The Missouri Farm Bureau Federation’s new director for state and legislative affairs is getting his feet wet quickly, but B.J. Tanksley says the pressure doesn’t bother him much. That’s because he comes to the position with a stellar resume in the legislative process.
Tanksley’s journey into the political realm began in college, where he majored in political science at Southeast Missouri State University. As a student, he interned at the Missouri Senate in 2006, before joining the Missouri Republican Party to work on campaigns. Tanksley says he learned a lot during his time working on the Senate race of Jim Talent. That particular race garnered national attention, as it could have tipped the scales of power in the Senate.
“Campaigns are a lot of fun,” he said. “You feel like you’re part of something big. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful, but for a 20-something-year-old kid, it was a big deal.”
After graduation, Tanksley landed his next role working with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce in Jefferson City, directing the GovWatch program.
The online program provides notifications and real-time updates as to what is happening at the Capitol, whether it be actions on legislation, committees, or even recess and adjourned sessions.
Tanksley compares it to the constant coverage of journalists in politics, constantly following the ongoings of government and updating the information, and offering insight on live debate coverage, testimony, and hearings. He said the work was demanding, but the experience and insight he gained in the legislative process were beneficial.
He and his wife lived in Columbia for the majority of their time in Mid-Missouri, with the exception of one year in Jefferson City. She landed a job as an assistant principal back home in the bootheel in 2013.
Around that same time, the Farm Bureau’s regional coordinator in southeast Missouri was retiring, and Tanksley landed the job, leaving the Chamber and GovWatch.
A fond farewell to our former GovWatch director, BJ Tanksley. Good luck at the Missouri Farm Bureau! We’ll miss ya! pic.twitter.com/p0xQ8qVSgc
— Missouri Chamber (@MissouriChamber) May 30, 2013
He served in that role for about three years before the position of legislative director for MOFB opened up, and he knew he couldn’t pass that opportunity up.
“To work for Farm Bureau, a great organization, and a policy process that I believe in 100 percent, you can’t pass it up,” he said. “Our members are so integrated into our policy process… sometimes, there’s a misconception that home office kind of runs the policy. With Farm Bureau, that’s definitely not the case. Our members’ decisions are what we are backing. It really is a grassroots process, and I believe in that. “
He took over the role on Sept. 1, 2016, and immediately began the preparations for the 2017 legislative session.
Tanksley says the long hours of coverage for GovWatch prepared him for this role, and also gave him the ability to watch and learn about the processes in which a bill can pass or fail.
He says it’s a little more intense being in the building as opposed to watching remotely. He also met a lot of people and organizations through GovWatch, giving him a background knowledge of who to work with to accomplish the goals of the Farm Bureau.
But his life in southeast Missouri’s strong farming communities also played an important role in preparing him for this role.
“Agriculture has been a part of my life since the beginning,” he said.
Both of his grandfathers were farmers, instilling a passion for agriculture that he still carries with him. His grandfather on his mother’s side managed a farm in New Madrid County, and played an important role in Tanksley’s life.
“Growing up, he was like a father to me,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories come from spending time on that farm.”
His other grandfather started the family farm in Scott County, which is still in the family to this day.
Combining his passion for agriculture and politics to represent the core values of Missouri agriculture is a dream come true.
To summarize his new role, Tanksley is there to advocate and fight on behalf of the Farm Bureau and their more than 117,000 members, representing the largest industry in the state.
The new legislators and administration have been moving quickly, which Tanksley says is both intense and fun.
“It feels like we hit the ground running at 90 miles per hour, which is neat. We’ve got some issues we’re still working, and things are moving quickly,” he said. “It’s nerve-wracking because you feel like you don’t have time to catch your breath during session, but it’s exciting.”
“Some of these things are major issues,” he continued. “That’s both a powerful and overwhelming feeling.”
Tanksley says that one of the top issues for the Farm Bureau is always property rights.
“It all boils down to what you can or can’t do on your property,” he said. “We’re always going to be looking for ways to make sure we can protect those property rights and keep them from being infringed on.”
He also said transportation funding is a top priority because most exports have to be transported by either roads or river ways.
“Our people have to be able to sell their product in an efficient manner,” he said.
Tanksley also says they’ll continue pushing for broadband access statewide, especially in rural Missouri.
The father of two says that one thing that has proven difficult is being away from his family.
“It’s kind of tough right now, but we’ll get through,” he said. Tanksley says he and his family are grateful for technology and the ability to chat through video.
Right now, Tanksley says his family will finish out the school year before moving to Mid-Missouri over the summer. But his excitement in the new role, and desire to serve, give him the drive to keep pushing forward, a quality that Missouri Farm Bureau surely is glad to have on board.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.