You might forgive Don Albosta and Charlie Stenholm their sense of mixed loyalties when brother farmers return to Washington next week with this year's protest tractorcade.
A year ago, Albosta was organizing a tractor caravan in Michigan and lobbying Congress for a new farm bill. Stenholm was tending his 2,000-acre farm and cheering the protesters of the American Agriculture Movement (AAM).
Today they are, respectively, Rep. Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.) and Rep. Charles W. Stenholm (D-Tex.). And, as they will tell you, it's amazing how your perspective can change in a year.
Politically and philosophically, both men still are very much on the side of the farmers. But, as other erstwhile outsides found once they crossed into the corridors of power, nothing is as simple as it seems.
Albosta, fresh off a 1,200-acre Michigan sugarbeet, corn and wheat farm, and Stenholm, newly arrived from his cotton, wheat and livestock spread in west Texas, offer textbook examples. Neither is a wild-eyed militant.
"The farmers' story is still valid. Their income levels still are not adequate," Stenholm said the other day in his new office. The only adornment there is a "Tractors Are Coming" bumper sticker from the AAM.
"But I question the advisability of a tractorcade. I don't believe a tractorcade will be helpful this year," he continued. "I feel last year's farm bill gave us the tools we needed to imporove the farmers' situation."
Albosta's feelings are similar, and he, too, says he thinks his rural brethren must take the tools and defend themselves -- cut production and lift prices -- rather than drive tractors in circles around the capital.
"Farmers have got to organize themselves better," he said. "They achieved their goal last year with passage of the farm bill. They informed the public and the media that they had a problem. They did a good job, and Congress gave them the power they asked for.
"But a lot of farmers still are hurting very badly. They have to reduce their production -- it's the only answer. The problem is that each one wants the other to take that step. Look at corn last year: everybody plants, we have a record crop and the prices are way down," Albosta said.
Their stories might be catchier if their political activism and their election had resulted from involvement with the grass-roots AAM. Actually, both men were in politics before there was an AAM.
What can be reported, however, is that their contact with the political process as lobbyists -- Stenholm working for cotton growers, Albosta working with AAM -- whetted their appetites to get to the House of Representatives.
Albosta, 54, grew up on a family farm near Saginaw, delivered milk in town as a child, worked with the cash crops and did construction work before getting his own small farm after World War II service.
Acre by acre he added to that, building up an operation that he says would cost $1 million to duplicate.
He was a county commissioner for four years and a state representative for two years, making a name for himself as a critic of the state's handling of the PBB chemical contamination of cattle feed.
Albosta unsuccessfully challenged Republican incumbent Elford A. Cederberg in 1976, then defeated him last year.
Stenholm, 40, was reared on a farm near Stamford, earned a master's degree at Texas Tech University, then taught high-school agriculture and farmed part time with his late father.
He spent nine years as manager of the local rural electric cooperative, and was a lobbyist here and in Texas for the Rolling Plains cotton growers. A 1966 meeting with Orville Freeman, then secretary of agriculture, led to a small victory for Stenholm, and he decided then and there that "the system works."
His future then was inevitable. He got into Democratic politics, worked in campaigns and decided to grab for the brass ring that Omar Burleson (D-Tex.) left dangling with his retirement last year.