Liz May announces bid for Congress
This cowgirl plans to go to Washington.
Elizabeth Marty May said that ranchers say they need someone to stand up for them in the government. But because of their independent nature, it is the rare one who takes the necessary steps to actually do it.
A rancher, grocery store-owner and former state representative, Liz May, Kyle, South Dakota, says she is willing to be the one. She announced her intent to run for her state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Feb. 1, 2020.
She recalls two state legislators looking across her kitchen table, pleading with her to run for the state legislature several years ago. “They said we needed more representation at the state level for the ranchers and agriculture. They strongly encouraged me to get involved. Out of over 100 legislators (in South Dakota), there are maybe 6 or 8 who make their living off agriculture.” With agriculture as the state’s largest industry, ranchers are under-represented in Pierre, as well as Washington, DC, says May.
“They used to tease me in Pierre, when I’d stand up to speak, they’d say ‘don’t forget to tell everyone what the state’s number one industry is.’ Even if it wasn’t an ag issue, I was always reminding them that every policy affects agriculture and we need to keep that in mind.” Taxes, land assessments, transportation, everything revolves around agriculture, and is financed in large part by agriculture, May said.
“Once you take your head out of the sand and get involved in policy making and understand what it is like, you realize we need strong representation. We are a minority but we are the industry that feeds this country and feeds this world and we have to be very, very vocal at the local, state and national level.”
May is not a politician, a fact which she believes will be a significant asset to the state and to the agricultural industry.
“Experiences in life are what prepare you for this kind of thing. Politicians are just politicians. If you cannot stand up and talk about something you’ve experienced personally, how are you going to represent all of these people who are counting on you?”
May says she has worked a multitude of jobs including waiting tables, tending bar, teaching , crisscrossing the United States as an independent insurance adjustor, owner of local grocery store and ranching for her entire life. Each of these experiences has uniquely prepared her to stand up for South Dakota in Washington, she says.
“Following a rope from the house to the corral because it’s storming so bad you don’t want to get lost, cleaning motel rooms, climbing to the roof of a house in San Angelo, Texas in 110 degree heat to illustrate the damage from a storm on a piece of graph paper…all of those experiences prepares you for things like this,” she said.
May calls herself a staunch conservative and is focused on balancing the budget, as well as improving the marketing climate for cattle producers.
“I might not have all the answers, but I know the right questions to ask,” she said.
“I don’t care what side of the aisle you come down, this state’s number one industry is agriculture and that’s what needs to be the main voice in Washington, D.C. We are on a road of no return if we don’t get this turned around,” she said, speaking of depressed cattle prices and other commodity values.
Packer concentration is one reason for the livestock industry’s woes, she said, and she seeks to break up the four major packers who control 85 percent of the cattle slaughter. “The Packers and Stockyards Act was introduced in the 1900s to break them up, and they broke them up again in the 60s and they need to be broken up now. Everyone understands, to have free and fair markets, you have to have competition.” May also hopes to gain support for country of origin labeling for beef and to cut down on the national debt.
As the owner of a grocery store, May has experience in overseeing a budget and a moderate-sized staff.
“When we started with the grocery store, I kept hiring employees because I’d see that things weren’t getting done. I’d hire another person and another person. I was up to 25 employees and nothing was getting done. I realized it wasn’t working, and I cut back. Now, I’ve got 10 employees including me, my husband, and my son. It’s about efficiency.” May relates this to the tendency of bureaucrats to want to grow government. “If the government would learn the lesson that we learn in business… that’s a perspective I can bring. The only thing we have control over is efficiency and labor. We don’t need more government employees, we need to expect more from the ones that are here.”
President Trump needs to hear from real ag producers, May said. “You can’t blame President Trump for listening to the wrong information. He needs to hear both sides of the story. He needs to hear from producers, people like me who are actually out here trying to make this work.”
Voters across the state should support her because she can relate to them, and everyone in South Dakota is affected by the success or failure of the agricultural industry, she said.
“That school teacher in Sioux Falls needs to understand that if the revenue isn’t coming into the state of South Dakota, things aren’t going to happen. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip,” she said, pointing out that most businesses are reliant on agriculture either directly or indirectly, and that the majority of the state’s tax base draws from agriculture.
May grew up on a ranch in Harding County, South Dakota and now ranches with her husband Avery May near Kyle, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Together they operate Kyle Grocery. Their son Bud is involved in both businesses with them and their daughter Mary Jo, married with 2 daughters, works as the school principal for Oglala Lakota County and their ranch is located near Merriman, Nebraska.
“We are riding into town. They had better pay attention. We don’t want to be governed, we want to be represented,” said May.