SWEETWATER — Wes Sims is passionate about his country and about fighting for farmers. Last month, the Texas Farmers Union president received the Award for Meritorious Service to Farmers Union during the National Farmers Union's 109th annual convention in San Antonio.
The honor was a surprise to Sims, who has been a member of the group for 36 years, serving as state president for 16.
"I don't believe in tooting my horn. I'm a worker bee. My life is to work for the common good, which I believe I have all the days of my adult life," he said. "I know that you and I, and our neighbors working together, we can build a better community, a better government, a better nation. That's how it happened, it didn't happen with laissez faire free markets and free trade."
Farmers Union is a national group that lobbies the interests of agricultural producers in Washington, D.C., and in state capitols. It was founded in Texas in 1902 by a man named Newt Gresham and quickly expanded from the Lone Star State to the nation. One of the group's signature achievements was pushing for the 1922 Capper-Volstead Act, which exempted groups of farmers from certain antitrust laws and allowed the rise of the modern farm cooperative.
He and his wife, Latria, went into the dairy business when they married in the mid-1950s and he became involved in the dairy co-op.
"I began working on behalf of the dairy farmers in the co-op. There was this organization called Farmers Union that always seemed to be on the same side we were," he said. "But I didn't know much about them."
After a speaking engagement in Amarillo where he met a man from Farmers Union, his wife had something to say about it.
"She asked, 'Do you know that guy?' I said, 'I don't, but I know who he is.'
"She said, 'Well, he really sounds like you. Don't you think you might want to be a part of that organization?' "
Sims told her that made sense and soon he and his two sons were signed up.
"So, I've been going to Washington doing grass-roots lobbying for 40 years, because that's where it's all at. It's very important what legislation they pass as to what opportunities you have," he said. "I was always willing to be involved. Everyone should be willing to be involved. We ought to become educated and knowledgeable on issues and know where we stand."
Fighting for farm bills is important not only to farmers, Sims said, but also to their communities.
"It has just as much effect on my wife's dress shop as it does the farm, because if those dollars don't come, then they're not in circulation out there in the community, and the community as a whole suffers," he said. "I don't know anybody that gets more benefit from agriculture than Abilene does; they bring in money from probably a hundred-mile radius from the agriculture dollars. It's huge."
Sims expressed concern over some of the anti-government rhetoric which swept through public discourse in the past year. He said he isn't anti-tax and was OK with the "huge check" he recently had to write to the government.
"I'm telling you, I was 14 years old before we had electricity. That's not the greatest standard of living, not having electricity," he said.
"We had to have gutters draining into the cistern. It didn't last long enough, not out here in West Texas, so we ended up hauling water.
"Now we've got water up and down every road. What a blessing, what a change, what a great improvement. It takes good government to do those things, people working together.
"I want you to understand, I'm the son of a sharecropper. You don't get any poorer than that, and there was no 'assistance.' I know what bread made out of water was like, I can describe it. I know what we called a 'Hoover chicken' (is) and was proud to have it if we were fortunate." Hoover chicken, he said, was another name for rabbit.
Nowadays, Sims said, the future looks good as long as people remember to take the long view.
"This idea of paying our schoolteachers less and doubling their workloads, causing them to offer, less education to our children is a terrible mistake," he said. "But I'm telling you the future of Texas is greater today if we'll just take care of our people and our children."
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