The worrisome wonders of Washington
Traveling is fun, but it’s good to be home!
Earlier this month, I attended the annual Young Cattlemen’s Conference (YCC) as the lone media representative. It was an experience of a lifetime! Meeting young (or young at heart) producers from around the country and hearing about the pressing issues in their states was eyeopening, and simply meeting so many new people was a treat.
On YCC, we toured a large processing facility and a plant that makes burger patties for Mc- Donald’s; old news for some, but exciting, fascinating firsts for me. We visited a large feed mill and its adjoining feedlot. We learned about innovations in beef cuts, packaging, and marketing research. We got to see the numbers-lined walls of the CME trading pits, which was very exciting to me, considering my obsession with data. And finally, we visited Capitol Hill to share the stories and concerns of cattle producers with our elected officials…or rather, their staffers.
Since returning from YCC, I’ve had time to reflect on the experience. One of the most lasting— and to me, terrifying—things I learned is that DC is a town of Millennials and their decisions.
Now, being a Millennial myself—someone born between 1980-2000—I take great pride in the moniker (possibly because of my love of science fiction) and of my generation as a whole. We have a lot to offer the country and are poised to shake things up. It could be my youthful idealism, but I tend to think we’re shaking things up for the better in most areas.
That said, while in Washington on YCC, I was both told, and then saw it for myself, that the just-out-of-college congressional staffers are the ones who effectively make the decisions. Yeah, the senators and the representatives get the elections and the money and the name recognition, and when they commit a gaffe it comes down around their ears, but it is their herd of 20-somethings that largely direct their votes.
The staffers are the ones who (theoretically) research the topics and (theoretically) read the bills on which the Congress members eventually vote. They then advise their bosses and, according to our YCC prep work prior to going to the Hill, the members of Congress overwhelmingly act on their staffers’ recommendations.
That terrifies me. We Millennials as a generation may have a lot to offer the country, but almost by definition, we lack a lot of life experience. Our youthful energy and eagerness to passionately throw ourselves into what we believe in cannot eclipse the fact we have not amassed as much life-learned knowledge, from which wisdom is born, as the older generations have.
When my group from Colorado met with the staffers of four of our state’s elected officials, we saw a host of different levels of knowledge. In two of the offices we met with, the ag staffers were aware of the concerns of Colorado ranchers, but wanted details on how specific legislation will affect producers “on the ground.” The staffers at another office knew our issues the way an opposing team knows our home team’s favorite plays.
And finally, the ag staffer at another office was completely new to almost every concern we discussed. To her immense credit, she was eager to learn more and stated strong interest to come visit some operations to learn in a more hands-on way. But the fact remains some of the broadest-brush concerns to Colorado ranchers were news to her, and she advises one of the state’s congressmen on such matters.
So, Millennials matter. Beef researchers have been saying this for years from the marketing perspective, but so too do Millennials matter from the perspective of the decisions in Washington. When you contact your representative or senator, make time to talk to the staffers too. They are young and passionate, but also in need of—and eager for!—genuine knowledge from those who have lived it. They will be better for it, you will be better for it, and we can hope that future legislation will be better for it. — KERRY HALLADAY