Farm Bureau leaders from across the state gathered to discuss policy for agriculture and rural Oklahoma during the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legislative Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City March 6-7.
The two-day conference gave Farm Bureau members an opportunity to learn about statewide policy issues and visit with state leaders and legislators.
Nine individuals named OKFB Champions were honored during a reception with Farm Bureau members and more than 40 other state leaders and legislators. OKFB Champion Award recipients included former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz, House Speaker Charles McCall, House Speaker Pro Tem Harold Wright, Sen. Don Barrington, Sen. A.J. Griffin, Sen. James Leewright, Sen. Bryce Marlatt and Rep. Casey Murdock.
County Farm Bureau members received an update on the state of the organization from OKFB President Tom Buchanan and Executive Director Monica Wilke, who both highlighted Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co.’s continued success including its recent credit rating boost. Both Wilke and Buchanan shared the organization’s continued commitment to serving as the voice of agriculture and rural Oklahoma at 23rd and Lincoln.
Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, a potential candidate in Oklahoma’s 2018 gubernatorial race, shared his vision for Oklahoma with OKFB members. A proponent of small business, Lamb recently resigned from Gov. Mary Fallin’s Cabinet due to her plan to raise taxes.
“To have a thriving, growing state, you must have a thriving, growing 77-county economy,” Lamb said, speaking to the importance of preserving and improving rural Oklahoma.
Lamb also said he supports communities collaborating to prepare for future water needs.
“I’m pro-water,” Lamb said, responding to a question about moving and selling Oklahoma water.
House Speaker Charles McCall gave an update from the Oklahoma Legislature, calling the state budget the biggest priority at the state Capitol this year.
Representing a rural seat, McCall said policy at the state Capitol must promote rural Oklahoma, not only urban Oklahoma.
“Our state’s biggest industries are energy, agriculture and tourism,” McCall said. “We need agriculture to have a good 2017.”
With Oklahoma public education policy currently debated statewide, Farm Bureau members also heard from key statewide leaders in education. State Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told Farm Bureau members about the work of the State Department of Education, including a new system of accountability for public schools.
“For Oklahoma to flourish, education must flourish,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister also emphasized the importance of the home and family, referencing the vast number of Oklahoma students with single parents or incarcerated parents.
“We must continue to invest our finances and our time in Oklahoma education,” she said.
Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis spoke about the impacts of cuts to higher education by the state legislature.
OSU tuition increased an average of 2.2 percent per year over the past 10 years, but Hargis said it rose 7 percent this year due to a 16 percent cut in state funding.
“Our work at Oklahoma State is critical to Oklahoma and critical to agriculture,” Hargis said.
Dr. Thomas Coon, vice president and dean of OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, discussed the role of his division in serving Oklahomans through education, research and extension.
Highlighting last year’s budget cuts to higher education, Coon said DASNR’s budget has decreased by $10 million during his three-year tenure. With cooperative extension agents a priority issue for OKFB, Coon asked the members to share OSU DASNR’s impact on their livelihoods–whether through education, research or cooperative extension–with state representatives and senators.
Donelle Harder, former communications director for Sen. Jim Inhofe, taught members the importance of utilizing social media to influence state and federal lawmakers, policy makers, journalists and thought leaders. Members were encouraged to utilize Twitter and Facebook to engage in policy discussions.
Farm Bureau members ended the conference with a visit to the state Capitol and a dedication ceremony of the OKFB 75th Anniversary Commemorative Courtyard.