Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TOP STORY >> Lincoln makes local stop

By JONATHAN FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, facing a tough primary battle in May and re-election in November, says she finds inspiration from another woman senator from Arkansas.

Speaking to the U.S. Department of Agriculture women’s history program at Sherwood Forest on Monday, Lincoln repeated the words of former Sen. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, who in 1932 became the first woman elected to the Senate, just 12 years after women gained the right to vote.

Quoting Caraway, Lincoln said, “If I can hold on to my sense of humor and a modicum of dignity, I shall have a wonderful time running for office whether I get there or not.”

Lincoln said she carried that quote during her first campaign for Senate in 1998, when she became the second woman to represent Arkansas in the Senate.

Lincoln was the guest speaker for the program that honored Women’s History Month. The senator touted her accomplishments since becoming the first woman to chair the Agriculture Committee in September.

“We’ve had more dignitaries visiting Arkansas in the few months she’s been chairman. And when they come, they bring gifts,” Linda Newkirk, state executive director of Farm Service Agency, said in her introduction.

“It’s a very powerful position, and it’s certainly important for Arkansas,” Newkirk said.

“Folks, we still have a lot of work to do. I’m putting that chairmanship to work for you,” Lincoln said, pointing out that chairmanship is at stake in this election.

“I want officials from Washing-ton to come down here because I believe in the great job you all do. I want them to see our needs, too,” Lincoln told the group, whose members work for USDA’s three branches: Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources
Conservation Service and Rural Development.

“The president has talked about increasing exports, and I’m going to help him do it,” she said.

“My father was a farmer. But boy, did he have an equal partner in my mother,” Lincoln said, highlighting the importance of women in agriculture.

She said that 1 million farms in the U.S. are operated by women.

“Not until 2000 did the USDA recognize women as farmers, only as farmers’ spouses,” she said.

Lincoln said she got a disaster bill passed in a record three months after last year’s floods, when it usually takes three years.

She said she helped secure $4 million to help put 700 Arkansans back to work.

“We’ve talked about health care for two years, and I know people are exhausted with that. But, folks, we can’t have health care unless we start with our kids,” the senator said of a $10.5 billion plan to help fight childhood obesity over 10 years by improving school lunches.

In an interview, Lincoln said her recent vote against the House health-care reconciliation bill was a matter of principle.

“I didn’t feel like it had the transparency that the other process did,” she insisted.

She disapproved of a bundle of late amendments tacked on in the House. Another vote was needed in the Senate to make both bills identical.

The bill passed by a simple majority in the Senate. Defeat would have killed the health-reform bill.

Lincoln said that the reconciliation bill needed to be approved in a manner that “we learned about in high school civics class.”

She frequently supported the reconciliation process to prevent Democratic filibusters during the Bush administration.