Date: Dec 05, 2013
Magazine:
WG&S December 2013 : Year in Review: Immigration Reform Still on Hold
Year in Review: Congress didn't do much in 2013

As this year was in its infant stages, it was a good bet that legislative action on both the national and state levels could make it a watershed year for the agricultural industry.

On the national level, the tea leaves were indicating that, at long last, comprehensive immigration reform was within reach, and agriculture could very well get the guest worker program it believes it needs for long term survival.

In California, a super majority of Democrats had just been seated in each legislative house and there was some speculation that with this new-found, potentially unchecked power, Democrats would act like a kid in a candy store and pass reams of legislation not friendly to the business community.

Well, as the year comes to a close, neither the positive nor the negative scenario played out.  In Washington, D.C., immigration reform is still being debated and the only reason one might think we are closer to the finish line is that, by definition, we have to be closer to an end result.  And in California, the newly-elected super majority proved to be fairly moderate, possibly signaling a new era in California politics.  For its part, the Arizona Legislature hummed along as usual continuing its fairly pro-business stature, though it did endure a few interesting political skirmishes that have implications moving forward.

In review, 2013 was a very interesting political year with several very large agricultural issues still hanging in the balance as the last chapter of this year is still in the development stages.  In fact, the necessity of deadlines requires this story to be written as one big issue — the Farm Bill — is still being debated with some very sound logic predicting a solution by January 1.

 

IMMIGRATION REFORM

A year ago, in December of 2012, WG President and CEO Tom Nassif and other agricultural industry leaders, including labor’s representatives, met in Washington, D.C., and began the effort to have serious talks with a bi-partisan group of senators on comprehensive immigration reform.  Over the next several months, Nassif would make 14 trips across the country to be involved in arduous negotiations with the senators, their representatives and United Farm Worker President Arturo Rodriguez.

“I was very hopeful at the beginning of this year that we could get it done,” Nassif said.  “There was a strong indication from the last presidential election that Latinos would continue to vote for the Democrat’s candidate until and unless the Republicans voted for immigration reform.  I thought this would result in the passing of immigration reform.”

Around this time, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed a strong interest in hammering out the agricultural portion of the U.S. Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, but wanted a united position by ag first.  The Agricultural Workforce Coalition, which included more than 30 organizations, was intent on providing that united position.

In mid-March as Nassif was traveling back from D.C. to attend the WG Board Meeting in Sacramento, he had to change planes in Chicago and go back to the nation’s capital for some more late night negotiations.  Several more late night sessions over the next few weeks would prove fruitful, and in mid-April, Nassif, Rodriguez and other ag leaders shared a news conference podium where they announced an agreement on the ag plank in the comprehensive immigration reform platform.

It was a remarkable achievement and pointed to what could be done when the focus is on representing your side, but understanding that compromise is not a dirty word.  The compromise had many provisions, but in general it would allow the vast majority of current farm workers to obtain legal status through a new Blue Card program if they choose to remain working in agriculture.  After a minimum of five years, the workers who fulfill their Blue Card work requirements in U.S. agriculture will become eligible to apply for a Green Card, providing that they have no outstanding taxes, no convictions and pay a fine.  In addition, a new agricultural guest worker program would be established that guarantees a flow of agricultural workers in future years.

“It was a landmark agreement,” Nassif said.  “We (in the agricultural community) took a great deal of pride in that work and believed the momentum we helped create could lead to the passage of a bill.”

The ag section was included in S. 744, also known as the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”  That bill was debated in the Senate and was amended several times with the final bill passing with a bi-partisan vote of 68-32, garnering more than a two-thirds majority.

“At the time I was hopeful that the House would pass its own bill in the same time frame and we could get this done,” said Nassif.

Unfortunately House Republicans, led by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), decided not to move forward at that time with its own bill.  In early November, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) revealed that no vote would take place this year.

 “We should not let up the pressure,” said Nassif in late November.

