Rep. Don Armes
Those of you who really know me and have known me for some time know that I will be rather out spoken, especially on issues that I really care about. The past week there has been much noise and gnashing of teeth concerning a $2 million appropriation to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, intended to shore up the Oklahoma Youth Expo. Most of the noise, blog chatter, and editorials have been coming from urban newspapers.
First, let’s start with what the Youth Expo actually is. Most older folks will remember it being called the Oklahoma City Spring Livestock Show. Generations of FFA members and 4-H members have exhibited livestock at what has become the world’s largest junior livestock exhibition. It is the highlight of the year for young people that bring their animals to compete, in many cases, after a full year of daily feeding, grooming, and training for the animal projects. There is not a program in any school in America that can teach daily responsibility better than a show animal. Young people, Ag teachers, 4-H agents, parents, and grandparents have converged on Oklahoma City every spring for many, many years. It is a huge event that according to the OKC Visitor’s Bureau is the single largest event of any kind in Oklahoma City. It fills up countless hotels and millions of dollars are spent on meals, fuel, not to mention the shopping that occurs when families from small towns hit the metro area. What makes the Youth Expo low hanging fruit for people who are not involved in agriculture is the fact it is not a spectator’s sport unless you understand livestock and can tell the north end from the south end of an animal. It’s not very exciting to the everyday citizen of Oklahoma City. The issue at hand is whether we should have appropriated a $2 million shot in the arm to the Agriculture Department so that they can make sure this tremendous event was on solid financial footing.
All last week the critics slung all kinds of misguided comments and actually made a pretty weak argument when you consider what we do for entities like the OKC Thunder. I think the Thunder has been fabulous for the entire state of Oklahoma. It has brought our state together. OSU fans and OU fans sit side by side in their “Thunder Ware” cheering on one of the best basketball teams in the country. Thunder basketball is most definitely a spectator sport and is worthy of our support. We watch every game we can at our house and cheer for our boys in blue. It would be hard to attack something as successful as a championship pro-basketball franchise. But let’s get real, over the next 15 years, the state of Oklahoma will pump $60 million back into the Thunder franchise through payroll tax rebates, a program called the Quality Jobs Act. That is $4 million per year for 15 years. Is it worth it? I think it is, and it has been a tremendous moral boost for the whole state. It puts us on national TV and brings a lot of people to town to watch those games.
It’s interesting to me that nobody is yelling about $4 million a year, but many are crying foul about a one-time $2 million infusion of funds into the world’s largest junior livestock show. Some would argue that we are not talking apples to apples because it is easy for the average every-day citizen to “Thunder Up” but not so easy for that same person to “Expo Up.” I think the question is whether a youth livestock event that has provided educational opportunity for generations of young people from all 77 counties of our state, and will continue for generations to come, is worthy of an appropriation of taxpayer dollars, that is dwarfed by the state dollars that are pumped into the Thunder organization.
Again, I’m proud of the Thunder. It has been huge for Oklahoma, but so has the Youth Expo. It’s like many things in life; it’s a phenomenal event, but it’s a little hard to see it from the main highway. You kind of have to get on the back roads to understand the scope and the reach into every rural county of our state. Most aren’t willing to leave the pavement to gain an understanding. We are fast becoming a generation or two removed from production agriculture. And the understanding and acceptance of the agricultural way of life, not only produces young people with the best work ethic, but also quite frankly produces the food we eat everyday.
It’s understandable for urban news writers and others who have never set foot on a farm to not understand what we do. But in my mind, it’s inexcusable. We are rural Oklahoma and we count.
If you would like to contact me at the Capitol, please do not hesitate to call 1-800-522-8502 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And here’s something to think about as you go down the road:
If you eat… you’re involved in agriculture.