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Archive for November, 2006

Giving Thanks to Farmers

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll let NPR do the work for me today (they did a good job).

Farm Aid is as much a ritual gathering of America’s farming community as it is a fundraiser and a concert.

At the annual event, corn and pig farmers trade tips and plot lobbying strategies, and college kids listen as Dave Matthews plays a killer set. It’s a story of hard times and new possibilities, of farmers markets, of young people, whose parents were forced off the land, returning to farm again, and the beginning of new food chains.

Listen to the tribute.

Rural Roundup

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006
  • Watch out! Iowa is going to run out of corn. No really. Well, ok, not really. But they might. Really. I could write a book in response to this Sunday, front page Des Moines Register article, so I won’t even start.
    • I recently discovered the New West site with lots of news (and photographs) from the rural west.
      • What’s this guy doing raising grapes for wine in Iowa? Doesn’t he know Iowa is going to run out of corn?
        • Kos fills us in on some numbers: Democrats gained in the Mountain West. Democrats gained in North Dakota. Democrats gained in Alaska.
          • This Land Not for Sale to the Army

            Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

            Military officials are seeking to expand the training base at Fort Carson, Colorado by buying up 400,000 acres of Pinon Canyon (and as much as 2.3 million acres over the next 20 years). This land in rural Las Animas County is home to a deep tradition of farming and ranching. Local ranchers, typically supportive of the Fort Carson base, are now sporting “This Land Not for Sale to the Army” signs along their property boundaries.

            Precisely where that additional 418,000 acres will be located is unclear, but the zone the Army is looking at encompasses 1 million acres, perhaps 5,000 people, two entire towns, three schools, two state highways and untold historic sites, including visible wagon wheel tracks on the Santa Fe Trail and dinosaur tracks.

            For those not in the sites of the expansion, even Fort Carson officials admit that the planned expansion will have little or no economic benefit for the surrounding area.

            Democrats Take Control: Push Biotech

            Monday, November 20th, 2006

            The two Democrats poised to take control of the House and Senate Ag Committees are both signatories to a recent letter that reads in part:

            The EU has avoided for too long its WTO obligations … The illegal discrimination against biotech products on nonscientific grounds must cease.

            Welcome Senator Harkin. Welcome Representative Peterson. We’re so glad you’re back in charge and working on the important things first.

            The outgoing chairs were also signatories to the letter.

            Slaughterhouse Employees Walk Out

            Monday, November 20th, 2006

            At the Smithfield Packing plant in Tar Heel N.C. hundreds of (and possibly as many as 1,000) nonunion workers walked out in a show of worker solidarity last Friday.

            Workers involved in the walkout said it was fueled by anger over Smithfield’s recent decision to fire several dozen immigrants who the company said had presented false Social Security numbers in applying for a job. […] A number of workers said the discontent stemmed not just from the recent firings but also from brusque treatment, the speed of the production line and widespread injuries.

            The workers at this, the largest slaughter house in the world, have been fighting for union representation for nearly a decade.

            Workers are back at work today with promises from plant officials to ease regulations on firing of immigrant workers who cannot immediately provide proper documentation, and to meet for further talks.

            Rural Roundup

            Thursday, November 16th, 2006
            • Wal Mart sells organic. Except it’s not organic.
              • Twenty-one year old college student runs for state legislature (special election) in rural northwest Iowa.
                • The Rural School and Community Trust has a new blog about rural schools and rural education policy.
                  • Tom Philpott at GristMill notes that agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland’s stock rose on last week’s news that Democrats will control agriculture policy in Washington. Look for status quo on ag policy.
                    • In key House races across the country last week, rural voters put Democrats over the top.
                      • Rural Outreach and Senate Dems

                        Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

                        What does Senator Lincoln do in her role as “Chair of Rural Outreach”?

