How to Be a Champion for Citrus
This is the last installment of four special features honoring the 2018 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Congressman Tom Rooney of Okeechobee. Special thanks to Arysta LifeScience for sponsoring the Citrus Achievement Award.
What improvements have been made or could be made to the federal crop insurance program when it comes to citrus?
Rooney: Crop insurance is an important safety net for U.S. agriculture. But Florida’s diverse ag industry is incredibly unique. It became clear after Hurricane Irma that the current crop insurance policies don’t work for Florida citrus. The policies are expensive and never seem to pay out a number that will come close to covering a big loss. I know the industry and guys like Mike Sparks, Executive Vice President of Florida Citrus Mutual, are working with USDA and consultants to come up with an insurance product that provides better coverage for Florida citrus going forward. Additionally, the House-passed 2018 Farm Bill requires USDA’s Risk Management Agency to conduct research and development on an insurance policy for citrus producers impacted by tropical storms and hurricanes. The goal is to ensure that our growers are better covered so this kind of federal aid isn’t needed in the future, because I don’t think you’ll see another relief package like this.
What advice do you have for your successor when it comes to representing citrus growers in your district?
Rooney: I often quote Tip O’Neill, 47th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, “All politics is local.” It’s true, and when you represent Florida’s 17th District, you’re representing one of the largest agriculture districts on the entire East Coast. With guys like Dennis Ross (R-FL 15th District) and me leaving, Florida’s citrus growers will need a new champion in Congress. When I first came to Washington, I had all these ideas about what I thought I was going to do in Congress. I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to be a good congressman, I had to fight for the guys who helped elect me to serve them and those mainly were the ag guys. I would say the future representative should focus on how best to influence and prioritize local issues that have a federal nexus.
A lot of that has to do with the types of congressional committees congressmen are assigned to. Each committee oversees a different legislative area. I was able to do a lot for my district as a member of the House Agriculture Committee and later on the prestigious House Appropriations Committee. I focused on figuring out what programs and policies helped Florida and worked on securing small wins in the legislation that fell under those committees’ areas of jurisdiction. Finding those types of committees where you can influence legislation and deliver tangible wins has a real and measurable impact on the local communities in your district. This is how you best serve them.
Is there anything else that you would like to add as we wrap up this Q&A series?
Rooney: It’s a privilege to serve in Congress given to you by your constituents through their vote. Remember, “representatives” are called that for a reason. If they don’t represent you and your interests, find someone that will and help them. Too often, I see people support elected officials just because they’re called congressman or representative, and not because of what they actually do for agriculture.
Don’t be intimidated by a title. Working with people and educating them is fine. But if they know the stakes and know better but still vote against agriculture, get rid of them!
One last thing, thank you. Thank you for being the heart of the state and this country. Thank you for feeding this country. Thank you for holding firm in the face of adversity. But most importantly, thank you for taking the time to make sure I did my job and, in the meantime, being my friend. Keep the faith!