By Craig Regelbrugge
The votes are counted, the dust has begun to settle, and it was a “change election” the likes of which we have not seen in a long, long time. And the pollsters will be cleaning egg off their faces for weeks to come. In some ways, the ending of this protracted, bitter campaign season is a bit like the dog that chased, then with some surprise, caught the car. Attention now turns to preparing to govern.
Our industry undoubtedly had plenty of Trump supporters and plenty of Clinton supporters, with a variety of personal and professional reasons. Of the former, some are surely weary after years of Obama “government is the solution” regulatory initiatives and policies. Some prioritized the balance of the Supreme Court. Of Clinton supporters, many felt she had the experience and credentials on her side. Some were ready to see the first woman President elected. Many struggled with who was the lesser of evils.
Beyond our industry, and certainly across the Rust Belt states where results were most stunning, voters weren’t so much making a political or policy choice as they were revealing deep economic and cultural anxieties. And a sense that “government is working against me, not for me.” So although Clinton appears to have actually won the popular vote, she lost key states that were, to varying degrees, taken almost for granted by her campaign.
Come 2017, many see business-friendly opportunity on the horizon. Significant infrastructure spending is a distinct possibility. So is tax reform. There could be significant efforts to roll back or reshape some of the Obama administration’s most prominent but controversial achievements and initiatives, ranging from the Affordable Care Act to labor and environmental regulation to certain immigration executive actions. There may be new challenges and threats, as well.
Here are three dynamics to watch in the days and weeks ahead.
Trump and Ryan – House Speaker Paul Ryan and Candidate Trump had a rocky relationship during the campaign. Will they bridge their differences? The House is poised to hold its leadership elections swiftly. Ryan is politically savvy and policy-driven. He understands that it’s not enough to be “against everything;” you need to have alternative solutions. If he is elected to continue as Speaker in 2017, we’ll have a steady legislative hand on the wheel and a better shot at a realistic, coordinated, policy-oriented legislative agenda in the House next year. If House Republicans reject Ryan, the next six months could be much more chaotic.
The Pence Factor – While Trump has absolutely no governing experience, Vice President-elect Mike Pence is an experienced lawmaker, having served six terms in the U.S. House before becoming Governor of Indiana. He may play an outsize role in the process of shaping a Trump administration cabinet, and as a liaison to Congress come January.
Checks and Balances – The American electorate usually displays an instinctual preference for the check-and-balance of divided government. This time, the “change wave” put Republicans in control of everything. Admittedly, their margin of control in both chambers is a bit narrower. In the Senate, Republicans lost two seats (Incumbent Mark Kirk (R-IL) lost to challenger Tammy Duckworth, and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to Governor Maggie Hassan).
Though clever procedural moves are sometimes possible, under Senate rules it typically takes 60 votes to take up legislation, and to end debate and vote on final passage. This gives incoming minority leader Chuck Schumer more than a little power, if and so long as his caucus of 48 Senators is unified. But the 2018 electoral map is hostile for Democrats, who will be defending 25 of 33 seats. These 25 include a Rust Belt swath from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin where Trump prevailed, so incumbents might be skittish about stonewalling much of a Trump legislative agenda.
A cautionary note. Ours is an industry substantially reliant on foreign-born labor. It runs the gamut – citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary and seasonal visa holders, refugees, and (presumably), quite a few unauthorized workers whose employment documents aren’t as good as they look. Trump wasn’t elected on the immigration issue, but regardless of how you feel about it, his campaign rhetoric resonated with voters who have lost faith in their government and believe in the rule of law.
So what happens next on this critical issue? The Trump transition team point persons on immigration have called for tougher, some would say heavy-handed, immigration laws. Early moves will surely be enforcement-centric. Trump’s calls for a border wall and tripling the number of immigration enforcement agents won’t happen all that quickly; these things require major funding, and involve Congress. That takes time. As would imposing mandatory E-Verify, which Trump has supported.
But some things could be done sooner, and within current resources. He could rescind the Obama executive actions granting deferred action, such as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, or limiting refugee admissions, for instance. While these aren’t often seen as business issues, there are many DACA recipients and a growing number of people admitted as refugees now employed in horticulture.
A Trump administration could also return to the practice of worksite enforcement, whether that means raids, or I-9 audits, substantially worsening the labor challenges already facing many horticulture businesses. Screening practices for visa applicants abroad could change, slowing the already-clogged pipeline for H-2A and B worker admission during peak seasons. Perhaps there will be some openings for positive visa program reforms, but it’ll be defense more than offense for the foreseeable future.
The Long View. AmericanHort has earned a reputation for credibility, integrity, and taking the long view. Our leaders and staff understand that a good reputation takes years to build and minutes to destroy. We are about good policy, not politics or party. And so, we’ll continue to work with elected men and women of both parties who want to support policies that ensure a vibrant future for our industry and our country.
You are a key part of this equation. Especially after an election like this one, elected officials aren’t as interested in hearing from a lobbyist (even one who is a horticulturist!) than a constituent who is running a business, creating jobs, paying taxes, and doing his or her part to keep America great. Your voice, your participation, your support will be ever more critical in the months ahead.