Rural lawmakers struggle to make themselves heard

February 23, 2014 • Business

In this 2010 photo provided by the Sonnenberg family, Colorado State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) sits on a tractor on his ranch near Sterling, Colo. Sonnenberg, a rancher who’s the only farmer in the Colorado House, plans to push a radical idea this session: give each of his state’s 64 counties one House seat apiece instead of electing representatives from districts with equal populations. (AP Photo/Sonnenberg Family)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — They’re an endangered species in many state legislatures as more Americans move to urban centers or suburban cities: the rural lawmaker who knows what it’s like to care for a herd, plant a crop or drive on gravel roads.

Indiana Rep. Bill Friend, a pork producer, said it’s challenging to explain modern farming to colleagues who no longer have personal connections with agriculture. He calls it an annual educational project, as he knows of only one other state legislator who makes his living primarily from farming.

“They’re one, two, three generations removed from food production and agriculture. It’s kind of a foreign topic to them,” said Friend, the Republican majority floor leader in the Indiana House.

Lawmakers and political experts say the dwindling numbers of farmers, ranchers and others who make their living off the land affects not just agricultural policy but other rural concerns — highways, health care, schools and high-speed Internet access. Urban and suburban Login to read more

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