|By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — These days most people are familiar with the phrase, “Got Milk?”
However, Sugar Grove, Ill. dairy businessman Jim Oberweis is modifying the slogan to “Got Gov?”
Oberweis seeks the Republican nomination for Illinois governor. This would not be his first career change. In 1988, after 20 years in the financial business, Oberweis joined his family’s dairy business following a stroke suffered by his brother, Joe.
With his financial and agricultural background, Oberweis believes he brings a variety of qualifications to the political arena.
When he took over the reins of his northern Illinois dairy business, Oberweis Dairy, it had 50 employees and $5 million in sales. Today, the company can tout more than 1,000 employees and $55 million in sales.
“We buy from the best farms and offer the best milk,” Obeweis said.
“The taste is an enormous difference,” he said explaining the milk and ice cream flavor. “The butter fat is 18-22 percent depending on the flavor of ice cream.”
Oberweis Dairy provides about 35 flavors of ice cream, 18 are offered year- round. Oberweis said his dairy pays high premiums to its farmers to produce low bacteria milk.
His dairy fills a market for those wanting milk without growth hormones.
“I’m a big believer in free markets like what happened in New Zealand,” he added.
In New Zealand, by reducing government influence, “the market mushroomed, and it has done incredibly well. I believe we can encourage farmers to grow their business and keep government regulation from interfering in the open market.”
He offered one example that he felt that would benefit Illinois farmers.
“If the government allowed us to contract with the farmer then they would know what their income would be,” he said.
“My basic belief is to let the market determine prices.”
This year especially, with drought conditions reducing yields and questions regarding what price the crop will render, leaves many income questions for Illinois grain farmers and livestock producers.
Oberweis said he has been working on local name recognition for farm and non-farm voters through his presence in the dairy industry and by beating the bushes.
“Seven days a week, I’m on the road getting to know the issues,” he said. “I’m probably the only candidate with an ag background,” he said, adding that his mother’s side of the family still has a farm in Newman, Ill.
Although Oberweis can’t claim he lived on a farm, he said, “I have worked on a farm.”
Oberweis has already assembled a brief list of campaign promises.
“I would not accept contributions from those with contracts with the State of Illinois,” he said.
Also, he would plan redistrict reform, and pledges there would be no tax increases on his watch.
“I would roll back fee increases,” he added. He believes fee increases in recent years have hurt Illinois’ business climate.
“The Oberweis Administration would view Illinois as a good place to build jobs and create opportunity,” he explained.
Oberweis would also reform education by increasing pay for teachers and reducing administrative overhead.
Oberweis said he has been accused of being blunt, but he does not back down from being forthright.
“I am not doing this for financial gain,” he said. “I want to do the right thing for Illinois and the country.”
At this year’s Illinois State Fair, Oberweis Dairy won blue ribbons for many of its products.
Oberweis hopes to do the same in the Republican primary.
Published in the August 31, 2005 issue of Farm World.