October 12, 2020 at 3:22 p.m.
“Paul had no challengers, and I thought that wasn’t right,” Schirmers said. “We need more participation in people, even at the township board meetings. Telling people to get involved is not enough; now, I can say I’ve done it, and I’ve seen how it works.”
Schirmers is running against Rep. Paul Anderson in District 12B for the Minnesota House of Representatives.
The candidate spends his days milking his brothers’, Tim and Dave’s, 120 cows at their dairy farm in Stearns County near Sauk Centre. During the spring and fall, Schirmers also helps with fieldwork.
While new to the political scene, Schirmers is pulling on his experience of working on his family’s dairy farm to support the constituents in the district and highlight the need for community involvement.
“I’m here to protect small dairy farms, especially those in Stearns County – Minnesota’s dairy heartland. That’s the biggest thing. We’ve lost too many,” Schirmers said. “Maybe we keep doing what we’re doing, or maybe it’s up to us to do something that helps small producers find a market.”
In the district Schirmers is vying for, the tri-county area has seen a loss of dairy farms yet cow numbers have remained relatively consistent, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
“It’s easy to identify the problem, but it’s hard to say and do something about it,” Schirmers said.
Schirmers began his political journey in 2016 after a friend ran for a state legislator position in his respective district.
“I grilled him one night,” Schirmers said. “I wanted to know how it all works; how you get into a party. He laid it all out for me, and I thought it was really cool.”
Following the 2016 election season, Schirmers attended his district party’s meeting. At that event, those in attendance asked him to consider running for office in the next election.
In 2018, Schirmers filed for state representative of District 12B.
That election season was spent understanding the ins and outs of managing a campaign and meeting the constituents he would represent if elected.
“I learned a lot about financing and fundraising, all the logistics of running,” Schirmers said.
It was a hectic time of year as the election season ran in conjunction with the farm’s peak busyness too. Oftentimes, Schirmers found himself leaving the farm before the milking shift was complete or arriving late for chores. Schirmers relied on his nephew, Ryan, to help fill in on the dairy when he was on the campaign trail.
The experience reminded Schirmers how important it is to be in the limelight – a role he is well-accustomed to as a local music band member.
“I’m used to being out there and being on camera,” Schirmers said. “It all works together. You can’t be too shy.”
This year’s campaign has looked different with the COVID-19 pandemic restricting many in-person events. Since Schirmers filed for election earlier this summer, he has attended one in-person debate in Granite Falls. The others have been hosted through online platforms.
The digital avenues have allowed Schirmers to be more present on the farm for daily chores.
“It’s been easier, but you can’t beat being in person,” Schirmers said. “I’ve sent out a lot of emails and attended a lot of Zoom meetings. But now that we’re getting into the thick of elections, it would be nice if upcoming events could be in person.”
Throughout the season, Schirmers has connected with constituents to hear about their woes and what type of policies would benefit them. For instance, the onset of the pandemic last spring caused many meat processing facilities to become overwhelmed and farmers’ pay price quickly diminished with few outlets for their product.
“The state was able to establish quick grants to help processors out,” Schirmers said. “Why not put money into a bonding bill for something like that, so that whatever might happen, there’s a dedicated source of money?”
Another concern is the ability to transfer a farm from one generation to the next. Schirmers referred to his brothers’ partnership and his nephew’s desire to buy into the farm someday.
“Does Ryan have a future in dairy?” Schirmers said. “The farm can’t just stay like this and he’ll be able to make money farming.”
While Schirmers realizes the uphill battle he is facing taking on a 12-year incumbent and the desire to drastically improve dairy policy, he is also hoping his campaign will help communities in another way: by encouraging people to get involved in policy that affects them and their livelihood, even as simple as attending a local board meeting.
“The issues that townships are dealing with are filtered up to the state legislator, and no one wants to engage unless it’s controversial,” Schirmers said. “As a public, we have to be more involved.”
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