Farm Bureau snub of proven agricultural ally indefensible

Farm Bureau snub of proven agricultural ally indefensible – Commentary

Harry Cline

It would seem logical that a politician who played a pivotal role in dishing up at least $100 million annually in tax break for an organization’s membership would deserve that organization’s support.

Not the California Farm Bureau Federation, which recently endorsed the opponent of California Assemblyman Mike Briggs, who is running for Congress from the central San Joaquin Valley.

Farm Bureau endorsed Devin Nunes, a young, third generation Tulare County dairyman whose only other run at political office was for a seat on a local junior college governing board.

Nunes is talented and well educated. He resigned as President Bush’s state director for the United States Department of Agriculture to run for the 21St Congressional District seat. He has the backing of many local and national politicians and farmers, mostly in his home county. Nunes’ loyalty to agriculture and his political party is unquestioned.

However, Republican Briggs crossed party lines to give agriculture — his constituency — its biggest tax break in history last year in the California Legislature. He put his political future on the line for his constituents.

That loyalty earned Briggs strong endorsements from several large farming organizations and agricultural leaders who are part of an agricultural coalition formed outside of Farm Bureau that lead the fight to politically win that tax break, called the biggest political ag victory ever. The coalition was formed largely because Farm Bureau has become politically inept in Sacramento.

Farm Bureau’s endorsement of Briggs’ opponent is at least partly spite against the coalition and its candidate. Farm Bureau was at best a minor player in the tax relief effort, yet it tried to hog credit but was snubbed.

More importantly, Farm Bureau’s endorsement of Nunes is clear sign the organization is politically out of touch. For agriculture to achieve anything politically, farmers and rancher must create alliances beyond simply whether a candidate or an elected official is a Republican or Democrat. The tax bill victory is proof that agriculture can win, but it takes support from both sides of the aisle and from all areas of the state; something Farm Bureau for years has said was not possible.

The endorsement of Nunes is not unlike the Farm Bureau ‘s unintelligent endorsement of Fresno television newsman Rich Rodriquez against veteran California Congressman Calvin Dooley of Hanford, Calif., in the last election.

No question Nunes and Rodriquez would make good public servants. They have proven that within their communities. However, are they the best candidates in the rough and tumble world of politics where agriculture is the underdog?

The Briggs snub by Farm Bureau is particularly troubling. It is another sign that Farm Bureau, which claims to be the state’s largest farm organization, does not politically represent the best interest of California agriculture.

Just because someone was raised on a farm does not make them an effective legislator — the prime criteria Farm Bureau used in its press release endorsing Nunes — any more than having a Sacramento address makes an organization an effective agricultural advocate.

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