Keith Ripp looks a little like Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, only larger. He is one big, strapping fellow with an open, sun-splashed face and hands as big as grain shovels and a certain shyness about him. You expect him to say, "ah, shucks, Ma'am." As a public speaker, he makes Cooper seem verbose.
Mr. Ripp hopes to succeed Eugene Hahn in the state legislature from the 47th Assembly District, which straddles both sides of the Dane/Columbia County line and includes DeForest, Poynette, Lodi, Marshall and some of the best topsoil in the state.
I have shared the same room with Mr. Ripp on only two occasions, both times crowded, and have not so much as shaken his hand. But I know him well.
I grabbed this off his web site:
Keith Ripp grew up on his family's dairy farm in northern Dane County, located 20 miles north of Madison, Wisconsin. Along with his five siblings, his parents, Eugene and Jean Ripp, instilled a strong work ethic. Side by side they all worked together and Keith learned at a very early age that the family farm only survives if everyone does their share. This strong work ethic has guided him into many accomplishments in his life.
I can say I know this man because a framed campaign poster hangs at Stately Blaska Manor. It reads: "Keep the Family Farmer in the Legislature." The weathered sign saw duty on an unidentified fence post or tobacco shed in eastern Dane County sometime between 1959-66.
That particular family farmer had an even simpler message for his kids, which he imparted at the dinner table early and often: "No work, no eat." It means the same thing as "everyone does their share," which I have to think Mr. Ripp tidied up from the original Old Testament commandment that he heard at his dinner table.
My father was one of 24 tillers of the soil in the 100-member state Assembly 40 years ago. That was down from 32 farmers in 1937 and 49 if you go all the way back to 1874. If it was an issue in my father's time, it is a crying need now. In the 2007 session, the Assembly, now at 99 members, counted only five farmers. Quick, someone form a commission.
There are, meanwhile, 38 members whose occupation is "legislator," as in full-time. Can you understand why conservatives are suspicious of big government?
Of course, the number of farms has declined to 76,000 from 124,000 when old dad was legislating. All the more reason to elect a farmer.
If the Madison intelligentsia thinks about agriculture at all it is in Barack Obama's terms of regretting the high cost of Arugula at the Whole Foods store. (At least Madison has one.) Or of making the scene at the Saturday morning Farmers Market on the Square, preferably with a clutch of exotic purebred dogs in hand (until the recent ban).
It takes but a single generation to take the farm out of the boy. When my Number One son was perhaps 4 years old, we clambered aboard a flat wagon for a tour of a UW Agriculture demonstration fields. The little blogger exclaimed: "This sure is a big garden!"
I have truly never met a farmer that I did not like and, unlike Will Rogers, I dislike a lot of people. (The list seems to keep growing.)
Who else brings such a wealth of talent? Farmers are skilled in animal husbandry and, in a pinch, the veterinary science. Try pulling a calf out of its laboring mother with a rope and pulley. I have. Farmers are working agronomists and soil scientists -- I saw my father actually taste the soil before planting peas one year. They are heavy equipment operators and mechanics. They are business accountants, real estate experts, and investors in hope, season after season.
They don't just live on the land they live with and from it. That is why farmers are active environmentalists, not environmental activists.
But that doesn't get the "family" part of the farmer. My guy Keith and his wife Lori have three clean-cut children pursuing agricultural studies in college and high school. When you are tethered to the soil, often succeeding the generations before, you tend to sink deep roots into the community.
This is some of Keith's resume: town supervisor (the Town of Dane), president of the soybean marketing board, past president of the corn growers association, past president of the Future Farmers of America alumni, hunter safety instructor, youth football coach, church member.
But here is the deal clincher: Real farmers -- and here I exclude hobby farmers and gladiola growers -- have cornered a seller's market on common sense.
Farmers know all about a thing called risk and reward. Early this summer, thousands of farm acres were washed away by torrential rains. Other years, drought scorches hoped-for yields. If the weather cooperates, the Chicago Board of Trade does not. They're willing to take the risk if they can reap the reward.
Like the now-famous Joe the Plumber (who may yet turn out to be a difference-maker), the farmers I know do not like redistributionist politicians who want to take their hard-earned gain in order to "spread the wealth" in return for votes. Bad for the giver, worse for the taker.
Wisconsin dairy farmers learned the hard lessons of government guarantees when Washington under Jimmy Carter so heavily subsidized milk prices that dairy farmers over-expanded their herds with expensive milking parlors until cheese became a near-worthless surplus commodity, stored in huge underground caves to keep the stuff out of the way (o.k., out of the whey). Today, it's the banks and investment houses that suffer from government-mandated sub-prime mortgage lending.
In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's. - The New York Times, 9-30-1999
Himself a farmer, Gene Hahn assured the beer sippers and chicken wing munchers at a meet and greet this week at the Esquire Club, on the northeast side of Madison, that his protégé would not turn out to be a banana: green when he got to Madison, turning yellow at the first tough vote, eventually returning home rotten and discarded.
I don't know if Keith Ripp is ready for the meanness of Madison or its self-entitled cynicism. There, awaits the likes of Mark Pocan, a very clever fellow. Watch him closely. The hyper-leftist John Nichols lurks with coiled pen. The teachers and state employees unions, curdled with imagined victimhood, are ready to pounce.
The 47th is an open seat and the other side wants it bad. Mike Huebsch, the Speaker of the Assembly, told me that his party's chances for retaining its majority, now at 52-47, fluctuate week by week. Keith Ripp is a Republican and it is possible that the current political rip tide will suck him under.
I do not know his opponent, except that her election will not Keep the Family Farmer in the Legislature.