McCain’s Ag Cheerleaders – Who Are These Guys?
By Matt L. Barron
John McCain finally got around to announcing a national steering committee of farmers and ranchers on October 6, 2008 — just shy of one month from the election. And mimicking the Bush-Cheney campaigns of 2000 and 2004, McCain’s boosters are called the “McCain Farm & Ranch Team.”
Telling in itself, since the Republicans tend to look at rural constituencies solely as the agricultural sector, while Democrats take a broader view, recognizing rural America is 21% of this great nation. Farmers today comprise less than 1% of the population and the U.S. Census Bureau has stopped counting them as an occupation (although the Census of Agriculture is still alive and well). Adding up the women advisors, McCain weighs in with 4 women of 69 total “team” members, about 6%, and all of them are elected officials – three from the U.S. House and one state rep.
By contrast, Barack Obama’s Agriculture & Rural Policy Committee includes three times the percentage of women, some 18%, and has a group of advisors representing the wider spectrum of rural constituencies — folks from the forest and wood products community, Native American tribes, rural health care professionals and rural development organizations as well as traditional farmers and ranchers.
The McCain group is comprised of 13 current or former state Farm Bureau presidents, 23 members of Congress and some representatives of the sugar, livestock and agribusiness industries.
So who are these guys? And why would they go to bat for a nominee with such a bad track record on the issues facing agriculture and rural people?
I thought we might just take a closer look at a few of McCain’s pom pom shakers:
John Block has been given the task of chairing the “Farm & Ranch Team”. You might remember him as Ronald Reagan’s agriculture secretary who, in 1981, instituted “ketchup as a vegetable” for the school lunch program. More than a few school nutrition supervisors had something to say about that.
Charlie Kruse is the current Missouri Farm Bureau president who has come under fire for pushing the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in the Show Me State. The Missouri Bushwhacker Blog reported on May 14, 2007 that “Kruse signed a letter to UDSA representing MFB that NAIS should ultimately be MANDATORY! MFB policy has never said that! Ask Charles for a copy!” NAIS is the Bush administration’s controversial Big Brother in the Barnyard initiative to mandate a national animal tracking and information system that would enable USDA to monitor the whereabouts of virtually all livestock in the country. Had Democrats proposed this, I can only imagine the GOP howling — “they’re trying to grow the size of government” and “they’re creating an expensive and intrusive bureaucracy.”
James R. Moseley is a former deputy secretary at USDA. He oversaw the day-to-day activities of the agency during his tenure under ex-Secretary Ann Veniman. According to the Agribusiness Accountability Initiative’s report USDA Inc.: How Agribusiness Has Hijacked Regulatory Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Specifically, USDA has supported the misguided policy of using conservation dollars out of its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to subsidize CAFOs’ attempts to solve their manure problems. Moseley has been described by the Chicago Tribune as “a champion of industrial-style hog production.” Before taking office, he was a partner in Infinity Pork LLC, an Indiana CAFO that raised 50,000 hogs annually.”
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) revealed his feelings about his colleague from Arizona to the Boston Globe on January 27, 2008, “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,” Cochran said about McCain by phone. “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” The former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Sen. Cochran was floor managing the ag approps bill through the Senate in 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001, while his buddy, John McCain, was voting no every time.
Jay Vroom is the president and CEO of CropLife America. Sounds like an insurance company right? Wrong. Vroom is the top lobbyist for the pesticide industry. A few years ago, his organization was known as the National Agricultural Chemicals Association. I’ll bet they paid a pretty penny to “re-brand” themselves. Vroom is a big backer of genetically modified crops. It’s important, Vroom says, “…we build and maintain consensus within our industry, and with both traditional and new partners. We’ll either work together, or we’ll be hung separately by our opponents.” On November 30, 2006, following the midterm elections, Vroom bemoaned the loss of Republicans in the House and Senate, calling the defeat of Montana Sen. Conrad Burns “a big blow…” and of another downfall, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), Vroom said in an interview with Delta Farm Press, that loss was “a major blow to our agenda.”
Wayne Mann is a former president of New Hampshire Farm Bureau and a farmer from Canterbury. On October 25, 2005, Mann testified at a New Hampshire Farm Bill Forum in Manchester, NH. He pleaded for various programs covered in different titles of the upcoming five year reauthorization, especially veterinary education. “It’s already been mentioned that we have a dearth of large animal veterinarians in the state. We have a fairly healthy livestock industry, so funding the Farm Bill for that veterinary education is important.” Memo to Mr. Mann, the fella you’re backing votes against the farm bill and didn’t bother voting at all on the 2007 reauthorization. And in 2002, McCain voted to wipe out $50 million for construction and renovations at the National Animal Disease Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. In May 2008, McCain said “I’d veto the farm bill …” But Mann is standing by his man.
William L. Jones is a former secretary of state in California currently chair of Pacific Ethanol, Inc. based in Sacramento and the largest ethanol producer and marketer in the West. On June 11, 2008, the Sacramento Business Journal reported “Shares of Pacific Ethanol plummeted almost 6 percent in trading Wednesday, a day after the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a lower-than-expected corn harvest and Republican presidential candidate John McCain said the federal government should end ethanol subsidies.” The article noted that the firm’s “shares dropped 17 cents — or 5.8 percent — to $2.78 in heavier-than-average trading.” Talk about strange bedfellows, Mr. Jones is supporting a candidate who has voted 23 times against renewable fuels.
Thomas Jagodinski is the former president and CEO of Delta & Pine Land Co., once a leader in the cotton seed industry and operator of the largest and longest running private cotton seed breeding program in the world. In 2006, Delta & Pine Land was gobbled up by Monsanto. Monsanto already owns brands that sell about 25% of the seed used to produce the two biggest American crops – corn and soybeans. Delta & Pine Land’s seeds produce half of our nation’s cotton, America’s fifth-biggest crop. After the deal went down Jagodinski said “Our companies are a natural fit that will provide a complete platform of cutting-edge seed technologies to our global farmer customer base for years to come.” In other words, monopolies are good. Huh?
McCain’s cadre of Capitol Hill cheerleaders is also quite interesting given their collective low grades from major farm organizations. During the 109th Congress (2005-2006) when Republicans ran the place, Senators Chambliss (GA), Graham (SC), Grassley (IA), Bond (MO), Cochran (MS) and Roberts (KS) all received 33% scores from the National Farmers Union (NFU). And NFU rated Senators Brownback (KS) and Ensign (NV) 16% for that term. Flunking grades all around there.
Over in the House, Representatives Goodlatte (VA), Putnam (FL), Blunt (MO), Flake (AZ), Pitts (PA) and Ryan (WI) each received big fat zeros from NFU for 2005-2006, the same score as their guy, John McCain. Rep. Flake was first elected to the House in 2000. Flake, one of 11 children, was raised on a ranch in the Arizona town of Snowflake (named in part after his great-great-grandfather, one of two founders). He jokes that he went into politics “to get off the farm, quit milking cows.” Each year, Flake has launched a nuclear warhead against earmarks in the Agriculture Appropriations bill. Looks to me like he thinks nobody should be milking cows in America. Canada? Mexico? Maybe we should just go with reconstituted milk flakes from some unknown continent for our daily Wheaties? You’ll be the judge and jury on November 4. What’s your verdict?