                        Blanche L. Lincoln, Chair of Rural Outreach

                        As she did in the 109th Congress, Senator Lincoln will again serve as Chair of Rural Outreach. This position was created in the last Congress as a sign of the Democrats’ strong commitment to aggressively engage and communicate with rural Americans. In this post, Senator Lincoln will continue guide rural outreach for the Caucus and find new ways to reach rural, suburban and exurban American communities.

                        The good:

                        Senator Lincoln has sponsored legislation to support the Delta Regional Authority.

                        She issued a “Rural Report Card” detailing Bush’s failed rural agenda.

                        Senator Lincoln sits on the Agriculture Committee and is part of the Rural Health Caucus.

                        The not so good:

                        Lincoln was among the minority of Democrats to support CAFTA. (Right, because these trade agreements have been excellent for the agriculture and manufacturing sectors that rural areas depend on.)

                        Lincoln voted in favor of restricting class action lawsuits and tightening rules on personal bankruptcy. (That should help alleviate the crushing rural poverty in the Senator’s home state.)

                        Lincoln was one of the few Democrats in Congress to vote in favor of the 2001 Bush tax cuts.

                        Farmers in the Senate

                        Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

                        My post below prompted me to research the history of farmers in the U.S. Senate. The following list includes U.S. Senators since 1900 who were also farmers. The parenthetical comments list their occupation(s) as taken from the Political Graveyard and/or the Congressional Bibliographic Directory site. As you can see, many “farmers” were also bankers, lawyers, sheriffs, etc. It will take significantly more research to determine which of these Senators were primarily farmers, and which were bankers who owned a farm.

                        Farmer-Senators Since 1900

                        Ellison DuRant Smith (D-SC) U.S. Senator 1909-44 (engaged in mercantile and agricultural pursuits, organizer of the Southern Cotton Association, field agent and general organizer in the cotton protective movement 1905-1908, known as “Cotton Ed”)

                        Obadiah Gardner (D-ME) U.S. Senator 1911-13 (engaged in the lumber, lime, and creamery business, and also in agricultural pursuits and in cattle raising)

                        Henry Wilder Keyes (R-NH) U.S. Senator 1919-37 (farmer, banker, and politician)

                        Magnus Johnson (DFL-MN) U.S. Senator 1923-25 (lumberjack, farmer, school clerk and assessor)

                        Lynn Joseph Frazier (R-ND) U.S. Senator 1923-41 (farmer and politician)

                        Hamilton Fish Kean (R-NJ) U.S. Senator 1929-35 (engaged in banking and agricultural pursuits)

                        John Gillis Townsend, Jr. (R-DE) U.S. Senator 1929-41 (engaged in banking, also interested in manufacturing and agricultural pursuits)

                        Robert Davis Carey (R-WY) U.S. Senator 1930-37 (engaged in the raising of livestock and agricultural pursuits, also interested in banking, politician)

                        Patrick Anthony McCarran (D-NV) U.S. Senator 1933-54 (farmer, lawyer and judge)

                        Harry Flood Byrd (R-VA) U.S. Senator 1933-65 (newspaper publisher, fruit farmer, politician)

                        Guy Mark Gillette (D-IA) U.S. Senator 1936-45 (military, engaged in agricultural pursuits, attorney)

                        George David Aiken (R-VT) U.S. Senator 1941-75 (engaged in fruit farming in 1912, also conducted an extensive nursery business and commercial cultivation of wildflowers)

                        Zales Nelson Ecton (R-MT) U.S. Senator 1947-53 (grain farmer and livestock rancher)

                        Earle Chester Clements (D-KY) U.S. Senator 1950-57 (farmer, sheriff and county judge)

                        Frank Carlson (R-KS) U.S. Senator 1950-69 (farmer and rancher)

                        Frank Aloysius Barrett (R-WY) U.S. Senator 1953-59 (lawyer, rancher, politician and civil servant)

                        Henry Louis Bellmon (R-OK) U.S. Senator 1969-81 (farmer, rancher and politician)

                        Summary thoughts in relation to the newest farmer in the Senate, Jon Tester (D-MT):

                        There are not many other Senators who were just farmers, the way Jon Tester has been just a farmer for most of his life. Not many farmer-Senators on this list rose as quickly to the U.S. Senate as Jon Tester has. Most were long-term politicians holding a variety of posts and rising though U.S. congressional positions or governor seats to the U.S. Senate.

