It is good to be home. As you know, I traveled to Washington, D.C. last week as part of the annual delegation representing the Barnes-Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association.
It was an unusual trip, including the weather. The entire East Coast was blanketed in snow, with at least 4 inches falling in the District of Columbia. This shut down almost the entire city, with schools and businesses closed. My favorite moment of the trip came as we watched the weather announcements on the local television station, including one that read: "Government will be two hours late."
But the snow stopped the next day and we made our way around to congressional offices. What we found is a new administration still in transition. While walking back to Capitol Hill from the Executive Office Building, I couldn't help but stare at a large banner on one of the buildings that read, "Welcome, Mr. President." The National Park Service was still handing out maps labeled, "Inauguration 2009." This is still a new administration and new Congress.
During our visit with the administrator of the Agriculture Research Service, we discovered that although there is a new Agriculture Secretary, most of the undersecretary positions have not been filled. In fact, one of the folks we visited with wrote his telephone number and e-mail address on my notebook because he hasn't had time to get business cards printed.
Then, there were the questions about when Minnesota might have a second senator.
There were other good questions asked of us and by us during our visit. Sometimes, there were no good answers, but we still had lively discussions, especially on the question of what to do about earmarks. It would take an entire page to recount all of the views shared on that topic alone.
So here's what I know after six days in Washington, D.C. There is no one answer to the problems we as a country are facing. What is needed is civil conversation and lots of it about our economy, our health care, our food and our way of life. And each of us needs to be part of the conversation.
Write, call, e-mail or visit your congressman. They can only be out of touch if we let them.