Weekly Posting of the Conservative Cow Doctor


Milk Cows

When I was six, my father gave me the long bow he had used as a young boy. This made my world, the sagebrush plains of Eastern Montana, one safari after another and I carried my bow and arrows wherever I went. One afternoon, all the family was packed in the front seat of the pickup, bouncing our way across the prairie, when a patch of fresh gumbo jumped from behind a clump of greasewood and snatched the pickup. Getting unstuck involved Dad jacking each tire out of the mud and shoving fence posts or rocks underneath the wheels. We three boys were sent hunting for stuff to cram under the tires. Rocks and posts are elusive in gumbo country, I quickly became bored and so it took little effort for my bow and arrow to convince me to go hunting instead. Within an hour, I had hunted my way out of shouting distance from the pickup. Dad and my two brothers eventually freed the pickup, and while driving home they stopped long enough to let me crawl in the cab. No one said a word as we rattled back to the ranch, but I knew I was in big trouble. Back at home, Dad invited me to accompany him to the barn to help milk the cow and feed the bucket calves. It was an offer I could not refuse.

Dad was not the beating type, but he could deliver a lecture so serious it could scar the usually impervious soul of a six-year-old boy. Mom, on the other hand, seemed to relish delivering a good thrashing, especially if it involved lots of hollering and tears; some of which actually might come from me or my brothers. As we walked to the barn, I regretted the bad decision I had made hours before, but I was thankful barn chores were Dad’s responsibility and not Mom’s. The exact words of Dad’s lecture are forever lost to time, but I remember sitting alone in the dark barn thinking long after he clicked off the light and walked back to the house. His point was made and I have viewed milk cows with trepidation ever since.

As an amazing coincidence, 45 years later, I found myself once again trapped in a darkened structure called Montana’s capitol addressing an issue surrounded by milk cows. (Actually, it is not a coincidence; I told this story on purpose.) It was 2009 and Senator Taylor Brown introduced SB286, an “act generally revising milk control laws.” This bill pitted one group of dairy farmers against another, and one side had to be lying, but to this day I do not know who was. As I typically hold dairy farmers in the highest regard, it was the most frustrating 30 days in my legislative career. Eventually, a two-year sunset clause was added to SB286, and I voted to pass the bill just to be rid of it. In 2011, Senator Brown introduced SB5 to remove the sunset provision previously placed on SB286. The argument between the two warring groups began anew leading me to despise any legislation dealing with milk; perhaps it’s a repressed memory from my childhood. This time I voted “No.”

Now in 2013, I am facing HB574, an “act generally revising milk control laws to allow the retail sale of raw milk.” This time, all the commercial dairy farmers joined forces to battle every hobby farmer with two acres and a milk cow. The public hearing for HB574 was a two hour verbal conflict with each side accusing the other of distorting the absolute truth about the health benefits and risks of the opposing product. With limited constitutional issues and zero Biblical principles to help me, I feel like I am stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day” only I am surrounded by milk cows rather than large rodents. This job is not as glamorous as it appears on television and I know one side will blast me with nasty-grams regardless my eventual decision on HB574. On the bright side, I am termed-out of Montana’s House, so this should be my last journey to the milk barn.

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