Democracy School #1

Advocacy has long been part of Friends of Family Farmer’s mission and this includes suggesting, encouraging and, at times, urging FoFF members to engage in the democratic process. This year, in light of COVID-19, we’re providing a series of Democracy School emails which will cover the legislative process, federal vs. state governments, how to find your legislators, important voting dates, and other timely topics. We hope this series encourages you to VOTE

This initial blogpost will give a brief overview of the difference between federal and state governments, as well as the legislative process in Oregon. Many FoFF members are already well-steeped in democracy, but others are just coming to the democratic process, so we are starting with the basics. 

The federal government is made up of three branches–legislative (the Congress, itself made up of two entities: the House of Representatives and the Senate), executive (the President) and judicial (the Federal courts), whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution. Underneath one or more of each branch, there are hundreds of Federal agencies and commissions charged with handling programs, the environment, national security, and so on. Federal elections occur every two years in early November in which every member of the House of Representatives and about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection. Oregon’s Congressional delegation is made up of our two U.S. Senators and five U.S. Representatives (also known as Congressmen & Congresswomen). FoFF only weighs in on national policy if it is something that directly affects Oregon farmers, such as the Farm Bill.

Under the U.S. Constitution’s Tenth Amendment, all powers not granted to the Federal Government are reserved for the States, and therefore, states have broad powers to make laws that apply within state boundaries, covering such topics as health, safety, and welfare laws. Like the U.S. as a whole, Oregon also has three branches of government–the executive, legislative and judicial. FoFF primarily engages with the legislative and executive branches. The executive branch, headed by the governor, is tasked with supervising the state budget, overseeing the activities of state agencies, boards and commissions, and also managing federal-state interaction. Our legislature includes the House of Representatives, with 60 members (State Representatives, or Reps) serving two-year terms, and the Senate, with 30 members (State Senators) serving four-year terms. In the year 2000, Oregon became the nation’s first all vote-by-mail state, which has routinely led to increased voter turnout.

A term that you might have heard of in the context of the Oregon legislature is quorum. Quorum is the number of members required to be present before business can be transacted in the House, Senate, or a committee. A quorum in the House is forty out of sixty members, and in the Senate quorum is twenty out of thirty members.

For an explanation of the legislative process on the federal level, this series of videos gives a good overview. To learn about how ideas become law in Oregon, go here.

For a larger image, go here.

FoFF regularly brings ideas to the legislature, often at the behest of FoFF’s members, or based on issues that arise during our biennial listening sessions. (This year we had to cancel our statewide tour and relied instead on our online survey, the results of which you can read here.) Our work is to see that our good ideas turn into legislative concepts that ultimately create or amend laws, or help clarify existing law or authority. This is one way we elevate the voice of small family farmers.

FoFF’s legislative efforts are strengthened when FoFF supporters – throughout the state – flex their democratic muscles and help us move legislation through the process.

One of the many ways you can help us move legislation is by providing public testimony when asked. This can be daunting for some, and FoFF is always available to help our farmers and eaters engage when needed. For information on giving public testimony, see these helpful tips from the Oregon State Legislature. More general and helpful details can be found on this page, further demystifying the process. 

Of note, in 1902, the concepts of initiative and referendum were introduced in Oregon, wherein voters are able to initiate and vote upon statutes or constitutional revisions. In 1908, the system of recall was added, under which the removal of elected officials can be initiated by the voters.

DISCLAIMER: FoFF is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Contributions are tax-deductible. FoFF does not support or oppose candidates for public office. These resources are shown for educational purposes only.