Zinke, Perdue break with tradition — and listen

“They just didn’t have an agenda. They truly wanted to listen to us,” said Aberdeen, Idaho, potato farmer Ritchey Toevs. “It was a pro-producer meeting. It was a completely different experience than I’ve ever had.”

Published on June 15, 2017 8:10AM

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speak about farm and natural resource issues June 2 at Boise State University. Earlier that day, the secretaries met privately with Idaho farmers and ranchers — and listened.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speak about farm and natural resource issues June 2 at Boise State University. Earlier that day, the secretaries met privately with Idaho farmers and ranchers — and listened.

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Farmers and ranchers throughout the West are accustomed to periodic visits from cabinet officials from Washington, D.C. These tours have been standard operating procedure for administrations of both parties since before the New Deal.

So it wasn’t surprising when Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Idaho together June 2.

Bigwigs from Washington always come to town for a reason, usually to deliver the administration’s talking points as they relate to a particular audience.

And Perdue and Zinke followed tradition. They came to Boise State University to vow that their two departments will partner closely with states and communities on land management and other issues.

“We’re here to make that commitment to you today,” Perdue said. “We’re (here) talking direct, eyeball-to-eyeball. We’re going to make a (change) in the way we do business.”

Of course they are. Everyone, Democrats and Republicans, promises big changes, something new and better. For eight years Tom Vilsack, an affable Iowan who served as President Obama’s ag secretary, brought the administration’s message of hope and change as it applied to rural issues.

You don’t fly 2,500 miles to tell a crowd that nothing is going to change.

No surprises here.

We’d be willing to write it off as business as usual, a harmless, fairly upbeat encounter that carried with it no real expectations. But, they also did something a little different, something they’re still talking about in Idaho.

In a closed-door meeting with 10 producers before the Boise State event, Perdue and Zinke didn’t make speeches. They listened.

“They just didn’t have an agenda. They truly wanted to listen to us,” said Aberdeen potato farmer Ritchey Toevs. “It was a pro-producer meeting. It was a completely different experience than I’ve ever had.”

It’s not just the farmers and ranchers who are talking. Gov. Butch Otter, a seasoned political hand who has attended these kinds of events for years, was surprised.

“They sat there for a solid hour and listened to 10 different producers,” Otter told the Capital Press. “In every case, both the secretaries ended up with one question — ‘What can we do to help you?’ That’s refreshing.”

Indeed. It will be even more refreshing if they deliver.



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