When Jumana Madanat Misleh was hired in May to be the voice for Certified American Grown in Washington, D.C., it didn’t take her long to get up to speed on the issues facing America’s flower farmers.
In her previous job at a Washington law firm she had handled the group’s legislative efforts in the capital. She came out of “early retirement” at the request of Certified American Grown Administrator Kasey Cronquist.
“I don’t think I would have done it for anyone else,” she said. “I believe in their issues and I was happy to jump back in.”
Her accomplishments for American flower farmers have come quickly. Shortly after coming on board she:
- Helped lead an effort to reinstate the USDA’s annual floriculture survey after it had been eliminated two years previous due to budget cuts. The survey provides American farmers with information about flower-growing trends and gauges the sector’s economic impact and for the first time will include Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia and Wisconsin.
- Secured an invitation for a Certified American Grown delegation to attend the White House Economic Summit in September. It was billed as a conversation with President Trump, but he was forced to cancel by the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Still, the event featured high-level administration officials including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and White House adviser Ivanka Trump. It was the first time Certified American Grown had been invited to such as event.
- Reengaged an effort to bring about enforcement of an existing law that requires imported flowers to be identified by their country of origin on consumer packaging. Misleh has gained the support of a congressman who is pursuing enforcement of the law.
- Increased support for the annual resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives declaring July as American Grown Flower Month. Sponsors of the resolution increased from seven representatives in 2017 to more than 57 in 2018. Misleh then convinced some sponsors of that resolution to become members of the Cut Flower Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members that support the interests of flower growers.
- Helped grow the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus, a bipartisan group that supports the interests of America’s flower farmers.
- Renewed an effort to convince the White House to use only American Grown flowers at the White House. That has been a longtime goal of Certified American Grown. Misleh’s ultimate aim is for all federal agencies to be required to use American Grown flowers at their events.
Misleh has accomplished all this through her contacts cultivated through her years as an attorney in Washington, D.C., and a don’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach.
“Really, it’s a lot of relationship-building and working with people who have an interest in our issues,” she said.
“When Kasey brought me on board, essentially my strategy was to do everything in my power to draw attention to their issues and to check those items off their to-do list.”
With Certified American Grown as her only client, Misleh said she is free from conflicts faced by lobbyists working for multiple agriculture interests who do a balancing act to ensure they are not alienating someone in pursuit of another client’s interests.
“I am putting all my eggs in one basket with Certified American Grown,” she said. “I’m not afraid to do what it takes, because my sole goal is to get things done for Certified American Grown.”
Misleh says she’s part of a new generation of Washington lobbyists.
“I’m willing to cold call. I’m willing to walk into the office of someone I don’t know for the sake of my client. The perspective of a lot of people is that you have to do things in an orderly fashion – ‘you can’t call that office, you have to call the guy in the office below him’ – out of respect for hierarchy.
“In this day and age of LinkedIn and everything being on the internet, you can go directly to the decision-makers and I’m not afraid to do that. That’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I plan to keep doing.”
Misleh has worked to see where flower farmers’ interests have aligned with the Trump administration’s policies.
“We have a very receptive administration right now,” she said. “They want to help American businesses and American farmers, so I think we really need to capitalize on that. We show them we’re supportive of their policies, and we’d like them to be supportive of us as well. Hopefully, good things come from it.”
Her efforts to get the White House’s ear on flower-growing issues began in June when she made contact with an official there through a longtime mentor. The relationship blossomed at a time when much of American agriculture was opposed to Trump’s policies. But the administration’s efforts to level the playing field with foreign producers meshes with the interests of American flower farmers, Misleh said. That led the White House to request a statement of support for its trade policies that Misleh and Cronquist drafted.
The result has been an ongoing relationship with the White House.
“It’s nice to know that they know who we are,” she said. “I enjoy hearing from the White House and appreciate the attention they are giving us, whether it’s invitations to various events or to join on conference calls or briefings. So, we’re on their radar.”
It was also that relationship that led to the invitation to the White House Economic Summit.
“It was a great opportunity to network,” she said. “And whether or not you agree with what this administration is doing, it’s always an honor to be invited to the White House.”
Misleh urges flower farmers to come to Washington for the annual fly-in in February (24-26). It will give them a chance to talk to members of Congress and have an impact on issues that affect them.
“It is critical that we have as many participants as possible from as many states as possible,” she said. “Members (of Congress) want to hear from their constituents. I can go in and meet with people every day and they’ll listen to me and we’ll have a successful meeting. But when they hear from their own constituents, it has much more of an impact.”
Misleh said last year’s big showing from America’s flower farmers was the single most important factor in getting the USDA floriculture survey reinstated.
“Things like that only happen when farmers are involved, engaged and willing to come out here for a fly-in,” she said. “And it’s a great opportunity for them to see the type of impact they can have firsthand. … I’m looking at their issues with a fresh set of eyes. I have new contacts and I’m making new friends every day. We’re very energized this year.”
A big turnout in February also will help efforts to rebuild the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus, which lost eight members in the recent midterm elections due to retirements and election losses.
“We actually have a huge task ahead of us,” she said. “We need to grow the caucus back to the level it was and we need to grow it ever further. We have a goal of having 75 members. It’s going to be tough because we’re going to be starting the year with 40 members.”
February’s fly-in will feature a briefing at the White House as well as meetings with the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus and USDA officials.
“I think we’re going to have a fantastic event this year. We already have a commitment from the White House to meet with our group and with a large turnout from our farms, hopefully we’ll have some more tangible successes that we can highlight during their time here.”