Archive for Sunday, November 5, 2000

Farmers hold wild card in 3rd District race

November 5, 2000


— Farmers and farm workers make up a small percentage of the population in the 3rd Congressional District.

But this year's 3rd District race could be a tight one. Dean Kleckner says that makes the votes of farmers and farm workers crucial.

Farmers and farm workers in the counties that are part of the 3rd Congressional District:COUNTY NUMBERDouglas 410Johnson 841Miami 451Wyandotte 288TOTAL 1,990Figures are as of September.The northwest corner of Douglas County is in the 2nd Congressional District.Source: Kansas Department of Human Resources.

Kleckner left the presidency of the American Farm Bureau earlier this year to become chairman of Truth About Trade, an Iowa-based group that espouses free-trade policies.

His crusade it has sometimes been a frustrating one is to get Americans in general and farmers and agriculture groups in particular active on trade issues in this year's presidential and congressional races.

In the 3rd District, neither Democratic incumbent Dennis Moore nor Republican challenger Phill Kline has discussed trade issues much. They've also not debated agriculture policy extensively.

"In a close race, the farmers in that district, the producers, could be the decisive factor," said Kleckner, who still owns 350 acres and raises corn, soybeans and hogs near Rudd, Iowa.

The 3rd District is known far more for its urban and suburban areas than its rural ones. In September, fewer than 2,000 of its residents were farmers or had farm jobs.

The district includes affluent and middle-class Kansas City metropolitan area suburbs in Johnson County, where cites like Shawnee, Lenexa and Overland Park melt into each other.

It also encompasses parts of Miami, Wyandotte and Douglas counties, including Kansas City, Kan., and Lawrence, the home of Kansas University.

For those reasons, it's perhaps not surprising that agriculture and agricultural trade issues haven't become prominent.

Yet Miami County and parts of Douglas and even Johnson County are largely rural.

"You do have substantial farming in that area, and you do have people who work in town but live out in rural areas," Kleckner said.

One of Truth About Trade's big issues is the normalization of trade relations between the United States and China.

Both Moore and Kline supported a normalized trade relationship with China. In fact, Moore's vote in favor of China legislation earned him the criticism of some national labor leaders.

But the Democratic congressman typically mentions his vote in the context of trying to build his image as politically independent, not in the context of trade policy designed to help farmers.

Still, Moore isn't ignoring farmers. He planned an event for 6 a.m. Monday at a Miami County dairy farm, to claim a "Friend of the Farm Bureau Award."

Kleckner said both GOP nominee George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore have "said the right thing" on some issues in the presidential race.

However, he is concerned about Gore's support from unions and environmental groups and said farmers and agriculture groups find Bush more palatable on environmental issues.

"Nearly as important is who controls the House and the Senate," Kleckner said.

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