Senator Gary F. Simpson, representing the 18th Senate District of Delaware, has been in the legislature since 1998. The Minority Leader in the Senate, Gary also sits on the Agriculture, Executive, Rules & Ethics committees, and is a member of the Legislative Council. He retired from twenty years with the University of Delaware in 2011, and before that served as the general manager of the Delaware State Fair. He is also the Co-Chair of the CSG-ERC Agriculture & Rural Affairs Policy Committee.
We asked Sen. Simpson what prompted him to run for the Senate that first time. “I was working for the University of Delaware at the time, and he had some free time. I had experience working with the legislature in my position, and so when I was asked to run, I thought it would be a great new challenge for me. I had had leadership roles in other avenues of life, and felt I could bring that experience to the office.”
Although Gary had never run for office, never been involved in politics in any way, and never even gone to a county meeting, he had lived and worked in every area in the senate district, and he won the election in a seat that had been held by the other party for a quarter century. And he has won every election since. “The almost twenty years has gone by so quickly,” he adds.
Knowing Senator Simpson’s love of agriculture, we asked him what is the biggest Agricultural issue facing Delaware today? “Nutrient management is our main problem,’ he said. ‘Delaware is a coastal state. We have many inland waterways and bays. We are constantly fighting to control nutrient management, and to educate the people who think that agriculture is the sole blame for the pollution.”
Another issue of critical importance is the threat of avian influenza. Poultry is a huge industry in Delaware, as are the associate industries of soybeans and corn that feed the industry. An AI outbreak could be devastating for the state. ”We had an outbreak several years ago,” Gary said, “and we developed a strong protocol to manage Avian Influenza, but we have to always be vigilant for another outbreak. Delaware is a flyway for geese and other migratory birds, so the threat is there.”
Urban sprawl continues to eat up farmland due to the lure of coastal living and low property taxes. “We have an active farmland preservation program that the state has funded for the last twenty years,” Simpson notes. “Whether it will continue to be funded in this current budget cycle has yet to be seen.”
Changes to trade agreements under the new administration might negatively impact the robust exports Delaware is enjoying with Russia and China. ‘A lot of countries are buying chicken products, and we want to see that trade continue,’ he says.
We asked what he likes the most, and the least, about being a Senator. “I like solving problems,” he says. “Problem solving has been my forte both in public and private life. Suggesting paths forward, finding solutions – that’s what I enjoy most.” He added, “There was a United States Senator, Bill Roth, who I use as a role model. Whenever anyone called his office from anywhere in the state, Senator Roth’s staff got back to that person in a quick manner to help solve the problem. I make it a point to try to do the same with my constituents.”
What he dislikes is politics. He sees legislators on both sides of the aisle being so tied to the political party they can’t see the other side. Votes are being taken straight down party lines. “We’ve dirtied the word compromise”, he notes. “You get more done if you compromise.” This is why he likes the agriculture committee, because members from both sides of the aisle work together for a common goal of advancing agriculture in Delaware.
We asked how CSG-ERC helps him in is work. “I think we each have our own strengths in agriculture, whether it be dairy in PA, vegetables in NJ or poultry in DE. We can each benefit by hearing each other’s problems, and by seeing how each has have solved them. The sessions during our annual meeting where ag legislators compare notes about issues affecting their states is always incredibly helpful and informative.”
At the end of our interview, we asked what advice he might have that would help first time legislators. “Don’t take yourself so seriously. That is probably the biggest downfall of a lot of political folks. They think the world will not continue without them. They are wrong. We can all be replaced. Think of your term in office as an opportunity to serve and be involved, but know that other people can do it better.”
We doubt that that is true of Sen. Gary Simpson, who is one of the agricultural leaders who will be attending the CSG-ERC Annual Meeting in Uncasville, CT from August 13 through 16. We hope to see you all there.
Bob Haefner and Tara Sad
CSG/ERC Agriculture & Rural Affairs Policy Advisors