October 1, 2008

Political Forum Sparks Dialog On Local Foods

by Nate Rafn

When Darlene Hooley announced her retirement in February 2008, she left the door wide open for a hotly contested six-man race for her seat in the U.S. Congress.

Hooley represents Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, a portion of Northwest Oregon that includes Marion, Polk, Tillamook, Clackamas, Benton, Multnomah, and Lincoln Counties.

Farms, nurseries, dairies, vineyards, and timber businesses provide thousands of jobs throughout the district, which is home to some of the world’s best farmland.

On September 10th, candidates for Hooley’s congressional seat attended the Local Food & Farm Forum to debate agricultural issues facing consumers and small Oregon farmers. Friends of Family Farmers, a nonprofit advocate for socially responsible agriculture, hosted the event at the Canby Adult Center.

Farmers, rural residents, and local food advocates attended the forum, hoping to voice concerns about the next Farm Bill, urban development, and local food distribution.

“Family farmers, who are working to get their products into markets and schools, don’t have high flouting lobbyists on Capital Hill.” said Kendra Kimbirauskas, co-president of Friends of Family Farmers. “This gives people an opportunity to have a one on one conversation with the next congressman.”

After a brief meet-and-greet, the candidates took their seats on stage and introduced themselves. Audience members guided the discussion by submitting questions on note cards. Each candidate was allowed two minutes to answer.

Independent candidate Sean Bates gained favor from the crowd with his staunch opinion on lobbyists.

“Every other lobbyist that walks into my office would…get shown the door and a rather rude hand gesture,” said Bates, earning him a few chuckles and scattered applause. Bates, who describes himself as “a man of the people,” promised to keep in close contact with his constituents.

Mike Erickson, who represents the Republican Party, ran against Darlene Hooley in 2006, losing by 11 percentage points. Given the current political climate, Erickson faces another uphill battle.

“I jumped in the race again and said ‘You know, we made some good inroads and got my message out there about being fiscally responsible and taking care of people- first and foremost,’” said Erickson.

Libertarian Steve Milligan opposes federal regulation and supports property rights for farmers.

“My stance would be to…get the federal government to step back,” said Milligan. “We know better how to use our money here in Oregon.”

“To my knowledge, there’s no authority in the Constitution for the Federal Government to be involved in farming,” said Constitution Party candidate Doug Patterson. Throughout the discussion, Patterson repeated the call for the feds to “stay out.”

Corvallis resident Alex Polikoff, of the Pacific Green Party, argued for a shift in priorities and more funding for programs that benefit small farmers.

“One hour in Iraq equals the agricultural market development grants funding for one year. That’s $15 million,” said Polikoff.

Democratic candidate Kurt Schrader used the forum to display his intimate knowledge of farming and the policies that affect it.

“I’m the only person up here…that lives on a farm, that has worked a farm [for] 25 years,” said Schrader. “I’ve had to deal with small-farm issues.”

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