Commentary: Why Farm Bureau endorsed Sen. Dianne Feinstein
By Paul Wenger
After Sen. Dianne Feinstein met with the California Farm Bureau Board of Directors in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, she posed with CFBF First Vice President Kenny Watkins, President Paul Wenger and Second Vice President Jamie Johansson.
The California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors unanimously endorsed Dianne Feinstein for U.S. Senate at their April board meeting (see story, Page 3). This will be the fourth time we have endorsed Sen. Feinstein in her candidacy for the Senate.
Sen. Feinstein continues to work very hard to bring solutions to critical issues facing California agriculture. Her stature and seniority in the Senate will be critically important to resolving these issues. Here are some examples:
Sen. Feinstein has worked harder than anyone in Congress to develop an agricultural guestworker program so farmers and ranchers can have a legal and reliable work force when needed.
This was an issue on which farm organizations educated Sen. Feinstein. With perpetually high unemployment numbers in California, it initially seemed to her that there were already available workers to meet farmers' needs. Through the combined efforts of Farm Bureau, Western Growers, Nisei Farmers League, Grape and Tree Fruit League, the California Association of Winegrape Growers and others, we were able to show her that most people will not take on farm work, no matter what the pay or their unemployed status. After working with the Employment Development Department and Welfare to Work programs, we demonstrated the huge, unmet need for farm labor and the lack of available workers. She recognized that the seasonality and perishable nature of many of our crops further exacerbates our labor supply quandary.
Sen. Feinstein has worked diligently to find a solution and understands that if E-verify is put into effect before there is a suitable guestworker program, California farmers and ranchers will be dealt a terrible blow.
We have been granted a two-year reprieve before once again facing the prospect of egregious and business-killing estate taxes. Well past the last hour of Dec. 31, 2010, Congress finally extended an amended version of the 2009 estate tax laws. On Dec. 31, 2012, they will once again sunset unless something is done.
Sen. Feinstein looked at the facts we presented to her, that California farmers and ranchers bear a huge burden when passing the farm or ranch from one generation to the next.
Once again, she was willing to listen to our concerns. After talking to farmers and ranchers who either sold their land or became immersed in debt to pay the taxes owed from inheritance, she recognized the inequities put upon agricultural landowners. The senator worked closely with Rep. Mike Thompson to find effective ways to keep the farm or ranch in the family and in agriculture, without needing to "re-buy" the farm every time the land transfers from one generation to the next.
She is once again looking for solutions, before Dec. 31, 2012, to protect farm and ranch landowners from assuming this egregious tax liability when there is just a transfer of title from one generation to the next.
Last year, several Farm Bureau members who had experienced the devastating effects of the estate tax accompanied me to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress. After we met with Sen. Feinstein, she arranged for our group to have personal meetings with fellow members serving on the Senate Finance Committee. Few senators could have arranged these appointments.
Sen. Feinstein understands the necessity for new surface storage and increased water supplies for a state not only growing in population, but also boasting the fifth largest agricultural economy in the world. She appreciates the fact that our farms and ranches serve as a renewable economic stimulus for our entire state, creating jobs far beyond the farm gate. But she knows this economic engine is only sustainable if farms have a reliable supply of appropriately priced water. That is why she has worked for flexibility in the operation of our current water delivery systems and brought state and federal agencies, water districts and other parties to the table, to find workable solutions to our outdated and undersized water infrastructure.
Sen. Feinstein has utilized her years of experience in the Senate to fight against invasive and destructive pests like the Mediterranean fruit fly, glassy-winged sharpshooter, Mexican fruit fly, Asian citrus psyllid and many more. When border inspections for agricultural pests and diseases moved from the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Department of Homeland Security, Sen. Feinstein pressed Homeland Security to be diligent carrying out the agricultural protection duties, because California agriculture is so important to our national security.
In addition, over the years Sen. Feinstein has focused on direct constituent services in a way few senators do. For example, she defended the rights of our members who produce oysters in Bodega Bay, who operate dairies in the Pt. Reyes National Seashore and who harvest timber throughout California.
Sen. Feinstein works across the aisle on many issues important to California agriculture. Her years of service in the Senate have earned her respect from Republicans and Democrats alike, and from federal agencies as well.
The issues that will confront our country in the coming years require the attention of someone who is open-minded, will challenge your assertions but will advocate strongly on your behalf when you make your case well, and has the influence, respect and horsepower to get things done.
Sen. Feinstein does all that and we will be well-served by her continuing as your United States senator.
(Paul Wenger is president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.