The recently concluded elections were a tidal wave of emotion expressed by the American Voter. It was a statement of dissatisfaction and it affected both major political parties. This same sense of unrest can--and may--affect local cooperative board elections in the coming years if we don't glean anything from these results. We may very well be doomed to repeat history. But it doesn't have to be that way.
At the regional meetings this fall, we had an opportunity to examine our political strength, its source, and to determine if this strength was growing or possibly waning.
In order to ensure that our political strength continues to grow, we must examine the answers to two very critical inquiries.
First, are we as strong--politically speaking--as we use to be? But more importantly, are we as strong as we need to be, going forward?
These two questions strike at the core of our political survival. They aren't meant to be read quickly or left unanswered. It may be worth a minute to read them again before moving on.
For this political exercise, consider the analogy of building a home, and our foundation is our traditional political strength.
The Way We Were: Cooperative & National Interests Aligned
What gave us our initial strength when your cooperative was formed in the 1930s, when there were many political factors in play and we needed political strength to get the cooperative started? The source of that strength was individuals: farmers, ranchers and anyone without electricity. They were the organizers and they initiated the process. The goal--electric power--was simple to understand. Their method--create a cooperative-was practical and everyone supported it.
Their results--poles in the ground and wires overhead--were grand achievements.
Politically speaking, access to safe power, its reliability and affordability became important issues to any legislator who served a rural district. In that day and age, if the countryside was going to be electrified, if your rural towns and villages, ranchers and family farmers were to receive the benefits of electric power, legislators knew it would only happen because the people made it happen.
Moreover, legislators knew the hardships of life without power, and they understood what the possibilities were for the rural family with power.
The frustration felt by so many in those days, along with the affinity legislators had for rural America, is found in this quote of Sam Rayburn, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives:
"... we waited for half a century for the power companies to electrify the farm and rural homes of this country, after all of that time; fewer than 3% had the comfort and conveniences of rural electrification."
Once your public power districts (PPDs) and cooperatives strung the wires, it was an unparalleled success. Those present for that first light never forgot it. Or who brought it.
Over time, your cooperative grew, and became more sophisticated.
Together with other co-ops, many worked with the Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs), others formed generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts), and we met the one main challenge before us: the growing power needs of the membership, local communities and our nation's rural economy.
All in all, in this era, legislator and constituent were cut from the same cloth. There were no misunderstandings about the purpose and goal of the local electric cooperative to bring power to rural America.
In a grander sense, everyone understood the cooperative mission. America was, at that time, predominately rural, and rural legislators held sway in Congress.
Today, however, things have changed, and there are trends that threaten the foundation of our existence.
Today's Political Climate: The Rise of the Urban Tide
Fast forward eighty years to...