Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TOP STORY >> Lincoln campaigns on farm

Members of the local farming community gathered Saturday morning at the Bevis Farm in rural Pulaski County.

By RICK KRON

Leader staff writer

What was called an agriculture town hall meeting Saturday turned out to be more of a candidate stomp for Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who faces stiff competition in this year’s election.

For 30 minutes late Saturday morning at the Bevis Farm in rural east Pulaski County, Lincoln shook hands and hugged friends and supporters before embarking on a 45-minute talk about why she was the best choice for Arkansas.

Lincoln is opposed in the May Democratic Party primary by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Eight Republicans are vying for the chance to face Lincoln or Halter in November.

Speaking to thunderous applause and two standing ovations from more than 100 members of the local farming community, Lincoln insisted that the only special interest group she is listening to and voting for are the people of Arkansas.

Lincoln told her supporters that outsiders spent $7 million from August to December 2009 try to paint her as a pawn of special interests.

“Everyone and their dog are coming at me. I’m getting clobbered from the extremes on both sides, so that ought to tell you I’m doing something right,” she said.

Lincoln warned the group that these outside people are nationalizing the race for her seat. “They are trying to take our state and individuality away from us,” she said.

Part of the reason Lincoln was in the area was to let farmers know that the Senate passed her $1.5 billion disaster-assistance bill. The bill now goes to the House.

Lincoln, the first Arkansan and woman to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee in its 184 years of existence, wasn’t sure when it would pass out of the House, but guaranteed that she’s been “a bird dog” on the bill.

Once passed by the House, the assistance will provide significant help to Arkansas producers who suffered devastating weather and disastrous crop harvests in 2009.?

“Historically, it takes about three years to get an agricultural disaster-assistance bill out. We’ve done this in three months,” she said.

Lincoln added that in Washington, agriculture just isn’t a glamour issue. “Very few in Washington have even been on a farm, but I’m proud to be a farmer’s daughter.”

The senator said agriculture is big business in Arkansas and the U.S. In Arkansas, 270,000 jobs are tied into agriculture and it brings $9 billion into the state.

She told the crowd that President Obama wants to increase American trade to help with the economy and lower the deficit.

“There’s no better place than agriculture,” she said.

There is a bill in the Senate to open up trade with Cuba, she said. “We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of our self-imposed embargo, and it has done all it’s going to do,” she said.

Lincoln is also working on trade agreements to open up trade with Columbia and Japan. “There is no reason our beef shouldn’t be over there,” she said as someone in the crowd shouted, “We’ve not stopped their sales of Toyota.”

She said America was part of a world economy and needed to become more proactive.

On the health-care bill — her vote is considered essential — Lincoln made it clear that the U.S. does need some health-care reform. “We don’t have a good delivery system. It’s broken,” she said.

Lincoln added she was adamantly against the use of the reconciliation process to get the health bill through Congress.

“But health-care reform will happen. I don’t mind it if we step back and take it step by step,” Lincoln said. “We need to look for common ground.”

She said the Senate version of the health-care reform bill was much more conservative than the House version. Lincoln also said she was looking at a smaller bipartisan health-care reform bill that focused on small businesses, an area which she thinks needs immediate help.

She reminded the group that she has spent a lot of time in the “time out” chair for disagreeing with her party.

“The point is that all the things we have done I have done for you. I’m the one standing up and saying you don’t want the extremes,” the senator said.

She jumped on the issue of the estate or death tax, which is an issue on which she and her Democratic opponent Halter differ.

Lincoln explained that as part of a 2001 tax bill, there’s no estate tax this year, “but it will come back with a vengeance next year. The government will tax 55 percent of your net worth after the first million. Companies don’t get taxed when their CEOs die, but you will,” she said.

Lincoln added that a farming family can hit that million dollar mark quickly.

“A new cotton picker is selling for $650,000,” she said. “This tax will break many farmers and small businesses.”

Lincoln said what she proposes is raising the threshold to $5 million and then a 33 percent tax. She is working with Sen. John Kyl (R-Arizona) on this bill and hopes to have it passed by the end of summer.

“I’m rock solid for Arkansas,” she reminded the crowd. “That’s why I’m getting beat up by everyone.”

On Nov. 3, 1998, Lincoln became the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of 38.?

She was first elected to public office in 1992 as representative in Arkansas’ First Congressional District.