By Scott Panitz
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Something was in the air at the capitol campus in Olympia on Thursday, Feb. 23, and if you poked your nose outside, you surely picked up the unmistakable aroma.
For at least the fifth year running — organizers couldn’t recall exactly — cattlemen from across the state doled out some 400 pounds of tri-tip beef sandwiches to everyone from legislators and lobbyists to temps and interns at Beef Day on the Hill.
“Today is our chance to say 'thank you' and give a little back to the public, and get some good-quality beef samples out and have a good time interacting with the people on the hill,” Washington Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President and Ellensburg resident Jack Field said.
The association sponsors the event.
The cattlemen's tent, set up on the lawn in front of the John A. Cherberg Building, was filled, in addition to the meat, with more than 20 volunteers, 1,440 buns, 30 bags of chips, 16 bottles of barbecue sauce and 315 water bottles, association Accountant Bev Cridlebaugh, Ellensburg, said.
Cridlebaugh, who has become the association’s de facto event planner, said the Washington State Dairy Federation kicked in 2,000 cookies and more than 500 cartons of milk, both chocolate and white, to round out the meal.
Battling heavy winds to bring his grill to Olympia from Touchet for Beef Day was Don Blakemore, a member of the Washington Cattle Feeder’s Association board of directors.
Blakemore said his giant grill is a staple of the event -- who wants raw meat? -- and he estimated it has broiled more than 1,500 pounds of beef at the capitol alone.
Rick Neidhardt, a bill tracker for Washington Courts, said he is a “fan, not a connoisseur” and always appreciative of free barbecue.
He’s not the only one.
“People in our office always keep an eye out for this one,” Neidhardt said as he made his way back to his office with two paper trays full of tri-tip.
Several others said they were attracted to the station by the smoky scent in the air, though they did not want to comment out of fear of offending political allies who might be opponents of the cattlemen.
The center of attention was Field, who used beef day as a reprieve from his usual position lobbying the Legislature for the association. Field manned the grill with a cowboy hat, red apron, and inviting smile, encouraging passers-by to go for seconds.
Field knows Beef Day is just a part of the association’s larger mission.
“We’re a trade organization made up of cow-calf, yearling producers and some feedlot operators state-wide,” he said. “We’re here in Olympia throughout the session advocating on issues that pertain to cattle production, private property rights, tax issues; here to try to look out for the well-being of the cattle industry and ensure that we have a business climate that’s conducive for the long-term sustainability of the industry.”
Field said the association has about 1,500 members with ranches of varying size.
“There’s somebody who might have 20 head of cattle or up to 2,500 cows,” he explained. “We have a fair number of … associate members, people that may have some pasture or something related to the cattle industry, too, because we’re always working on property and water rights issues as well.”
President Larry Olberding said one issue that has moved to the forefront for the cattlemen’s association with the announcement of the House budget proposal is the possible elimination of the state’s conservation commissions.
“We’re going to be advocating very strongly to reinstate the commissions,” he said. “They play a critical role in voluntary stewardship producers, water quality, habitat management, monitored grazing -- all kinds of environmental things that well serve the general public in partnership with farmers and ranchers.”
But for one day, it’s all about spreading smiles and samples of their product to hungry folks on the hill; the political message was subliminal.