We don’t ask for so much in Illinois agriculture. Not really.
We’d like a budget with appropriations for the things we care about: county fairs, plowed roads, soil conservation, clean water. We’d like enough inspectors for food safety examinations and grain warehousing.
We’d like a Director of Agriculture who understands ag and, even better, who’s actually a farmer. We like honesty. We don’t care for politics. We want to see action and progress. We want promises kept.
And we’d sure like a little hope that ag might get a fair shake in Springfield.
We had all these things in IDOA director and Seneca farmer Philip Nelson, appointed in January. By September, Gov. Rauner demanded Nelson’s resignation. In late November, Rauner named Raymond Poe the new Director of Agriculture.
What do we have now? Poe has served as a state representative for 20 years and has a farming background. He’s made the rounds as Sangamon County Farm Bureau president and by his own admission, respects and admires Philip Nelson.
I got to talk with Director Poe this week and he was candid about the assumption that in the wake of Nelson’s dismissal, Rauner may expect his new director to be a yes man.
“I interviewed down there and I didn’t get that memo,” Poe asserts. “No one told me that’s the way it would be.”
You could argue no one told Nelson it would be that way either. But Poe points to his legislative career and an “independent streak” evidenced by a tendency to vote with his district rather than his party. He also says he won’t come in and make wholesale changes to the department; he plans to continue the programs and initiatives Nelson set in motion.
“I’ve never believed in reinventing the wheel,” Poe says. He plans to lean on longtime IDOA staff Warren Goetsch, who the governor named acting director for the past two months.
Goetsch has served as bureau chief for environmental programs, then became chief of staff under Philip Nelson. Nelson didn’t hire a deputy director. Under Poe, Goetsch has been named deputy director of agriculture. Grant Hammer has been named chief of staff; Hammer is well-connected in state political circles, but it’s unclear whether he was hired by the Governor or by Poe.
Regardless, if you’re keeping track at home, you’ll notice we now have three people doing the jobs that two people used to do. Budget crunch, anyone?
Poe, for his part, is doing his best to learn the job and make the rounds. He says he’s been “amazed” at the number of organizations that want to meet with him. I’m not sure I’d call that amazing – and definitely not surprising. Never in my nearly 20 years of covering Illinois agriculture have I heard greater personal outcry than over the shenanigans at the IDOA this fall. The entire Illinois agriculture community is concerned.
And if my mailbox is any indication, they have a lot to say about what has happened and what will happen at the IDOA. Director Poe says he’ll listen.
“I want to move forward, listen to their ideas and figure how we can make everything better,” he says.
Poe has stepped into a sensitive situation. If he can listen and act - and if he can follow the path Nelson set in trying to accomplish great things for ag despite the political consequences - he’ll earn respect from the ag community.
And really, that’s not so much to ask for either.
Find It Now: Catch up on Illinois Department of Agriculture news