While he admitted it did not look good for 2013, he said, “Today the President said a piecemeal approach could work if all the pieces are there.  I continue to urge the House to move forward this year.”

If the end of the year comes without action, Nassif said he will be back on the House’s doorstep in 2014 urging action.

There are changing dynamics that could make it possible.  WG Vice President of Federal Government Affairs Dennis Nuxoll said in late November that there could be a window of opportunity to pass legislation in the February to March time frame.

There are many dynamics to the immigration reform debate that make the concept palatable to many, but not to others.  As Nassif noted, one of the most talked about factors has to do with the growing Hispanic vote.  People from a Hispanic heritage voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2012.  National and moderate Republicans are looking at this ever-increasing voting demographic and believe they need to get their fair share of support from that community if they are to win any elections that have significant Hispanic voter participation.  It is believed that once immigration reform, including a path to legalization, if not citizenship, is passed, Hispanics will not form one homogenous voting block.  But while immigration reform is being held up, largely by one party, that has become the signature issue for a huge number of Hispanic voters.

“I believe Republicans will eventually vote for immigration reform because they have to,” said Nassif.  “Many are not happy with the direction the Republicans are headed and we need the party to remain strong to protect our interests in many other areas.”

This theory of the need for Hispanic engagement seemed to play out this fall when pro-immigration reform Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey won re-election and split the Hispanic vote with his Democratic rival right down the middle.  A couple of states south, Virginia voters rejected their anti-immigration reform Republican candidate for governor, Ken Cucinnelli, giving him only 29 percent of the Hispanic vote.  He would have won the race if he could have achieved middle ground for the Hispanic vote.

The February/March window is important because every expectation in Washington is that January will focus on budget battles again and by April politics will overtake substance.  To date, most Democratic office holders have not used immigration as an issue to hammer Republicans.  Indeed, in conversations with key Democratic senators and congressman it is clear that efforts to use immigration to gain political leverage are actively being dissuaded.

Why?

Because, at the moment Democrats want to secure a result and they know pushing too heavily on immigration from a political perspective will alienate Republicans. Six months from the 2014 election, however, it seems impossible to believe that Democrats will not make immigration reform an electoral issue.  Once political attacks based on immigration start, it becomes difficult to imagine how substantive legislation can be passed.  Hence it is critical to move as quickly as possible as early in the year as possible.

While it is doubtful that there are enough Republican votes in the House to pass a bill on its own, Speaker Boehner could allow a coalition of Democrats and Republicans to pass the bill just as he allowed a similar coalition to temporarily increase the debt ceiling and pass a budget in October.

Most pundits believe that once Congress gets in full election mode in early summer, it will be impossible to move a bill through the House if it isn’t already to a Senate/House conference committee.

Nassif is sticking to the opinion that passing immigration reform is very important if the Republican Party is to remain relevant.  Hence, he believes it will get done “because it has to,” he repeated.

 

Fiscal Cliff/Government Shutdown II

Last year at this time, this was a hot topic, as it was this past October and as it may well be in January.  In its infinite wisdom, Congress only temporarily funded the government and extended the debt ceiling to pay the nation’s bills in October.  They have to do it all over again come January.

WG’s Nuxoll said the belief in Washington is the will doesn't exist to bring the United States to the fiscal cliff one more time.  While Republicans will try to exact some compromises from the president, where those will be is anyone’s guess.

By all accounts, the October debt crisis hurt the Republican brand more than the Democrats.  The somewhat disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act has put the bulls-eye of brand damage back on the Democrat’s chest and there is seemingly no reason for the Republicans to relinquish their good fortune by approaching the cliff again.

 

Affordable Care Act

It has long been called the “signature” legislation of the Obama Administration.  It may well go down in history as the third leg of a social contract that includes social security and Medicare, and be hailed for generations to come.  Or the failed roll-out may create a situation where major changes are needed and Republicans are able to exact a price for their cooperation.

