Courting A New Congress

A new Congress could bring new opportunities to work toward bipartisan solutions. That’s the thinking anyway, at least on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. Many say 2007 is the year to get things done because 2008 will be too much of a circus with the looming presidential election.

Seizing this opportunity, the Society of American Florists (SAF) mobilized more than 100 growers, retailers, wholesale florists and allied industry members to visit about 150 congressional offices March 13 in Washington, D.C., during SAF’s 27th Annual Congressional Action Days.

The two issues SAF zeroed in on this year were comprehensive immigration reform, including the AgJOBS bill, and increasing USDA funding for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative from $6.25 million to $8.5 million.

Provisions in AgJOBS include a workable guest worker program, enforcement at the borders, and a way to allow the large number of undocumented workers already in the United States to earn the right to transition to documented status. As we went to press, bipartisan bills were being debated in the House and Senate.

The research initiative is a long-term effort with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Objectives include:

• Contributing to the U.S. agricultural economy and increasing U.S. competitiveness internationally through improved nursery and floral products and production.

• Targeting imported pests and diseases.

• Protecting the environment.

• Enhancing environmental remediation and cleanup efforts.

• Strengthening U.S. rural and suburban economies.

• Maintaining biodiversity through germplasm preservation.

• Enhancing Americans’ quality of life with plants and flowers.

Go Get ‘Em!

Before hitting the Hill, members were trained by a professional lobbyist the day before. During the two-hour session, "How To Make Issues Hit Home With Lawmakers," Brad Fitch shared insider tips on the best way to communicate with members of Congress and their staffs, and had delegations practice their pitches. The day was rounded out by high-profile celebrity speakers. Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, shared his perspective on the current political climate at the kick-off breakfast.

John Kasich, former Ohio Congressman and host of FOX News Channel’s "From The Heartland With John Kasich," spoke at the special dinner meeting for contributors to SAF’s political action committee. Key senators also addressed the group. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) shared his knowledge about health care and the principles of his Healthy Americans Act, which would help to reform small business health care. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) has been a champion of the AgJOBS bill and discussed immigration reform. 

OFA Supports SAF 

OFA, an Association of Floriculture Professionals based in Columbus, sponsored Congressional Action Days again this year. "I’m here for two different perspectives," says OFA Executive Director John Holmes. "As an individual constituent involved in this industry, it’s very important to share our opinions and needs with representative government. A representative government only works if it acts on behalf of our interests.

"Secondly, in my role as executive director of OFA, I’m showing our support and appreciation for SAF’s advocacy and efforts on behalf of floriculture. We financially support SAF and have contributed more than $125,000 to the government relations fund over the years. We also support SAF’s national public relations campaign financially."

From The Growers

Martin Meskers of Oregon Flowers visited with Sen. Wyden. This was his eighth time traveling all the way from Oregon to Congressional Action Days. "I find it’s important to tell our story," he says. Our representatives need to hear from us in a real-life situation and what’s going on. I feel I can make a difference. Our senator spoke at the breakfast. Some issues we’re not always on the same page on but he always listens."

Justin Marotta of Possum Run Greenhouse in Ohio serves on SAF’s board and government relations committee. The research initiative has been a key issue for him because he has been involved with the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center at The Ohio State University, a beneficiary of these funds.

Reflecting on his past participation on the Hill, he says, "I started coming here when we were carrying bunches of flowers and that was lots of fun," Marotta says. "I’ve always been a firm believer that people can make a difference. This is an opportunity to do that. Our representatives have always been good and met with us in person."

California Cut Flower Commission Chair Wilja Happé of Brand Flowers, our cover story subject last month, was glad to be back after eight years. "SAF is doing a fantastic job," she says. "It’s one thing to grow flowers but it is also important to stay in touch with those who make the laws for you. The issue of immigration reform is very close to our hearts in California."

SAF’s 2008 Congressional Action Days is scheduled for March 17 and 18. For more information, visit www.safnow.org.

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