Ideal time to evaluate incumbents, candidates is before session begins

In 2018, all 100 seats in the Indiana House of Representatives and at least 25 of the 50 seats in the Indiana Senate will be up for election on Nov. 6. The candidate filing deadline is Feb. 9, and the open primary election for these seats will take place May 8.

An ideal time to evaluate incumbents and candidates is while Farm Bureau members are working on legislative relationships prior to the 2018 session.  It won’t be long before the ELECT and AgELECT endorsement process will begin. Thinking about the responsiveness of elected officials in advance is a critical part of making endorsements with the goal of implementing Farm Bureau policy.

When there are open seats is a good time for members to consider surfacing new candidates. Candidate surfacing and evaluation are important because, according to Indiana Farm Bureau’s public policy team, these practices help strengthen the influence of INFB’s grassroots.

“If there is an opportunity to elect a candidate who is more in line with INFB priorities, we as an organization must strategically implement political decision-making – not partisan politics, but weighing which candidate will stick with us when the going gets tough,” said Katrina Hall, INFB director of public policy. “Agriculture and rural Indiana have real problems, and we need all the clout possible at all levels of government to make a difference for our membership.”

When evaluating an incumbent’s effectiveness, there are several factors to consider in addition to the official’s availability to INFB members, Hall said. Review how they voted on issues most important to INFB. Check to see if the incumbent’s priorities align with his or her constituents. Other things to consider are bills the incumbent has sponsored or co-sponsored. Just as important, what is it like to work with that person back home?

The process of evaluating a new candidate is similar to that of looking at an incumbent. First, it’s important to see where the candidate stands on key INFB issues. This information can be gathered by talking with the candidate, reading press releases, reviewing campaign literature and the campaign’s website, and attending any town hall discussions featuring the candidate.

Does the candidate have any farming background or contact in the ag community? Is he or she electable based on the demographics in the district and the candidate’s personality? Local INFB members should speak with other voters to get a sense of how they view the candidate.

When there is an open seat in the district, the time is ideal for surfacing a candidate. Take time to review potential candidates’ stance on INFB priorities and assess their strengths and weaknesses. Consider any factors that may make them liabilities. What other groups will support or oppose a potential candidate?

“Surfacing candidates who value agriculture is a great way to build INFB’s political clout,” said Hall. “If they are elected, we will have a built-in relationship with that official.”

For ELECT/AgELECT trustees, all of this information is important.  But all grassroots members need to be doing these assessments and feeding those reactions back to the county Farm Bureau leadership.

Bob White, INFB director of national government relations, puts on a campaign school for candidates at the INFB home office. The two-day course consists of hands-on training in campaign organization and implementation.

The campaign school students receive instruction on messaging, interview skills, budgets and overall strategy. Another session of campaign school will be held Feb. 6 and 7, 2018. Anyone who is interested, or knows someone who is interested, should contact a regional manager or Bob White.