Farmers across Iowa participated in a telephone townhall meeting December 13, speaking directly with Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry. It was one of several opportunities planned by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) in an effort to focus attention on the critical topics of agricultural policy and trade issues impacting America's farmers. The Iowa caucuses will be held across the state on January 3, 2012, the first official step in the process of winnowing the field in the election for U.S. president which will take place this coming November.
ISA has extended the invitation to all major Presidential candidates to participate in telephone calls with Iowa farmers. Governor Perry was the second candidate to accept the invitation, following Newt Gingrich, who participated in a call the previous week.
Perry says when he's president, farmers will have a friend in the White House
Perry started the conversation by emphasizing his own background in agriculture, growing up on a farm and returning to farm with his father after attending college and serving in the military. He said, "When I am President, the American farmer will have a friend in the White House."
Questions raised by ISA members during the call aligned closely with issues that have emerged during the association's recent District Policy Conferences.
Kicking off the discussion, the first caller asked about infrastructure needs, including roads, bridges, locks and dams. Perry criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which he said has not been held accountable. He also said the present government has not used stimulus money to create jobs that could have improved the infrastructure.
Another caller voiced concern about Congress taking China to task for currency fixing and whether that will start a trade war. Perry said, "China is our competitor, militarily and economically." He said the best tactic for the United States is to focus on developing its own economic potential, starting by working with "our own tax structure." Perry said he favors tax codes that will bring jobs back to the United States. He would work to get the U.S. economy back on track by developing government lands for energy, since energy represents a large expense in businesses like agriculture. Also regarding free trade, Perry said he would use ag products to build the economy.
Perry says he would freeze and evaluate which regulations are really necessary
Polled during the call, 46% of the ISA members on the line indicated their top concern is burdensome regulations, 36% said infrastructure is their top concern while 18% of the farmers said their greatest concern is trade.
Several times, Perry said, he would freeze and evaluate regulations, particularly those that cost jobs. And "keep Washington out of people's hair." When asked about EPA regulations like those restricting dust, Perry said he would reform the EPA so its role would be to resolve interstate issues, but not for regulations costing money and jobs.
Perry said he disagrees with restrictions that would require young people operating farm equipment to be at least 18 years old, considering that they can drive a vehicle when they are 16.
Concerned about the role investors are playing in the rising prices of farmland and that they are keeping farmers, especially young farmers, from being able to afford land, one caller asked Perry what he would do about that. He responded that he believed government should stay out of farm prices. He says he is more concerned about the tax structure. "The inheritance tax is a bigger problem, especially with high land prices," Perry said. He said he would eliminate the "death tax," and would set a flat 20 percent income tax.
Farmers are leery of Perry's stance on biofuels, since he's from oil rich Texas
One farmer questioned Perry's record on biofuels, to which he responded that his stand on all energy matters has been consistent. "When I was the agriculture commissioner for Texas, I took a consistent stand. Because ethanol hurt the cattle industry, I wrote a recommendation to cut the ethanol mandate in half."
Perry said he is not for tax credit for any energy. By phasing out all energy tax credits, he said he would treat every energy equally. He added he would be okay with state incentives but those should not come from Washington, D.C.
On immigration, Perry favors securing the U.S. border. "I know from experience what this involves. Texas spent $400 million to secure the border, but the state can't do it alone. It needs a President to shut the border down. Putting a strategic fence in place and having feet on the ground, we could secure the border within 12 months." Recalling President Obama visiting the border and pronouncing it safe, Perry said, that is "not reality."
Perry would require U.S. Congressmen to have a "real job" in their home state
Using the Texas legislature as a model, Perry called for a part-time Congress, "not legislators making $174,000 per year." He would require that U.S. Congressmen have a "real job" in their home state, and he would cut their staff in half. "I would make D.C. as inconsequential as possible in our lives," he said.
The telephone townhall meetings are posted on the ISA website; those who missed the calls can listen to them at www.isasoybeans.com. ISA plans to offer its members additional opportunities as other candidates accept the invitation to visit with them. ISA does not endorse any candidate; the purpose of the telephone townhall meetings is to provide information to members and ensure that members' concerns are conveyed to candidates. The townhall meetings are not funded by the soybean checkoff.