a renewed commitment to MFB’s priority on seeing its members actively involved in the political process.
“Nearly since its inception almost 100 years ago, Farm Bureau has encouraged its members to be politically active,” said Matt Kapp, MFB’s government relations specialist and coordinator of the new program. “We call it ‘participatory’ democracy for a reason.”
The program was designed to equip politically minded Farm Bureau members with the tools they need to get involved in government, represent agriculture and positively influence the legislative process.
Participants were nominated by their county Farm Bureaus, who were asked to root out members regular (farming) members with a political bent and perhaps aspirations for public office. The inaugural graduating class included:
“No question more farmers in the legislature is one of our goals—that’s the bullseye—but this isn’t just about agriculture looking out for itself,” Kapp said. “At their core, farmers are a no-nonsense bunch. They appreciate straightforward, common-sense solutions to problems, and they’re incredibly creative and self-sufficient.
“I think a lot of Michigan residents would like to see more of these qualities in their elected officials, regardless of what walk of life those constituents come from.”
The Academy began in mid-January and stretched across four sessions. A deep roster of guest speakers representing government itself and related institutions provided insights across the political spectrum, from how policy and legislation is developed to the inner workings of polling, campaign financing, election law, lobbying, how to orchestrate a campaign and what it takes to balance a municipal budget.
“This has been a great opportunity to learn about how to run a campaign, gain a better understanding of the workings of government on both the state and federal level, and how to be an effective legislator,” said Jerry Neyer, who runs a dairy farm near Mount Pleasant. “The people who have been drawn to it—my classmates—have been great to learn from as well. They bring an experience that’s as important as the material we’ve covered.”
Other topics covered many of the practical skills that come in handy for prospective politicos: public speaking, conflict resolution, etiquette, fund-raising, parliamentary procedure, social media and interviewing skills.
The third session took participants to the nation’s capital in concert with MFB’s Washington Legislative Seminar, and included a tour of the American Farm Bureau Federation headquarters, a visit to the Canadian embassy and meetings with several Capitol Hill insiders.
Along the way, the necessity for farm-friendly legislators and an engaged, insightful agricultural lobby was driven home by both Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski and AFBF President Zippy Duval.