Those looking for a kinder and gentler government have believed that universal health care is long overdue.  Those who believe that the power of the market is what has made this country great, largely deplore government’s hand in anything attached to the word “universal.”  Though the Affordable Care Act was designed to walk that thin line between mandatory compliance and market competition to deliver universal health care at bargain prices, it is modern technology that some are hoping dooms it to failure.

As of this writing, the Obama Administration was still two weeks away from its promise that by the end of November the computer glitches would be solved and people would be able to log on to the government website and purchase affordable health care insurance.

Much is riding on how the Affordable Care Act proceeds and how it actually works over the next year.  By the fall of 2014, it could be the biggest issue in the mid-term elections.

 

Farm Bill

Though for the fresh produce industry the Farm Bill is as important as almost any other legislation, save immigration reform, it does not receive the same attention from the mainstream media.  In this year’s debate, the specialty crop industry has fared very well.  The delay in passage of a new Farm Bill has been a bit problematic, but at this writing, it appears as if the Senate/House Farm Bill conference committee will hammer out an agreement by the end of the year, and the specialty crop industry will be mostly happy with the results.

“It appears as if we will have a bill by Jan. 1,” said Nuxoll.

Without a Farm Bill, it has been estimated that the price consumers will have to pay for a gallon of milk will at least double and maybe triple.  “There are very few politicians that want to face their constituents if that happens,” said Nuxoll.

While he believes it is possible that the conference committee might need to extend its work a week or two beyond the Jan. 1 deadline, he expects that a Farm Bill will be passed before Congress gets bogged down with the January budget votes.  So much substantive work has been done to work on a new version of the Farm Bill that it seems unlikely that Congress would do a simple extension of the old Farm Bill.

In both the House and Senate version of the bill, the specialty crop industry has done well with funding increases in its key areas: research and development, specialty crop block grants, and pest detection and exclusion.  “During the conference we are in the enviable position of being fairly confident that we will have increases in the budget in these areas; we just don’t know how much it will be,” Nuxoll said.

Of course that doesn’t mean everything in the Farm Bill is positive.  The produce industry does benefits from both the food stamp program and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).  These programs put millions of dollars in the hands of the less fortunate with a share of those dollars spent on fresh fruits and vegetables.  The Senate version of the Farm Bill cut $4 billion from these programs while the House version trimmed these safety net programs by $40 billion.

Most experts expect the conference committee to agree on a number much closer to the Senate bill.  “I’m hearing that a cut of somewhere around $10 billion is what we should expect,” said Nuxoll.

That would appear to be about the upper limit that Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and House Democrats will agree to.  Anything greater and it is also doubtful that President Obama will sign the bill.

 

FSMA

While the Food Safety Modernization Act will not garner much front page coverage in 2014, Nuxoll said it will continue to be a very important issue to the ag community.  Final comments on the proposed rules governing implementation of that law were due on Nov. 22.  The produce industry and other impacted parties turned in lots of comments and took issue with many different aspects of the proposed regulations.

The Food and Drug Administration will review those comments and by the middle of 2014, it is required by law to publish its final regulations.  Then those regulations have to be implemented, interpreted and enforced.  The law and its regulations allow for a fairly long phase-in period, during which time the debate over interpretation and implementation will continue.  Nuxoll said the ag community expects to be focused on FSMA and its regulations for years to come.

Take any particular issue, such as a water regulation.  The final regulations cannot possibly take into account every crop and every situation.  It makes sense that a regulator will have to look at the sprinkler irrigation of a lettuce crop, where the leaf that is eaten comes in direct contact with the water, differently than he will look at the drip irrigation of a citrus crop, where the fruit is protected by a non-consumed skin.  These issues won’t catch the interest of the consumer press, but they will be nonetheless important to the produce industry.

It is of course, one of the major reasons why final and total implementation of FSMA is still at least a half a decade away.

