Our selection of Senator Mitch McConnell as 2019 Person of the Year (POTY) was met with strong feedback—both positive and negative. We were called bold and brave...and also crazy.

As we noted in the December issue, “Person of the Year is not an award. It’s a recognition of the person who—for better or for worse or a mix of both—made the most substantial impact on this industry over the past year.” Factoring in the events of the year and feedback from around the industry, we felt McConnell has had a substantial impact for his role in hemp (which has pros and cons—see page 24 of this issue for more on this) and his role in hindering action on climate change initiatives, which is a topic we cover often in this magazine and consider to be very important.

As our list of past POTY shows, some are viewed in a positive light while others have been considered more controversial: Independent Retailers (2018); Jeff Bezos (2017); Cara Welch, Ph.D. (2016); Eric Schneiderman, who was the New York AG at the time (2015); and Megan Westgate of the Non-GMO Project (2014).

Judging by the feedback we got this year, 2019 is our most controversial POTY. The article was a topic of discussion and debate beyond the natural products industry, but on this page we are focusing on feedback received from readers in the industry. The article was a conversation starter within the industry, with many respectfully sharing opinions and exchanging ideas as to why they thought it was—or was not—a valid selection. Following the release of WholeFoods Magazine Publisher Heather Wainer’s statement on the selection, which can be found on page 4 of this issue, readers called and wrote in to share their views.

Many who felt it was a poor choice pointed to the bigger picture, as this reader did: He is blocking all sorts of legislation to make our country and the planet that we all share a better place, beholden to the fossil fuel companies that are ruining our planet for generations to come.

Another wrote: I could list all the reasons Mitch McConnell should not be person of the year but, it seems abundantly clear. It is also quite obvious that WholeFoods magazine is taking a political position with total disregard for the fact that the health industry has always been politically diverse. Mitch McConnell did nothing in my state to further the hemp industry. We did it on our own and have no connection to Kentucky.

Another woman emailed: Whatever your reasoning was, it was, in my opinion a terrible decision to choose that Trumpian disgrace, Mitch as The person of the year. It is very offensive given his political stance. There is more to a "person of the year" than one single agenda that our industry might like.

Sandy Gooch pointed out: The verdict on whether his efforts in getting the hemp bill passed will have a positive effect on our industry is yet to be determined… in fact, right now, with these lawsuits on CBD products just announced, CBD/hemp may put more of a stain on our industry than anything!

Sharing a different perspective, one reader wrote: IDK why people tend to be so black & white. You can dislike Mitch for other stuff and still see the good here, no?

Another retailer told us: We appreciate your honesty in being able to name a supportive figure in the natural food industry. Tribalism is stifling the journalistic integrity of a lot of publications [that] are afraid to just state basic facts. Thanks again.

A grower wrote in to tell us: We honor your decision. Don’t back down (Mitch McConnell) does honorable things for all of us and we appreciate this in our industry. We are a grower and are strongly considering adding hemp to our list of crops grown. We enjoy your articles, all of the industry information and an affordable platform for introducing new products. We appreciate the industry approach. We in the trenches grow to provide healthy and safe food products for all to enjoy not for partisan views or politics.

Read on for some of the letters we received.
Dear Editor,

I was extremely disappointed and shocked to see that WholeFoods Magazine in the December 2019 issue would recognize someone as politically polarizing as Senator McConnell, especially given the fact that he has been a lightning rod for so many in this industry and has done more over his tenure to oppose the principles upon which this industry was founded than support them. As stated in the article, McConnell may be Person of the Year for the Hemp Industry, but it’s a stretch to grant him that title for our industry as a whole, especially given the fact that until proper regulatory parameters/guidelines are passed for inclusion of hemp/CBD in dietary supplements and then rigorously enforced by the FDA, his influence and the effects of his actions this year on our industry as it relates to hemp/CBD is still up for debate. What is NOT up for debate is McConnell’s appalling and unconscionable track record on the issues that matter to many in our industry over his ~35-year tenure in the Senate. I can tell you that there is a long list of measures/efforts/laws that he lead and/or supported that went against the foundation upon which our industry was built from his opposition and denial of climate change to his dismantling of environmental protections to his support of the fossil fuel industry, and of course, his unwavering support of our big nemeses, the big ag and big pharma industries where he has basically resided in their hip pocket. So one potentially good deed (operative word there being “potentially”) over a lifetime of bad deeds, respectfully, in my book, does not merit this type of recognition from our industry’s most respected trade publication.

William P. Arthur Owner/Principal Nutraceutical Solutions Consulting

Just wanted to drop you a line commending you on acknowledging Senator McConnell's work on hemp. It's hard for most folks to put aside all the other politics, even those in his home state, and give credit where credit is due but you guys did a great job of telling that story and showing just how unbiased the praise from folks on this particular subject is. I've obviously had the pleasure of being a part of a lot of this DC stuff and I can say he has most certainly been our biggest asset on the Hill so far and that looks to continue so thanks again and keep up the great work.

Be well, Josh Hendrix Director of US Hemp Production CV Sciences, Inc.