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Congressional Candidates
Sound Off on Ag Issues

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, October 23, 2008

Urban, rural districts draw hopefuls with variety of viewpoints

Candidates in Washington's congressional races speak of the need to relieve the country's dependence upon foreign oil, the importance of water and their desire to seek fair trade for the nation's agricultural producers.

The six candidates in Washington's largest agriculture races - Districts 3, 4 and 5 - were asked what they believe is the biggest issue agriculture faces today, what they would do for agriculture producers if elected or re-elected and to describe any agricultural endorsements they have received.

Information for candidates in the other districts is drawn from the state voters' guide and candidates' websites.

District 1

Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is championing the New Apollo Energy Project to eliminate the country's dependence upon foreign oil.

He faces Republican Larry Ishmael, businessman and former Issaquah School Board president, whose experience includes being a pioneer of the world's largest clean air program.

District 2

Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat, worked as a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee to improve roads, ferries and infrastructure in the interest of increasing jobs.

He faces Republican Rick Bart, a retired police officer and former Snohomish County sheriff, who seeks to reduce national debt, eliminate dependence upon foreign oil and resolve the health-care crisis in a bi-partisan way.

District 3

Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat, points to his record of support for agriculture, which includes voting for the farm bill, introducing legislation to support independent truckers hauling agriculture products, advocacy for specialty fruit growers, working with family foresters to deal with regulatory issues, working with the aquaculture industry and working with dairy farmers to deal with flooding issues in December 2007.

He also wants to ensure the Columbia River remains viable as a transportation route and that electric power is affordable and water is available for irrigation.

"I am very proud of a strong record," Baird said. "I have always been available to our farmers, have worked vigorously to help them. I have cast some critical, though difficult votes on trade issues endorsed by our farmers as well."

Fuel and fertilizer prices are the top issues agriculture faces today, Baird said. High fuel prices increase the cost of running farm equipment and the cost of transporting materials to market.

If the financial rescue package had not been passed, Baird believes credit would have become a problem for farmers.

"Hopefully it will be less so," he said.

Baird is endorsed by the National Farmers Union.

His challenger Michael Delavar, a Republican, believes the biggest issue agriculture faces is intervention by the federal government in areas where it has "no authority to be intervening," including the National Animal Identification System. He believes NAIS will have far-ranging implications if it's made more than a voluntary system.

"It's a very top-heavy bureaucracy that is not necessary," Delavar said. "The federal government has overstepped its reach in many ways."

Delavar said farming has long been neglected as a necessary aspect to the American way of life. If farmers have to compete unfairly with producers receiving taxpayer benefits and subsidies through low-interest loans through the International Money Fund and World Bank, it's harmful for farmers.

"We need to start repealing a lot of those decisions and stop putting our farmers at a disadvantage," he said.

Delavar hopes to strengthen the economy by returning to sound money in a debt-based economy. An economy based upon the expansion of credit in order to have the "illusion of wealth," he said, is harmful to the middle and lower classes.

Delavar said he has not yet received any official agriculture endorsements.

District 4

Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican, believes one of the best ways to help agriculture is to expand exports through overseas trade agreements. Three such agreements are pending before Congress on trade with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Hastings believes the Colombian trade agreement is the most important of the three, as it would immediately give duty-free access to U.S. agricultural products in that country. Colombia already has free access to U.S. markets.

"We need to continue expanding trade as the economy slows down a bit," Hastings said.

He plans to continue advocacy for agriculture producers on water policy, trade and reducing the cost of doing business.

Hastings supports oil drilling off shore and in Alaska in an attempt to become energy independent and obtain more affordable energy prices.

"I think that is something that is not only good for farmers, but it's also good for our national security and good for our economy as a whole," he said.

He pointed to 2001 and 2003 provisions that will reinstate the death tax, which he said adversely impacts farm families.

"I think that is extremely bad policy," he said. "I will work, as I have continued to work, to try to eliminate the death tax."

Hastings said he is endorsed by the Washington State Farm Bureau and has received contributions from the state's apple and vegetable industries.

Democrat challenger George Fearing said the U.S. is importing agricultural products from other countries that are unsafe or grown under slave labor or low-wage conditions, making it difficult for American growers to compete.

Fearing seeks to balance trade and apply pressure on countries to grow products under environmentally sound conditions, with workers paid fair wages, "or we should not be trading with those countries," he said.

