As he moves machinery in the waning minutes before U.S. Representative Angie Craig visits his farm, Brad Hovel makes one last phone call—to Minnesota Soybean Growers Association staff who will be joining him shortly on the farm.
Hovel apologizes for the last-second call, but wants MSGA staffers to understand the significance of the Democratic congresswoman’s presence. He explains rain has prevented him from properly mowing the yard and asks to refrain from taking photos of Rep. Craig with dandelions in the background before getting serious.
“People have mixed feeling about Rep. Craig around here,” he explains.
For Hovel, his personal political leaning needs to be tucked away in his back pocket. As a director for MSGA representing Goodhue County, Hovel understands when meeting with legislators, he represents the non-partisan MSGA board.
“You have to be able to communicate both ways,” he says. “When it comes to representing my fellow farmers, I have no idea how they voted or how they lean politically. How they lean doesn’t matter because how they vote has no bearing on my position on the board. We advocate for all soybean farmers, regardless of political affiliation.”
Rep. Craig was the first Minnesota legislator to sponsor HR 2089, better known as the Biodiesel Tax Credit Extension Act of 2019. The biodiesel tax credit has long been a bane of the industry, with many biodiesel supporters repeatedly advocating for its extension, which Congress continually allows to lapse before passing it retroactively, leading to instability in the industry.
Introduced in April, Rep. Craig was the only Minnesotan in the House to show early support for the measure, though in years past Rep. Tom Emmer (R) and Rep. Colin Peterson (D) have supported the credit.
MSGA began a targeted campaign, with directors writing letters to the editor of papers within Minnesota legislative districts heavy in agriculture. Hovel thanked Craig in his letter, but Rep. Emmer, Rep. Peterson and Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a freshman Republican from Minnesota’s First Congressional District, saw letters criticizing their lack of support for the credit.
“Sometimes advocacy stings,” says MSGA President Michael Petefish. “We certainly could have stood by as the representative for Minnesota’s First District, which is home to the two largest biodiesel plants in the state, stood silent.”
But staying silent was not an option, Petefish admits. He penned his own letter criticizing Rep. Hagedorn. While he laments the use of the term “lip service,” he also realizes harsh, direct words can capture a legislator’s attention.
“Our message reached his office, and it opened up a dialogue,” he says. “In the end, Rep. Hagedorn signed on as a sponsor, and we thanked him privately and publicly through the same media channels. We take pride in being a non-partisan organization.”
The greater good
Hovel spends a lot of time on the road hauling hogs. As such, he enjoys countless hours of what he describes as “his time to think.” He also spends a lot of time listening to talk radio, shifting between Fox, CNN, CNBC and local radio. If he’s closer to home, he prefers tuning into KFAN’s Dan Barreiro, whose drive-time sports show often veers into political territory. One thing Hovel thinks a lot about is how polarized politics have become in the media and in his community.
“In day-to-day life there are aspects of both political parties that are good for the country, but we can’t stop to concentrate on that very fact because of the extreme voices of the left and right,” he says. “And that’s what really sucks — politics have become so divided that a person in the middle no longer has a voice.”
For Hovel, hosting Rep. Craig was divisive, not necessarily because she hasn’t been supportive of farmers – early returns show she has been throwing her support behind legislation aimed at helping farmers – but because she is a Democrat, and by her contention, a moderate one at that. In southeastern Minnesota, where there is a strong mix of conservative and liberal voices, even the self-proclaimed moderate can struggle to find common ground.
“I was protested at a town hall in Northfield,” Rep. Craig tells Hovel as they walk the pasture to visit his cows. Asked if there was a strong Republican contingent at the event, she chuckled. “I was protested by the left for not being left enough, she says.”
Therein lies the problem, Hovel says.
“Regardless of what party you follow or what party you voted for, you have to work with the party in power if we are to accomplish anything in D.C.,” he says. “You don’t go off and pout if your candidate loses.”
Regardless of future visits, Hovel applauded Rep. Craig for taking time out on a Saturday to come and visit his family’s farm, even if it took him away from planting duties. It’s not every day a Minnesota farmer can crack a beer with a federal legislator.
“We need to have give-and-take from both sides,” he says. “Stuff has gotten so polarized, that it has reached a ridiculous level. It’s refreshing to have Rep. Craig come out to the farm. If there is one thing that has happened the last three years that didn’t happen the last eight years, it’s that agriculture and farmers are being talked about, and people are starting to take notice.”