True Grit – Western Oklahoma Style

By Paul Laubach
The day was Thurs., June 20, 2013.
Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee walked over and told Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. that he’d just lost most of his caucuses’ votes with the passage of what he considered a “poison amendment” before the pending final vote on the Farm Bill.
Shortly after that, a majority leadership member walked over and asked Lucas on the House floor what he wanted to do.
Lucas said, “Run the bill!”
Lucas had a good idea of what was fixing to happen, but he chose to proceed.
In a stunning 234-195 vote, Frank Lucas watched the U.S. House of Representatives vote down the legislation he had worked on for more than two years.
As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Lucas was going to have to try something different if he wanted to pass a Farm Bill.
The Congressman dusted off his boots and began to think of ways that he could keep the Farm Bill alive. He knew for certain that quitting was not an option.
Lucas was born in Cheyenne, Okla., to parents T.E. “Ike” and Brilla Aderholt Lucas. He had one younger sister and they grew up together with their dairy farmer parents near Roll, in Roger Mills County.
This fifth-generation western Oklahoma farmer knew at an early age that he loved agriculture. In 1982, he graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in agricultural economics.
Then in 1984, Lucas was working on his family’s farm when a neighbor talked him into running for the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
He lost his first election in a close vote.
Four years later he married Lynda Bradshaw, a good friend of his since high school.
Gov. Henry Bellmon called him that same year and asked him to run for the State House one more time. Lucas ran again and won a seat in the state legislature.
Lucas represented rural western Oklahoma for just over three terms when he decided to run for Congress after 6th district Congressman Glenn English, D-Cordell, decided to step down to lead the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Once in Congress, Lucas immediately became known as a fighter for agriculture and rural Oklahoma causes with his service on the House Agriculture Committee.
His life experience as a boy in Roger Mills County led his convictions.
“I will never forget when a thunderstorm rolled through when I was seven years old,” said Lucas. “It was a really bad hail storm so dad took me out with him to look at his wheat field that night with a flashlight. There was simply nothing left standing.”
Fast forward to 2010 and Lucas would celebrate being re-elected to his ninth term in Congress. Perhaps more importantly, his Republican party had taken back control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Soon Lucas would become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He knew that he would inherit the monumental responsibility of passing a new Farm Bill. What he didn’t know was just how difficult that task would be.
After the failed vote last summer, Lucas quickly realized that his job was going to be much more difficult than he could have ever imagined.
The conservative Republican from Roll charged on.
First, the House stripped the nutrition title from the Farm Bill and decided to pass a bill with only the commodity and conservation titles remaining. This unorthodox idea flew in the face of more than 50 years of congressional tradition of forming a rural and urban coalition to pass a Farm Bill.
Lucas just wanted to keep the process alive.
The Farm Bill was being assaulted by extreme political ideologues from the far right and the far left.
Environmentalists and social welfare supporters were working against the bill from the left.
Billionaire political activists, Charles and David Koch, were working against the Farm Bill from the right, even as the brothers made millions selling fertilizer to the same farmers they opposed.
Lucas pressed on.
Negotiators from the House, led by Lucas, worked out a bi-partisan plan with members of the Senate to reach $28 billion dollars in estimated savings for the new Farm Bill.
$8-billion of those savings would come from the federal nutrition or “food stamp” title of the bill.
Most important to Lucas was that the bill still provide a safety net for both farmers and livestock producers by utilizing a private-public partnership of crop and livestock disaster assistance insurance.
“This was legislation that everyone could be proud of because it did what it was supposed to do,” said Lucas. “We saved taxpayers billions of dollars and at the same time provided a safety net for farmers and ranchers and ensured that the nation’s food and fiber supply would be safe and secure.”
In what Lucas describes as “almost miraculous,” the Farm Bill passed the House with a bipartisan 251-166 vote, and later would pass the Senate by yet another bipartisan 68-32 vote.
There were still plenty of critics of the Farm Bill and a majority of Lucas’s own Oklahoma colleagues voted against the final bill. In a state that was built on the foundation of agriculture and energy, only three Oklahoma congressional members supported the Farm Bill.
Lucas was joined by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, in support of the measure.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa; Rep. James Lankford, R-Edmond; Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, voted against Oklahoma’s farmers, ranchers and Lucas. Lankford is now running for Sen. Coburn’s open seat. His vote against the Farm Bill is an indication to some that he doesn’t need the support of farmers and ranchers.
Lucas declined to comment on the record about how it felt to see his Republican colleagues vote against the bill, but did say that the lack of support by his fellow Oklahoma congressional members was “concerning” to him.
Lucas felt that some members of Congress were uninformed about wanting to limit producers’ access to the insurance programs. He also bristles at the ideas by some that farmers and ranchers are trying to game the system.
“Insurance is about having a bigger risk pool,” said Lucas. “The most efficient and largest premium payers happen to also be some of the bigger farmers. You don’t want to take them out of the pool if you are trying to keep cost down.
“It’s just like buying insurance on your house. You don’t buy a policy and then hope that the house burns down.”
When Lucas was asked what his grandfathers would think to see him triumphant in passing a new Farm Bill, he modestly replied that he understands the lessons they taught him about the mistakes that were made by the government in the 1920s and the 1930s.
Lucas remembers personally the hardships farmers and ranchers faced in the 1980s and the 1990s.
He hopes his new Farm Bill will help ensure that those mistakes from the past will not be repeated.
“I would hope that not just my family, but my colleagues, my fellow Oklahomans, my fellow countrymen would understand that we have to learn from those mistakes that led to the terrible times of The Depression in the thirties, and more recently, those lessons we learned in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Lucas.
“I have tried my best to make sure that those same tragic events don’t happen again.”
In the end, Lucas’s hard work and determination paid off. He is confident that this Farm Bill will stand the test of time and make Oklahoma and the country a more secure and prosperous place to live and work.
In Roll, Oklahoma, when a man works hard against adversity and defeat, and never quits until the job is done, it is simply a measure of “true grit” western Oklahoma style.
Lucas showed his “true grit” in his storied and epic journey of passing a new Farm Bill.

Featured in the Hennessey Clipper, Okeene Record, & the Dewey County Record.