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Election Observations

Although the Pundit is filled with countless words analyzing public policy as it relates to the industry, with issues such as immigration and food safety, the truth is that the long-term prosperity of the trade is inevitably tied to the overall success of the country more than to any of these specific issues.

The reason so many in the industry are repelled by things like Political Action Committees is because they are tools designed to get politicians to focus on special interests over the general interest. As John McClung pointed out in his salient letter explaining why the trade isn’t that good at government relations:

Finally, perhaps most important but also most difficult to characterize, the segments of the fresh fruit and vegetable industry simply don’t have the tradition and history of activist political involvement. Individuals in the industry don’t see the need to get their hands dirty in Washington — or their state capitals, for that matter. They don’t think they can play the game; they don’t know how and they don’t want to learn. They think if they approach their members of Congress on some issue, all that will happen is they’ll get donation solicitations for the rest of their lives. And, they think lobbying is what they pay United, the regionals, and recently maybe even PMA to do.

I’ve often said that lobbying for the industry is like being a proctologist: your clients know they have a problem and need your expertise, but they want you to get in fast, get out fast, tell them as little as possible about what you saw, and keep the bill to a minimum. The problem with all of this is that real political strength comes from the proverbial grass roots. The industry’s hired guns, including United’s staff, play a key role in educating Congress and the regulatory agencies, and — whether one approves or not — in making timely campaign contributions from the various Political Action Committees. But at the end of the day, the best lobbyist is good old what’s-his-name from the Congressperson’s home district.

We would just add to John’s remarks by pointing out that in many cases, it is a case of being torn: knowing that playing the game is necessary to win, but feeling the game is disgusting and bad for the country.

One of the most moving moments of my life was, as a young campaign worker, standing in an arena in Detroit cheering as Ronald Reagan ascended the platform to accept the Republican nomination for President and, at that moment, seeing the proverbial “little old ladies in tennis shoes” rise to cheers, as dreams they fought for since working for Goldwater in 1964 were realized in that nomination.

Yet, despite this affinity, the Pundit thinks it is a good thing for the country that the Republicans lost last night.

First, failure must have a consequence or we will have a lot more of it, and the Republicans have failed on key matters: The war in Iraq is clearly not a success and there is no reason to think they will make it one; Republicans were unable to reform Social Security or other entitlement programs; the Republicans were unable to pass Immigration reform. And they were not blocked in these causes by a filibuster by Democrats, but by their own incompetence.

Second, the Republicans betrayed the small government principles that they preached. Like pigs to the troth, Republicans had forgotten all but their appetites.

Third, the obsession of the Republicans had become all about retaining power. Ideas, morality, proper conduct — all meant little. The leadership was willing to overlook anything to save a seat.

Fourth, in a time of war, it is desirable that both parties have positions of responsibility. It is easy to be anti-war on Iraq if you don’t have any responsibility. Now the Democrats will have to actually put their name to votes. The real decisions in life are often not philosophical but very specific: Should we fund the troops in Iraq for six more months?

The act of voting gives one a stake in what happens next. One danger, however, is that the existence of a Republican President certain to veto legislation will encourage irresponsible pandering to various interest groups, because Democrats can get a free vote to pander to the interest groups knowing that the President will kill the bill anyway.

The country is moderately conservative. The Democrats who won were often, like Bill Clinton, on the more moderate side politically. The same voters who were voting in Democrats were also enacting bans on gay marriage.

Hopefully the Republicans will draw the correct lesson from this defeat and think about how to both govern and remain true to the values that first led people to send them to Washington.

One immediate consequence of the loss of the House and probably the Senate is a change in Committee Chairmen, and that will mean a lot.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, ranking minority member of the Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives and presumably soon-to-be chairman of the committee, just issued a paper called Fact Sheet: Weaknesses in FDA’s Food Safety Systemand identifies four key issues that are of concern to him:

  1. Declining FDA Food Safety Budgets
  2. Declining FDA Food Safety Inspections
  3. Inadequate Enforcement and Regulatory Action
  4. Pending Legislation to Preempt State Food Safety Authority

The presumptive Chairman identifies the solution to industry food safety problems in mandatory and robust regulation. He will have a bully pulpit to expound those ideas.

All this should keep our industry government relations folks busy for the next year or two.

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