Baylor University Poage Library

Poage Commitee Member Shares Life as Politician

Oct. 8, 2009

Courtesy Photo
Fowler C. West, chair of the Poage Legislative Library standing committee makes a trip to Baylor from Washington D.C. to celebrate the library's 30th anniversary.

By Jenna Thompson

Fowler C. West, chairman of the Poage Legislative Library standing committee, returned to Baylor from Washington, D.C., where he serves as a political professional, Friday and Saturday for the 30th anniversary celebration of the library.

West worked as a staff assistant to former Rep. W.R. "Bob" Poage and did extensive work on the professional staff of the House Committee on Agriculture.

During the 1960s and 1970s, West helped shape several bills, including the Farm Bill of 1965 and the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act.

He was appointed commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in 1982 by former President Ronald Reagan and continued to serve for a second five-year term.

In 1977, West was honored as the Congressional Staffer of the Year.

When was the last time you were here at Baylor?

I was here for a presentation and lecture series that the library has. I come when I can.

Ben [Rogers, director of the Baylor Collections of Political Materials] and I were here, and we were talking about a committee that would bring support to the library and try to raise funds for the library.

We called it the standing committee, for lack of a better name for it. So what we do is try to get people to join. Like every other group at Baylor, I wish we had more money.

What are some of your favorite memories in your undergrad experience?

Teachers stood out. One was Ann Miller. She taught me in an evening class, English literature, and I remember she asked us to do an analysis of different poems. She was announcing the grades and she said she wanted to see me after class.

She said, "Did someone help you with this? That's one of the best. That's a wonderful analysis."

I'm not here to say that I was some giant scholar of English literature, but that was very encouraging. While I was here I always was struck by how the faculty cared for their students.

Tell me about the farming bills that you have worked on.

Well, there were a whole series of farm bills. Farm bills generally came every three years. And I think that we see an evolution of farm bills from strictly being for farmers to where the jurisdiction really would have expanded to be more oriented toward food programs.

While I was there, one was a food stamp program. That's big now. Poage was the chairman of the Agricultural Committee.

He actually put the food stamp legislation into the farm bill. His purpose was to make sure we had enough city votes to pass the farm bill.

The food bill has been successful because of all of the different commodity groups who are involved, whether it be the cotton people, the dairy people or the feed grains people. When it comes time to put the bill together, all of these groups have always banded together.

Wine grapes now are the sixth largest cash crop in the United States. So, whether it's table grapes or wine grapes, they weren't even mentioned in the farm bill. Now the new farm bill has taken in the specialty crop growers.

What changes do you see in the realm of agricultural issues today as opposed to when you were working with the committee?

I think that you're seeing probably more focus on research and more focus on research not only to make the crop better, but research also to ward off problems brought on by the introduction of pests and diseases.

The citrus people are facing terrible problems with the new diseases and insects that are being introduced in the U.S. from other countries.

There's a pest called the glassy winged sharpshooter. It's a bug that flies long distances. They have been very instrumental in spreading a deadly disease called Pierce's Disease that at one time threatened to wipe out the grape industry in California and other states, and California grapes produce 90 percent of the nation's wine.

You now have the terrible prospect of pests getting brought into the great lakes from the ballasts of ships, and you now have a lot more concern about food safety. You know we've had outbreaks of salmonella and other things.

It's a more consumer-oriented farm bill. There's a need to secure food source and make it safe by being able to very quickly identify and track down problems as opposed to requiring the destruction of fields of lettuce because someone got sick from a hamburger.

You worked on a Laboratory Animal Welfare Act. Tell me about what that sought to achieve.

That was very interesting, and was in the 1970s. Mr. Poage, one of his bills he was best known for introducing was the bill for the Humane Slaughter Act.

That was to make sure there was minimal inhumane treatment of animals being slaughtered.

There was a lot of publicity in the 1970s about people who had pets stolen, and sometimes they would track the pets down, [and] they had been sold by cat and dog dealers to the laboratory for research.

There was a thriving industry of people who would buy animals from people who would go around and take them from people's yards. And so some people's pets were traced back to some reputable laboratory or some research group.

This bill required the Department of Agriculture to set certain standards for research. And it's been expanded. The provisions are to take care to see that the animals aren't somebody's pet and buy them from dealers who are registered.

What kind of advice do you have for students here at Baylor who are pursuing a career in politics?

I think that there are many good sources of education now that weren't here when I was a student. You can go online and watch the House and Senate in action. You can see it yourself.

There's every opportunity to get to know people in political life. Take advantage of it. I always had a desire to get involved with Congress.

My advice would be to learn about how Congress works, how the legislation works. You can do it by following developments there. For those who desire to get involved, there's room at the top.