By Kathy Dixon, VFBF Communications
At 5 a.m. on Jan. 24, Stefanie Kitchen walked her dog. She had to take him out that early so she could attend a 7 a.m. legislative sportsman’s caucus meeting in downtown Richmond.
At the meeting, Kitchen networked with legislators who are interested in hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. When it ended at 8, she called a delegate to discuss an issue. By 8:45, she was at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries building to attend a 9 a.m. DGIF board meeting.
“One of my areas is wildlife and game laws, so I attend these meetings to represent Farm Bureau’s policy position on DGIF regulations,” remarked Kitchen, who is a Farm Bureau legislative specialist and one of the federation’s four lobbyists.
Before the meeting started, Kitchen chatted with Mack Smith, a farmer and Rockbridge County Farm Bureau president. Smith was there to testify before the DGIF board about bear damage on his farm. “Having farmers attend meetings like this and speak on how an issue personally affects their operations is so valuable and effective,” Kitchen explained. They patiently waited 2½ hours before Smith’s turn
When asked if this was a typical day, Kitchen said there is no typical day when the Virginia General Assembly is in session. “So today is typical in that it is untypical,” she said with a grin.
Meetings, meetings, meetings
Just 16 days into a 45-day session, the pace is fast. There are daily committee and subcommittee meetings, weekly caucus meetings and weekly House and Senate committee meetings. “We go to the meetings that are related to our coverage topics,” Kitchen explained. And if a lobbyist has a conflicting meeting, another lobbyist will attend.
Most days, they are all downtown by 7 a.m. and don’t leave until after 5:30 p.m.— often as late as 7, Kitchen said. “I’ve had about 10 minutes to eat lunch every day this week,” she shared.
After the 4¼ -hour DGIF meeting, Kitchen headed to the SunTrust cafeteria to grab a quick bite and meet with other Farm Bureau lobbyists. She and Andrew Smith, associate director of governmental relations, discussed the afternoon’s upcoming Senate Agriculture Committee meeting. “I’ll be in the Commerce and Labor Committee meeting that meets at the same time,” Smith said.
He has been a VFBF lobbyist for 15 years and said he has gotten used to the long hours when the General Assembly meets. “I just don’t plan anything during session so I can be available.”
Kitchen was attending the ag committee meeting to keep an eye on pet-related bills that could potentially end up affecting farm animals, another one of her focuses. Governmental Relations Vice President Martha Moore and National Affairs Coordinator and Legislative Specialist Ben Rowe attended the same meeting to speak about legislation that would allow more Virginia farmers to grow industrial hemp.
When the lobbyists aren’t testifying about a bill, providing background information to lawmakers or attending legislative meetings, they often attend Farm Bureau meetings to discuss legislation. “Our members are very interested in what’s going on right now in the General Assembly,” Kitchen remarked. “We spend a lot of time getting information to Kelly Roberts so she can keep them updated via email, text messages and social media.”
Kitchen and Smith both said that they work on behalf of Farm Bureau members. “Part of Farm Bureau’s mission is to enhance the interests of its members through advocacy and political programs. That’s where governmental relations comes in,” Kitchen said.
During session, that work doesn’t seem to end. After the Senate committee meeting, Kitchen met with a delegate scheduled to speak at VFBF’s Legislative Day on Jan. 28. And when she finally went home that night, she worked on handouts for the Legislative Day event.