by Pete Hanebutt, NDFB Public Policy Director
My life in public policy started well over 30 years ago when I was the legislative staffer for one of the caucus leaders in the Indiana House of Representatives. I had been involved in politics and public policy previously, but not as a paid professional, and this job really opened doors for me, setting me on the path to my NDFB life. After working for the legislature, I got in the door at Indiana Farm Bureau, and after 20 years there, I came to North Dakota to work for NDFB. Working for the caucus chair in Indiana taught me many valuable lessons which I still use today, particularly in Bismarck. One of the most basic lessons was that in many cases, the politics is not too far from the policy.
People who are not around the mechanisms of public policy believe the politics are always a part of the policy, and this is certainly not true. Unfortunately, there are those who consider themselves to be “political insiders” who often make the same mistake. In my 30 years of public policy experience, I’ve come to know most public officials are truly trying to do the right thing, do the best job possible, and be responsive to their voters. We often don’t agree with the political ideologies and philosophies which direct some public officials to make certain decisions, but it doesn’t mean they are corrupted by the politics, they simply have a perspective which is completely different from our point of view. I may perceive a certain public official as awful because their views differ substantially from my core principles, which are based on my religious beliefs. Here is where the politics and the potential policies collide, and it’s also why elections are very important. If we want public officials who we believe are good we need to elect people who share our basic principles, and then will use those core beliefs to direct their decisions.
We often hear elections are about getting out the vote – this is only partially true. It’s not about getting the vote out, it’s about getting the RIGHT vote out. We want voters who will elect people we philosophically agree with, and then keep those elected officials focused on what their voters elected them to do within public policy. I’m sure there are voters who think highly of Nancy Pelosi. These are not people who would go to my church, and we may not agree on any issues. But if I want to change national public policy, all I can focus on is electing a member of Congress who won’t vote with Nancy. It’s the same at the Statehouse level; I try to help elect people who will agree with my beliefs. This is overwhelmingly true at the local level. Don’t vote for school board members, commissioners, judges, or anyone who differs substantially from your beliefs. And work to get those who agree with you elected. The worst thing you could do would be to sit on the sidelines, and not vote.
Within the world of public policy, the lines can get muddied and intertwined. Sometimes, we disagree with what some public officials do once they are elected, and sometimes it can be very frustrating. Unless we choose to contribute money to candidates outside of our home areas, for most of us, all we can do is impact those elections where we each have an opportunity to vote and make a difference. Politics and public policy, have both been a big part of my professional career, and they’re certainly a part of my NDFB Life.