2023: Rep. Rod Hamilton
The Minnesota Pork Board recognizes Rep. Rod Hamilton as the Legislator of Distinction award recipient.
From farm overalls and boot-washing stations to dress suits and big oak desks, Representative Rod Hamilton spent his career reaching a respectful hand out across party lines to find solutions for Minnesota farmers. How did a “punk kid”, as he often refers to his teenage self, end up in the Minnesota legislature chairing the agriculture committee and advocating for farmers and rural America?
A Path Forward
Representative Hamilton had his small-town Iowa eyes set on California following his high school graduation. Little did he know, a move to Minnesota to his aunt and uncle’s farm would direct his career path for decades to come.
Working on a small pig farm, milking cows, and boxing groceries all at once encouraged Hamilton to apply for a single career venture with more structure. Though he didn’t have much experience with pigs, a farm took a chance on mullet-haired, pierced-ear Hamilton. In 1992, two brothers within Christensen Farm’s system bought the farm he was working on. Over the years, he worked his way up through the company starting as a herdsman and into the director of production, business development, and human resources positions.
“As the company grew, I grew with the company,” stated Hamilton. “I wasn’t a bad kid, just a punk kid who was given a chance that started my passion for agriculture.”
Small Involvement to Big Politics
Within a short period of time, Hamilton’s community and industry involvement rose. A successful race running for the school board, Minnesota Farm Bureau membership, and participation in the Minnesota Pork Producers Association (MPPA) – of which he later served as president on the Board of Directors – provided a solid foundation for his career in politics.
The spark was really ignited at a small meeting with past MPPA CEO, David Preisler, and two other producers at Happy Chef in Windom. Preisler was curious about legislative issues the producers wanted to see change; Hamilton wrote a few issues on a napkin and passed it across the table. The issues were taken to the MPPA Board of Directors, turned into resolutions, and ended up becoming law.
“My desire for politics really sparked after I saw so many people come together to make those laws happen. From then on, I just became more involved and took advantage of opportunities to go to St. Paul and Washington, D.C., to visit with legislators and advocate on behalf of agriculture,” Hamilton recalled.
In 2004, Hamilton and his employer agreed his running for a seat in the Minnesota Congress would be a positive step for pig farming and agriculture.
Leading with empathy, Hamilton’s goal was always to help people and work together to find solutions with real-life experiences guiding his political positions and beliefs. His passion and appreciation for agriculture wasn’t fully cemented until it became his profession, and now he remains fascinated by the role farmers and ranchers play in every person’s life every single day.
“When you step back and realize that farmers and ranchers are less than two percent of the population, and they supply everything to the nation, you realize people can’t survive without us,” said Hamilton astoundingly. “What’s cool for me is walking through the grocery store, or seeing kids coloring, or watching my brother-in-law give himself a shot of insulin and think, “I played a role in that.””
He noted the pride those involved in agriculture should feel for the work they do and the impact they have on people’s lives, even if they aren’t working directly with the animal or directly combining the crops. The tens of thousands of people in Minnesota alone directly involved in an agricultural career such as livestock transporters, accountants, construction workers, food processing personnel, and others, all play a significant role in agriculture and providing end-products for consumers.
Hamilton declared, “Never has there been more opportunity in agriculture than there is today.”
Former Minnesota State Representative, Jeanne Poppe (DFL), was a freshman legislator with Hamilton in 2004 and served alongside him for 16 years. Poppe stated, “Often, we were the chair or the lead on the ag committees, based on who was in the majority. People would always make comments about small, niche farmers or large farms, but I always appreciated his message, “There’s room for all in agriculture.””
Favoring Farmers in the Capitol
Through the changing tides of the majority/minority in the Minnesota House legislature (six different changes in Hamilton’s tenure), Hamilton held constant to the belief of developing relationships across the aisle to accomplish meaningful legislation for his constituents and the state of Minnesota. Even during minority years, positive achievements were made due to having an open ear and treating people with dignity and respect.
“You never know what you’ll learn, and from whom,” acknowledged Hamilton. “All too often, we fear what we don’t take the time to understand.”
Following his first appointment in 2004, Hamilton quickly became the leading voice for agriculture and rural Minnesota. In 2009, he became the Assistant Minority Leader and the Minnesota House’s third most powerful position, House Majority Whip, in 2011. In the 2011-2012, 2015-2016, and 2017-2018 session, he chaired the Minnesota House Agriculture Finance Committee.
As a member and chairman of this committee, Hamilton chief-authored the Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Tech Transfer (AGREETT) program, which invests in Minnesota’s next generation of agriculture-focused human capital annually. He also played a major role in providing equipment for the University of Minnesota’s Veterinarian Medicine Lab and Animal Isolation Unit.
Two of Hamilton’s proudest legislative accomplishments prioritized rural Minnesota. First being the transition from a two-lane road to a four-lane expansion of Highway 60, stretching from Bigelow to St. James. The expansion improved efficiency and driver safety for local residents and passers-by. Secondly, the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System supplied southwestern Minnesota residents with safe, reliable drinking water.
Mary Ann Christensen, Chair of the Board at Christensen Farms, provided, “Representative Hamilton is a proven advocate for Minnesota and American agriculture, and thank him for his 18 years of service in the MN House supporting the farmers of this great state in doing what they love and are committed to in producing wholesome and safe food to feed our growing population; from our neighbors to people around the globe.”
Hope for Future Generational Leadership
Hamilton’s excitement for upcoming generations and the impact they will have on the world is nearly palpable. With all the information the world has to offer at their fingertips, he is fascinated to see where that will take them.
His understanding of younger generations is polarized from a seemingly majority in older generations. Some consider the emphasis on work-life balance from Generation Z to be lazy, whereas Hamilton views it as admirable.
“My generation and those older than me were so focused on work, work, work,” Hamilton noted. “I think the younger generation has it put together, and their quality of life will be reflected in their quality of work.”
When asked what he would say to a young person considering a career in politics, he stated, “Do it,” followed by Mahatma Ghandi’s well-known, inspiring quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He has heard countless people qualified for the role state they would never run due to the political atmosphere, and rebutted stating, “Good people need to step up. People need to go against the trajectory if we want things to change.”
He leaves upcoming leaders with a solid piece of advice: “Don’t forget about common courtesy. Use “please” and “thank you” and treat everyone with respect.”
Gratefulness Passing the Reigns
2022 marks the year of his retirement, and he reflected on how fast the last 18 years went. It was not his intent to stay involved at this level of government for so long but following each session he noted “there’s always unfinished work and a draw to keep you coming back.” Previously, Hamilton didn’t understand why many legislators stayed in their positions for so long, but it’s easy for him to see now.
“As soon as I announced my retirement, the weight on my shoulders was gone. I also promised my family, close friends, and myself that I would take care of myself and personal well-being,” said Hamilton.
He noted his greatest reward in serving pig farmers and his constituents are the friendships developed over the years. Countless mentors and connections both within and outside the legislature created lifelong friendships that are cherished and appreciated for their impact on his life. The value he feels for each friendship made is irreplaceable.
“It’s really rewarding to jump in my vehicle and drive through the state,” Hamilton acknowledged thoughtfully. “To see the bills I’ve passed and know I played a role in that – both big projects such as Highway 60, to small projects like adding a culvert under railroad tracks to prevent a farmer’s field from flooding – is a rewarding feeling I don’t take for granted.”
Hamilton declared, “Change is a good thing. Now there’s room for another leader to step up and bring new perspectives and ideas.”