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After he’s spent 30 years in Washington, U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes no longer believes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is the best candidate for Kentucky’s farmers.
“Never has a senator been paid so much for doing so little for the people in Kentucky,” Grimes said at Kentucky Farm Bureau’s “Measure the Candidates” forum, held at its headquarters in Louisville on Wednesday.
The forum is likely to be one of only a few times the two candidates for U.S. Senate, McConnell and Grimes, also Kentucky Secretary of State, will meet face-to-face this election cycle. For nearly two hours, the two traded jabs on farm and political issues in front of the Farm Bureau’s board of director and members of the press.
In her opening comments, Grimes said McConnell has voted “no” against Kentucky farmers and can “no longer deliver” to farm families after 30 years of being in office. But McConnell fought back in his remarks saying he has supported Kentucky farmers by helping secure project funding for $41 million at the University of Kentucky, $12 million at Western Kentucky University and $850,000 for Murray State University. He also explained that he has fought for tobacco buyouts that his colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, weren’t too keen on.
“It’s not paid for by taxpayers’ funds,” McConnell said. “It’s paid for by the users of the product, allowing us to transition into a private market.”
Chairman Mark Haney, a farmer from Pulaski County, questioned the candidates on how they would go about strengthening the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the farm bill, which was signed into law on Feb. 7 establishing nutrition, commodity, crop insurance, conservation and other agricultural/food programs for the next five years.
The biggest threat to Kentucky farmers, McConnell said, is the animosity toward tobacco. He said he’s working to eliminate the effort to get rid of insurance for tobacco growers. McConnell supported the farm bill saying that it has “a lot of potential.”
“Had we not gotten the bill when we did, I don’t think it would’ve been as good as it actually is,” McConnell said.
Grimes said she saw many western Kentucky farmers who were worried about the lapses in the farm bill that could cause them to lose crops and land. She was hard on McConnell, bringing up a recent story in The Hill newspaper that said McConnell doesn’t show up to agriculture committee meetings and doesn’t speak up in the Senate.
“An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay…that’s what our farmers expect,” Grimes said.
Fritz Giesecke, board member and farmer from Hart County, posed a question to the candidates about fair and open world trade. He asked the candidates how future free trade agreements can be developed to enhance market opportunities for Kentucky farmers.
Grimes said it all begins with having a job plan and creating a level playing field. She said the goal is to use ideas that bring billions of dollars into the United States and reduce the deficit. Grimes said she will fight for Kentucky, a state that is helping feed the world with $2.4 billion in exports.
“We need someone fighting for each and every one of our farmers,” Grimes said. “Someone who wants to fix the mess that we have here in Washington and putting our farmers first. The mess that we have here in Washington, is not helping the farmers.”
In response to Grimes’ attack on his absence at agriculture committee meetings, McConnell insisted he simply can’t attend all committee meetings because he is working with “much more consequential issues” as leader of the Republican Party in the U.S. Senate. He said the biggest benefit of American trade is agriculture.
McConnell has said previously he blames the Obama administration for the nation‘s $17 trillion debt crisis. He said he expects that the debt ceiling will be raised to $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s term. McConnell said that the administration “needs to be stopped” and that he would like to see the country go in a “different direction” in 2015, saying that every issue discussed in Washington should be a way “to tackle debt” and get “the economy going.”
In response, Grimes said the common denominator in the debt issue in the past 30 years is McConnell.
“We need to be working to cut debt in the right way,” Grimes said.
Eddie Melton, of Webster County, asked the candidates what steps they would advocate be taken to provide all Americans with affordable, quality health care. Grimes said that she would work to “streamline” the Affordable Care Act and extend the grandfather clause.
Grimes said instead of repealing the ACA, she would like to address the cost of individual healthcare plans.
“It requires a senator that doesn’t want to repeal root and branch the access to healthcare that Kentuckians just got for the first time,“ Grimes said. “When it comes to choosing Washington or Kentucky, I’ll put 500,000 Kentuckians first every single time.”
McConnell criticized Grimes’ support of the ACA, also known as ObamaCare, saying 2.5 million jobs will be lost due to the law.
“It should be pulled out root and branch and we ought to start over,” McConnell said.
Immigration and Farm Labor
The question of what legislative reforms should be supported to help farmers secure a willing, legal workforce was posed because farmers are routinely facing a shortage of workers because of immigration laws, according to the Farm Bureau board members.
McConnell used his wife, Elaine Chao, as an example of the history of how legal immigration has been influential to the country.
“I support legal immigration, but we need to make some changes in it,” McConnell said.
McConnell said immigration needs to be more merit-based and tilted toward people that can immediately be productive in the workforce.
Grimes said she hoped Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration plan and that McConnell said “no” to troops guarding the boarders and also to an earned pathway to citizenship.
“If we can finally get someone in Washington that listens to what Kentucky Farm Bureau’s hopes are, we might see them become a reality,” Grimes said.
Lastly, KFB asked the candidates what steps they would take to ensure the environment was protected and which regulations they thought were most affecting farmers. Grimes said she is in favor of supporting the efforts of farm families and doesn’t want the EPA to extend their footprint unnecessarily.
McConnell said the change agent is himself, a potential leader in a new majority taking charge of government agencies, if he were to win re-election and the GOP wins control of the U.S. Senate. McConnell said the only way to deal with agencies like the EPA is through regulating their spending processes.
In closing remarks, McConnell used his two Golden Plow awards given by the American Farm Bureau to signify his commitment to the private enterprise system. He said this was a “distinct advantage” over his competitor.
Grimes said she is confident she is ready to be the new face of Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.
“There’s room for a new name on that plaque, the era of earmarks is over,” Grimes said.