Updated: Farm groups assess results of the election

Issue Date: November 14, 2012
By Kate Campbell

The outcome of the November election left Washington in a "back to the future" mode but portends a potentially significant change in Sacramento. With election totals still being finalized in a handful of close races, Democratic legislators predicted they would achieve a two-thirds "super majority" in both houses of the state Legislature. (Update: A week after the election, that prediction was confirmed as vote tallies gave victories to two Assembly Democrats.)

At the federal level, Democrats maintained control of the White House and the U.S. Senate, and Republicans held the majority in the House.

"The old adage about the more things change, the more they stay the same is true at the federal level," American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said last week during a post-election media briefing. "We have basically the same political makeup in the House and Senate, we have the same president—and we have all the same issues on the table that we had before the campaign."

Stallman listed three tax issues at the top of farmers' list of concerns: the estate tax, capital gains treatment and depreciation deductions. The outgoing Congress is due to address a number of tax issues during a "lame-duck" session that begins this week (see story).

"We have some new members of the California congressional delegation and we're looking forward to working with them," said Rayne Pegg, manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Division. "The next big question will be what committees they'll be assigned and what role new members will play in the current issues."

The new members of Congress from California include two with agricultural backgrounds: Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, and David Valadao, R-Hanford.

CFBF President Paul Wenger welcomed the re-election of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., whom he described as a consistent, effective advocate for California farmers and ranchers.

"As expected, Sen. Feinstein will return for another six-year term," Wenger said. "We look forward to working with her in the same productive manner we have in the past."

On the state legislative front, Casey Gudel, CFBF political affairs manager, said a two-thirds super majority allows one party to pass tax increases, constitutional amendments or override a governor's legislative veto, if all elected members of the same party agree.

In the state Senate, four races decided whether Democrats would achieve the super majority. Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton, who led in the ballotting for the 5th Senate District as final votes were being tallied, appeared to be the only Republican successful in capturing one of the key seats.

"In the Assembly, Democrats unexpectedly won a number of seats, bringing their chances of gaining a super majority closer than expected," Gudel said.

Assembly races that remained undecided included two in which Democrats held narrow leads over Republicans. Democrats need to win both to achieve the super majority in that house that party leaders said they expect. (Update: On Wednesday, election officials confirmed that the Democratic candidates had won both seats.)

"We were pleased, however, to see Farm Bureau-supported candidates—Republicans and business-friendly Democrats—emerge successful in their bids for office," Gudel said.

Two new members of the Assembly have agricultural backgrounds: Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals.

CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis noted that in the aftermath of the election, Gov. Brown discussed the need for the Legislature to proceed slowly in discussions about tax increases.

"It's been nearly 80 years since one party had a super majority in the Legislature, so this would be new territory for everyone involved," Matteis said. "There are a number of moderate, business-friendly Democrats returning to office or newly elected, and we will continue to stress with legislators on both sides of the aisle that both rural and urban areas of California benefit from a strong agricultural economy."

He said Farm Bureau will work at the grassroots level and in legislators' districts to strengthen relationships with members of the Legislature and their staffs, adding that farmers and ranchers, through county Farm Bureaus, will remain engaged on the local level.

Among the statewide ballot measures decided in last week's election, Wenger thanked voters for rejecting Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would have required foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to carry a special, California-only label. He said Farm Bureau opposed the measure because of its many flaws.

Despite rejection of Proposition 37, Wenger said farmers understand that many people want to know more about how their food is produced and that, no matter what crops they grow or how they grow them, "farmers want to provide the food and farm products that people want and need."

"While it's true California farmers don't grow a lot of genetically engineered crops, we believe biotechnology holds promise to provide environmental benefits and nutritional improvements for a growing population," Wenger said. "We will continue to support the current, comprehensive regulatory program that ensures biotech crops are safe and are produced in a way that protects the environment."

Gudel said changing voter demographics also played a role in California election results.

"A large number of young and Democratic voters registered in the last 45 days leading up to the election and ultimately decided a number of close races in California," she said.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.