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Kansas vote shows power of ag lobby

Huelskamp’s loss shows government needs to do something besides just stand on principles ahead of next farm bill.

Tuesday night, Dr. Roger Marshall from Kansas’ “Big First” district won the primary against three-term incumbent and Tea Party conservative Rep. Tim Huelskamp, after a closely-followed race. Marshall, endorsed by several national and state agriculture groups, won with 57% of the vote to secure himself the candidacy.

Marshall’s victory in the primary is an important step forward in reclaiming a House Agriculture Committee seat for Kansas’ First district. The Big First is a district that encompasses more than 60 counties across two time zones.

But it also shows the agricultural lobby will not stand with someone who doesn’t listen to his constituents and offer them a voice when needed. Huelskamp was kicked off the House Agriculture Committee by then House Speaker John Boehner. For the first time in nearly a century, Kansas didn’t have a voice on the House Agriculture Committee.  He also was removed from the House Budget Committee. During his days as a state representative he was also asked to step down from a committee, showing for him, this wasn’t a one-time fluke.

National commodity groups such as the National Sorghum Producers and National Assn. of Wheat Growers as well as the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Assn. had all come out endorsing Marshall. In the primary, outside groups poured more than $2.5 million into the massive stretch of Kansas farmland, and much of the advertising took aim at Huelskamp’s lack of commitment to supporting local agriculture in Congress.

Huelskamp, although hailing from a farm himself, voted against the farm bill. He had also proposed eliminating the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“Marshall’s victory in this primary is emblematic of the desire for true agriculture representation in Washington, D.C.,” said NAWG vice president and Kansas’ First district farmer David Schemm. “He has demonstrated that he can work with Kansas farmers, listen to our needs, and be our effective advocate in Congress. NAWG looks forward to the opportunity to work with Dr. Marshall to secure a seat on the House Ag Committee, because the current fragile farm economy illustrates how important a functional Farm Bill is to rural America. We are thrilled to have backed a candidate who understands the needs of Kansas’ and U.S. wheat farmers and shown that he is willing to do even more for them in the upcoming Farm Bill.”

In a statement from the Kansas Farm Bureau, they said of Huelskamp, “He has burned bridges with colleagues, farmers, ranchers and many others. Kansas needs practical, conservative leadership, not just rhetoric and embarrassment.”

The theme may continue this election season. A desire to move away from rhetoric and a focus on making Washington work again.
Politico Pro reported that Marshall backers hope the victory would send a message to frequent “no’ voters among House Republicans that “obstruction has its limits.” A national Republican strategist was quoted as saying, “Every member should remember this the next time that they see a Club for Growth or Heritage Action vote alert. Never put their interests before your district or the country, or there will be a price to pay.”

The Politico article also quote Brian Baker, president of ESAFund,  a super PAC which spent over $1 million against Huelskamp and for Marshall as saying, “Incumbents very rarely lose, which tells us that voters are demanding that Republicans in Congress work together to advance a conservative agenda to actually end out-of-control spending – not just grandstand.”

New Farm Futures research released this week finds that “the way the government works in Washington” remains the top concern of farm voters. But farmers are less worried about other hot button issues like immigration, terrorism or wealth and income inequality. Instead, their other two top issues are the budget deficit and the economy.

And so, as we enter this year’s election, will we see more of these votes to get Congress back on track of functioning? Some might say the agricultural community’s lobbying proved they’re setting the stage for who they want to be included in the next farm bill debate. As commodity prices lower, it sets up a much different dynamic and need than the last time a farm bill was debated when prices were high. Agricultural groups will fight much harder to maintain their beloved safety net.

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