Agricultural issues at forefront in candidates’ forum

Agricultural issues at forefront in candidates’ forum

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 9:01 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter With his opponents and a crowd of about 70 looking on, Democratic contender Jerry Grady spoke only for himself. Yet his words apply to all who aspire to succeed retiring state Rep. Phillip Pinion, who has represented House District 77 — Obion and Lake counties and parts of Dyer County — since 1988. “Win, lose or draw, I can pull up my (campaign) signs and either go home or go to Nashville,” Grady said. The occasion was a candidates’ forum 6-8 p.m. Monday at the Obion County Farm Bureau facility in Union City. Grady and four other candidates for the post — Democrats Judy Barker and Larry Bennett and Republicans Bill Sanderson and Shelly Arnett — took part in the evening activities, which included a dinner and a question-and-answer session moderated by Hugh Adams, Tennessee Farm Bureau regional field service director. Eligible attendees were members of the Farm Bureaus of Obion, Lake and Dyer counties. Billy Sellers of the Cloverdale community, president of Obion County Farm Bureau, said the event was an opportunity to meet the candidates and for the candidates to introduce themselves. “Also, our goal is to let these candidates know how important agriculture is in northwest Tennessee,” he said. “Obion County is the No. 1 corn-producing county in the state, the No. 1 soybean-producing county and the No. 5 wheat-producing county.” Sellers added that Dyer County is No. 2 in soybeans, No. 4 in wheat, No. 6 in cotton and No. 8 in corn. He said Lake County is No. 12 in corn, No. 12 in cotton, No. 9 in wheat and No. 6 in soybeans. “This area is the heart of the agriculture part of Tennessee,” Sellers said. “We want these people to recognize how important agriculture is. I know we’ve got industry here, but agriculture puts a lot of money into the economy.” Obion County Farm Bureau does not endorse any one candidate, according to agency manager Hadley Malone. “Regardless of who wins (the election), we want to make sure we develop a relationship with the person who represents northwest Tennessee in the Tennessee House of Representatives,” he said. Ground rules “We have sent the candidates a list of 13 questions about areas of concern that we have in the Tennessee Farm Bureau and (among) Tennessee farmers,” Adams said. “To be fair about it, we’ll draw a question out of a hat and deal with that, then draw a second question.” Each of the five candidates was asked a question and given five to eight minutes to respond. A portion of the time allowed was used for candidates to introduce themselves and give a brief synopsis of their backgrounds. Questions Grady was the first candidate of the evening to speak. By luck of the draw, he was assigned the question, “Are you aware of the widening grain basis?” Editor’s note: This term is defined as the withholding of a certain amount of money for each bushel of corn or soybeans for transportation and other costs incurred by a buyer of agricultural products. If the basis is $2, a $6 bushel of corn would bring the farmer only $4. Adams tried to comfort him. “I’ll have to admit, it’s a pretty tough one, Jerry,” Adams said. “If you answer this one, we’ll send you on to Washington tonight.” The house erupted in spontaneous laughter and the heavy load seemed to lighten. Grady, who asserts there are too many laws already on the books, said the state gives farmers some relief on fuel taxes. “On any fuel used on the farm, they don’t pay tax. But they do pay diesel fuel tax on grain trucks. If that tax could be lifted, it would help farmers tremendously,” he said. The next candidates and their assigned questions were: • Mrs. Arnett She drew the question, “What do you believe Tennessee should do to provide an environment where the farmer can thrive?” “I think I can relate to that,” she said. “I’m a teacher and there are a lot of restrictions in the classroom. Do I know everything there is to know about farming? No. But I do know where you live and I’m not afraid to call you and say, ‘This is going on. What do you think? What do we need to do?’ “I agree with Jerry (Grady) when he talks about the amount of laws that are passed each year. Sometimes laws need to be amended, sometimes they need to be abolished. When there’s 4,000 bills being presented every legislative session, can you imagine if just a fourth of them got passed? That’s just too many, even with 150 new ones. There’s a lot out there I don’t know and you don’t know. … “We need educated people to work our farms and in our ag plants.” • Mrs. Barker She drew the question, “What is your position on alternative fuel sources?” She said she and her husband, Wayne, own two farms and plan to leave them to their two sons. “I’m a very proud member of the Farm Bureau,” she said. “I am proud that I have had the privilege to work with Farm Bureau in protecting family farms with my law degree in estate planning. Many of you have been my clients.” In response to the question, she said, “Well, it looks like farmers are now in the energy business. I strongly support alternative fuel sources. It provides a market for agricultural products that was not previously available to us. “I strongly support Gov. Bredesen’s alternative fuel program as a solution. He has put a lot of money into the switch grass program in East Tennessee. “We are so fortunate in northwest Tennessee to have an ethanol plant here. I believe in it so strongly. We have actually made a financial investment in it. “I believe that, in the future, we should have (school) buses (use) alternative fuel. I also think we should look at waste material and wood chips, a lot of different types of waste materials.” She said the people in northwest Tennessee want economic development and better jobs. “Our plan with economic development is to see I-69 finished, the river port built and an extension of Everett-Stewart Regional Airport. “I have ideas on all these projects. We are fortunate to be in this situation and it’s all coming together over the next few years. So much progress is going to be made and I want to be a part of it.” • Sanderson He drew not a question, but an assignment, it being, “Give your perspective on the value of a strong agricultural community.” Sanderson said he knows the value of a strong agricultural community because he lives in one (Kenton). He told of an annual occurrence each August and September when corn is being harvested and grain trucks go back and forth and how corn dust hangs in the air. People would come into his store and complain about it covering their cars. Sanderson would tell them, “That’s a sign that things are happening in Kenton. This is an agricultural community.” “I never complained about it because it’s money being put back in our community, not being dumped out,” he said. “The value of an agricultural economy here is great. Ag money stays in our local businesses here. “I think it’s a very valuable part of our community. I don’t like it when grain dust hits my car, but I don’t gripe. And I take up for farmers on that.” • Larry Bennett Bennett drew the question, “Do you support sales tax exemptions on agricultural input items?” Again, some light humor brought a roar of laughter from the audience. Bennett stood at the podium and repeated the question in a grave tone. Then he suddenly smiled and said, “Well, what do you think I’m going to say? You know I do and here’s why I do.” He referred to a movement that would end sales tax exemptions on certain agricultural items. “What a I going to do if they knock this law out? I’m going to drive over to Missouri and buy all my parts,” Bennett said. No doubt other farmers would do the same. So eliminating sales tax exemptions would hurt Tennessee agri-businesses such as John Deere™ and parts stores. “It would put them out of business. We’ve got to keep that law,” Bennett said. He said he’s been told during the campaign, ‘Larry Bennett, you know you’ll never be able to make a law in Nashville.’ Well, so what if I don’t ever make a law. We’ve got too many laws. What we need to do is enforce the good ones and get rid of the others.” He was interrupted by a round of vigorous applause from among the audience. When the room grew quiet again, Bennett continued the line of thought. “Farmers are over-regulated,” he said. Summary Malone said Tuesday he was pleased with the forum. “It went very well,” he said. “We hope that through the questions asked, (we can get) an understanding of the issues that farmers face and that we (can) work together to come up with answers to these problems.” Published in The Messenger 7.23.08

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