                        There is a noticeable decline in the number of elected farmer-Senators about the middle of the last century with only three of the seventeen Senators listed above achieving election after 1950.

                        My sources profess their own incompleteness. If I missed someone, add them in the comments below.

                        Hi-ho, The derry-o

                        Monday, November 13th, 2006

                        There’s a farmer in the Senate
                        There’s a farmer in the Senate
                        Hi-ho, The derry-o
                        There’s a farmer in the Senate
                        Jon Tester, Farmer

                        The New York Times has a short profile of Senator-Elect Jon Tester today.

                        GREAT FALLS, Mont., Nov. 9 — When he joins the United States Senate in January, big Jon Tester — who is just under 300 pounds in his boots — will most likely be the only person in the world’s most exclusive club who knows how to butcher a cow or grease a combine.

                        All his life, Mr. Tester, 50, has lived no more than two hours from his farm, an infinity of flat on the windswept expanse of north-central Montana, hard by the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.

                        For all the talk about the new Democrats swept into office on Tuesday, the senator-elect from Montana truly is your grandfather’s Democrat — a pro-gun, anti-big-business prairie pragmatist whose life is defined by the treeless patch of hard Montana dirt that has been in the family since 1916.

                        It is a place with 105-degree summer days and winter chills of 30 below zero, where his grandparents are buried, where his two children learned to grow crops in a dry land entirely dependent on rainfall, and where, he says, he earned barely $20,000 a year farming over the last decade.

                        “It’s always been tight, trying to make a living on that farm,” said Mr. Tester, still looking dazed and bloodshot-eyed after defeating Senator Conrad Burns, a three-term incumbent, by fewer than 3,000 votes.

                        Chouteau County, where Mr. Tester lives on a homestead of 1,800 acres, lost 8.5 percent of its population in the last five years — typical of much of rural America that has been in decline since the Dust Bowl.

                        To make extra money, Mr. Tester taught music to schoolchildren, and still plays a decent trumpet despite having only seven fingers (he lost the rest to a meat grinder as a child). He got into politics just eight years ago in a sustained rage over what utility deregulation had done to small farmers and businesses in Montana.

                        “You think of the Senate as a millionaire’s club — well, Jon is going to be the blue-collar guy who brings an old-fashioned, Jeffersonian ideal about being tied to the land,” said Steve Doherty, a friend of Mr. Tester’s for 20 years. “He’s a small farmer from the homestead. That’s absolutely who he is. That place defines him.” […]

                        Congress has done little to improve the lives of people living in the dying towns across rural America, Mr. Doherty said.

                        “When Jon talks about the cafe that’s trying to hold on, the hardware store that just closed, the third generation that can’t make a living on the farm, he is living that life,” Mr. Doherty said. […]

                        Mr. Tester and his wife of 28 years, Sharla, grow organic lentils, barley, peas and gluten-free grain in a county with 1.5 people per square mile. It is all earth and sky on the Tester family ground. A hundred years ago, a region with so few people was considered frontier. […]

                        Asked why he became a Democrat in a region that has been overwhelmingly Republican for the last generation, Mr. Tester said: “It started with my parents, who always said the Democrats work for the middle class. And in agriculture, Franklin Roosevelt did a lot of good things.”

                        Friends say not to worry about Mr. Tester going native in Washington. He said he planned to return home to the farm several times a month. He promised his barber, Bill Graves, that he would continue to come back to get his hair cut in the same wheat-field bristle.

                        Jon Tester, Farmer
                        There’s a farmer in the Senate
                        There’s a farmer in the Senate…

                        Update: The Political Graveyard has a list of farmer-politicians. I’m currently combing through it to find out when the last time a real farmer was elected to the U.S. Senate.

                        Update Two: See list above.

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