Schafer votes for McCain

WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told the Capital Press Oct. 28 that he has voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, but he also made it clear he does not agree with McCain's opposition to government supports for eth...

WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told the Capital Press Oct. 28 that he has voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, but he also made it clear he does not agree with McCain's opposition to government supports for ethanol.

Schafer, a former Republican governor of NorthDakota, said he already had voted absentee in North Dakota for McCain. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign sent a memo to reporters earlier that day noting comments that Schafer had made criticizing McCain, but leaving out a statement that Obama also had a lot to learn about agriculture. Schafer said sending out the statement without the context was unfair.

The Obama memo was based on comments McCain made after an Oct. 9 speech to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers AgExecutive Forum in St. Louis. The comments were posted on, a pro-ethanol Web site and can be found at


'Flat out wrong'


Asked at the St. Louis event what he would say to McCain about agricultural policy, Schafer said, "What I would say to Sen. McCain is this: 'You're flat out wrong about your agriculture policy. I appreciate your conservative nature. The agriculture community by and large is conservative and agrees with you about government intervention and government mandates and government costs and taxes.'"

Schafer added, "There are a wide variety of things that I agree with Sen. McCain on. But I would say that both candidates, if I have an opportunity to talk to both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain leave a lot on the table to be desired for agricultural policy. I'd love to have the opportunity to say to them, 'This is the importance of agriculture in this economy' -- and I don't think either one of them are seeing it."

Schafer concluded, "While I vibrate some when I hear Sen. McCain say no ag policy, no ethanol mandates, no support for these important public policies . . . I do believe that whoever is elected in the end here comes with a strength in agriculture that we have to get tuned up on."

Schafer also noted that when he ran for governor he said a lot of things he regretted and urged McCain to surround himself "with people who know agriculture."

Ethanol concerns

Schafer also met Oct. 28 with meat, poultry and egg lobbyists who have expressed concerns about his statements that ethanol companies could use USDA loan guarantee programs if they face economic difficulties, but he did not step back from the administration's support for ethanol. Meeting with reporters afterward, Schafer said he told the livestock lobbyists that ethanol plants would not get special treatment in their applications, but that he also had reminded the lobbyists that the program is open to all rural businesses and their clients also had used the programs.

An industry participant in the meeting said it was "civil" and "healthy" but that the industry representatives noted to Schafer that he had told the livestock industry earlier this year that they should "ride out" the price increases resulting from ethanol production. The participant said the Bush administration had opposed any reduction in the renewable fuel standard that sets the minimum level of ethanol use and had opposed a House-passed bill addressing that would have limited speculation on commodity prices.

Picking on ethanol


In his briefing for reporters, Schafer vigorously defended the administration's support for ethanol and noted that the Grocery Manufacturers Association had launched a large-scale campaign against government support for ethanol.

"There's been a big effort by others to blame ethanol for increased feed and food costs and certainly ethanol production has been a small portion of that but it's easy to kick around the new kid on the block and so we attack ethanol.," Schafer told reporters.

McCain's opposition to support for ethanol and statement that he, like President Bush, would have vetoed the 2008 farm bill has caused consternation among often Republican-leaning farmers. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, which has monitored candidates' positions on ethanol throughout the presidential race, issued a news release Oct. 17 in which it "voiced concern" about McCain's statements and said the group thinks "Iowa voters should understand the potential impact to Iowa's economy and overall ag stability on those positions." The news release also noted that Obama has supported ethanol.

"It is not our job to tell you who you should vote for or what party you should follow," said Gary Edwards, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, "but it is our duty to stand up to promote the interests of Iowa corn growers, Iowa consumers and their future."

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