Fearing hopes to make Central Washington an alternative energy capital of the world through use of biomass grown by local farmers. He would seek to participate in the House's Agricultural Committee.

"Agriculture is our primary field, our primary effort," he said. "For that reason, our congressman should be on the agriculture committee and work to assist growers in this area."

Fearing said he has received endorsements from a number of farmers and growers, but not from any agricultural organizations or grower groups.

District 5

Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers believes a big question for producers is the future of agriculture in uncertain times, particularly in regards to the economy, commodity prices and input costs.

She is proud to have served on the farm bill conference committee, the group that negotiated the final farm bill.

"I think it's very important that agriculture and farmers in Eastern Washington have the certainty of knowing we have a farm bill for the next five years," she said. "It gives them that safety net, helps them with research and exports and maintains the commitment from the federal government for their success."

If re-elected, McMorris Rodgers plans to continue to be a strong proponent of agriculture and points to her ties to the industry through a family-owned fruit stand in Kettle Falls, where she worked through high school, college and beyond.

She also plans to continue her commitment to research and finding research dollars at the state's various institutions. Wheat research at Washington State University's Johnson Hall has been one of her top priorities for funding, she said.

She plans to continue to promote policies allowing farmers access to water, and protection of the dams.

"The lower Snake River dams and the Columbia River dams really help build agriculture in Eastern Washington," she said. "There are those who would like to tear out our dams. I'm going to work to protect those dams and tell their positive story."

The Washington State Farm Bureau has endorsed McMorris Rodgers.

Democrat challenger Mark Mays likened the role of government involvement in agriculture to the use of fire as a tool.

"We use fire to warm or to heat; you can do wonderful things with fire," he said. "But if fire gets out of hand, then it's destructive. I think the same is true with government."

It can be tempting for people to want to do away with government as much as possible because of the aggravations and frustrations it has caused, Mays said, but he thinks that move would be unwise.

"We want to get rid of the misuse of fire," he said. "When it comes to farming, we all have some investment. It's just a question of to what degree can we be a lot wiser and a lot smarter working collectively?"

Mays believes the issues in agriculture are reflected in the issues of the general public, particularly in the price of gas and its impact upon farmers.

"It's one thing to fill up a car and pay a bit of money for that," he said. "It's another thing to fill up a tractor for $600. The petroleum industry affects every part of agriculture."

Mays called for a reasonable energy solution.

He would also look at the nation's growing dependence on foreign countries for food, while maintaining freight for wheat, lentils, grains and apples that are exported.

"We have to have a foreign policy that benefits farmers as well as our country," he said. "We also need to be attentive to the concerns farmers have about water."

Mays wants more research in farming practices to do things that are wise in the short run and to meet long-term needs.

"We have a lot we can do and should be doing to help farmers," he said. "No matter where you are or what you're doing, everything around you that you use is generated by either farming or mining."

Mays said he is endorsed by a number of individual farmers, but no organizations.

District 6

Rep. Norm Dicks, a Democrat, is working toward a responsible energy policy, environmental protection and natural resources stewardship and supporting service members and bringing them home from Iraq. He faces Republican Doug Cloud, an attorney, who seeks a free and strong economy, cheaper and cleaner energy and improving the economy to pay for an effective defense against terrorism.

District 7

Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat, includes calling for an end to the war in Iraq, improvements to the health care system and affordable housing and education in his campaign.

He faces Republican Steve Beren, an Internet marketing company operations director, who calls for less government spending and lower taxes, ending dependence on foreign oil and secure borders with no amnesty for illegal immigrants.

District 8

Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican, is calling for expanded free trade, including future work with Vietnam and Peru, a comprehensive energy policy and lower taxes.

He faces Democrat Darcy Burner, community activist and former Microsoft employee, who supports a middle-class tax cut, creating a path to legal residency for undocumented workers and fair trade to create a level playing field for American workers and businesses.

District 9

Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat, supports America's ability to compete and win in the global marketplace, affordable healthcare and alternative and renewable sources of energy.

He faces Republican James Postma, a businessman and software engineer, who favors tax cuts, a safe form of nuclear energy over corn-based fuels and improved government-sponsored loan corporations.

Matthew Weaver is based in Spokane, Wash.
Congressional Candidates Sound Off on Ag Issues
Capital Press, October 23, 2008

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