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Stenzel addresses United Fresh members on the elections

by Tom Stenzel | November 03, 2010
(Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, sent the following remarks to association members following the mid-term elections Tuesday, Nov. 2.)

On Tuesday, Americans exercised one of our most cherished rights by participating in free, fair and open elections of our nation's congressional and state leaders. And what an election it was. With a net change of 60 more Republicans in the House of Representatives, and at least six in the Senate, we're going to see a very different Congress-- and relationship with the president -- for the next two years.

I know some are talking about more gridlock, but I am a bit more optimistic. I think the vote shows that most Americans felt that the president and congressional Democrats overplayed their mandate from 2008. That was an exhilarating election in which many people took huge pride in the first African-American elected president. But not everyone bought into the policies and government intervention that "one-party rule" unveiled in the past two years. Yes, Republicans became the party of "no," mostly to slow things down.

But now with more balanced government, I sense a real possibility of more civil debate on the major issues facing our country, and maybe even a bit of cooperation to get things done. No question, we have a very polarized Congress that views the role of government very differently. But the debate of contrasting ideas is really the hallmark of American government; the Founding Fathers didn't always agree either. I personally believe voters reacted to being told what to do in a "top-down, we know better than you" way. Some of that was perception, and some reality. But it doesn't sit well with most of us.

Having differing views is not what creates gridlock. It's the unwillingness to debate those views and have real votes to see who wins. Let's hope debate comes back to Congress and we have a roaring contest of views on solutions to our challenges. I for one would really enjoy a real debate on the House or Senate floor, followed by a vote to see whose vision has carried the day. Enough of the Kabuki theater, where going through the motions replaces doing their real job.

For the produce industry, we will be losing several friends who have been in the trenches fighting for us for many years. Over half the moderate Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee lost their races or are retiring. And 35 House members who supported us as co-sponsors of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill will be going home. Once the dust settles, we'll be thanking these allies personally. Yet this is now an opportunity to cultivate new relationships and carry our industry's message to legislators from rural America to the inner city. We can be united in bringing more fruits and vegetables to kids to fight the obesity crisis. We can be united in working for sound, science-based food safety standards. We can even be united in tackling the challenge of assuring a legal, reliable workforce that harvests and packs the fruits and vegetables we consume every day.

Congratulations to all the candidates who have committed to public service in the next Congress. I'd like to ask every United Fresh member to write to your congressman and senators today. Offer your congratulations, thank them for their service and tell them that you are counting on them. We all have a lot of work to do, so let's get started.