Column: Putting partisanship aside to deliver for North Dakota
Way back in the fall of 2011, I was getting ready to make a big decision. After 12 years of private life, I was trying to figure out how I could best serve the state I love. As I traveled North Dakota, I kept hearing the same thing. Folks were frustrated that politicians in Washington, D.C., couldn’t work together to move our country forward.
This was a particular concern for our hardworking farmers and ranchers. They weren’t asking for much. These are men and women who put close to $1 million dollars into the ground each year, with the hopes of simply making a decent income to provide for their families. All they wanted was some certainty out of Washington so they could make plans, borrow money from the bank, and get on with what they are really good at — feeding the world.However, folks in Congress didn’t seem to understand how important agriculture is — which supports 25 percent of North Dakota’s jobs — and couldn’t get a farm bill done. The inability of members to work together in a bipartisan way and to compromise for the common good was my tipping point. It is why I decided to seek this office, and why, since becoming a U.S. senator, my top priority has been to craft a farm bill that works for North Dakotans and get it signed into law. While I was proud this week to achieve this goal, that is not why I’m so satisfied. I am proud because we were able to work in a bipartisan fashion to give our farmers and ranchers the certainty they deserve and North Dakota’s biggest economic driver the stability it needs.This farm bill is a victory for our state on many levels. First, we were able to modernize crop insurance — North Dakota farmers’ top priority — in a way that makes sure they can survive in difficult times. Additionally, we were able to create a farm program that provides support for growers when they need it the most. We also invested in a permanent livestock disaster program so that our ranchers — who produce food enjoyed by millions around the world — are not forced out of business by disastrous events beyond their control, such as the severe snow storm that hit the Dakotas last October. All of these steps taken in the farm bill put our farmers and ranchers in a position to tackle the risks associated with production agriculture, so they can continue to provide the lowest cost, highest-quality food in the history of the world.The law is not just a boost for agriculture producers in our state. It also makes critical investments in so many other crucial parts of North Dakota’s economy. For example, we made a historic biofuels investments, which will help support North Dakota’s already booming ethanol industry. And we pushed to include support for: farmers who have lost land to the flood waters of Devil Lake; help to control flooding in the Red River Valley; and crucial research at institutions like North Dakota State University.As I spent countless hours working to convince other senators — particularly those from states who don’t have much farm activity — about the importance of a farm bill, I explained why it is not just good for North Dakota, but for the entire country. One of my top goals was to craft a bill that reduces our deficit. I am proud to say that by reforming antiquated farm policy we will reduce the deficit by more than $23 billion. At the same time, the farm bill will support 16 million jobs across the nation.With the farm bill, we worked together, Republicans and Democrats, to move our country forward. I will continue to take this approach to debates on the many other issues we are facing. That is what North Dakotans want, and that is why I wanted this job.(Heitkamp is one of two senators representing North Dakota in Washington, D.C.)