 

NOVEMBER 2014 ELECTION

Of course another big issue throughout 2014 will be the fact that it is an election year.  That always plays a role in partisan politics.  Conventional wisdom says controversial issues must be dealt with early in the year as when the election is drawing closer, very few are interested in registering their decision in a tough vote.  It is no doubt foolhardy for anyone to make anything but a wild guess as to how the midterm elections will play out in November of 2014.  “While the government shutdown was being debated in October, the Republicans were being more heavily blamed and political observers said this could cost them the House in 2014,” said Nuxoll.  “Just a month later that fight is seemingly forgotten and those same observers are saying the failed rollout of ObamaCare is going to cost the Democrats seats in the House, and they may even lose the Senate.”

Nuxoll said there are many new battles that are going to occur over the next year so it is highly doubtful that what happened in October or November of 2013 will be the watershed event of the 2014 elections.

However, there are some general observations that might prove telling.  From the Republican side of the ledger, if the Affordable Care Act continues to have major problems and it is seen as failed policy by independent voters, that would be a plus for the Republicans in the next election.  And if they can get immigration reform off the table by passing legislation, the Republicans could do very, very well.

Conversely, if the wrinkles in the Affordable Care Act are ironed out and millions of Americans are enjoying their new-found health care insurance in a year, the Democrats could do quite well.  Immigration reform appears to be a no-lose issue for the Democrats.  If it passes, polls say that they will get most of the credit.  If it doesn’t pass, Republicans get most of the blame.  It behooves Republicans to get it off the table and out of the headlines.

But Nuxoll said a careful evaluation of those up for re-election in the Senate, the demographics in most House seats and an examination of traditional midterm voting lead most to believe that neither the House nor the Senate will change political hands in 2014.  “The Republicans need to pick up six Senate seats and it appears that unless there is a landslide against Democrats that is too high a hurdle.”

And in the House, he said Democrats have even a higher hill to climb.  To take over control of the House, Democrats would have to get a net gain of 17 seats.  No independent analysis of the House of Representatives sees that type of net gain for the party holding the White House at the midterm.  That would be rare indeed and would signal a landslide against the Republicans in 2014.

Again, unforeseen events can occur that will totally change the calculus, but at this point Nuxoll said it appears that a split Congress will remain a fact through the rest of Obama’s term in office.

 

CALIFORNIA ISSUES

While many have characterized the current Congress as a “do-nothing” bunch for its lack of progress on major issues, the California Legislature is being heralded in some corners for not being super active over the past year when it had the raw votes to do so.  The elections of 2012 gave California Democrats a super majority in each legislative house in 2013, though they did not have it for the whole year because of vacancies and special elections.  Nonetheless it was true for enough of the year that a total partisan agenda could have at least gotten to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.  In almost all of his 50 years in the public eye, Brown has been less than predictable so no one quite knows how he might have responded to an overly partisan or radical list of bills, but he never got the chance.

“Hopefully, this will be remembered as the year a big class of freshmen legislators came to Sacramento and changed the way the Legislature does business, putting good policy first and partisan politics second, rather than the reverse,” said Dave Puglia, Western Growers senior vice president of government affairs and communications.

Though they had a super majority and could both override vetoes and pass fiscal matters without a single Republican vote, for the most part, the Legislature did neither.  Puglia said the class of 39 new Assembly members have an independent streak for several different reasons.  In the first place, they are the first class in a couple of decades to know that they won’t be forced to leave the Assembly after just six years; a change in the term limits law allows them to serve 12 years in that house if they continue to get re-elected.  Secondly, they are the first class to run for office under the “Top Two” system which has the two highest vote getters in the primary going against each other in the general election.  This means there were more than a handful of elections that pitted Democrat vs. Democrat or Republican vs. Republican.

Practically speaking this means the general election in those races took on added significance.  To win those races, the candidates had to move somewhat toward the middle, courting votes from the other party’s constituents as well as their own.  That clearly does not happen in primary races which typically see candidates running to the far left or far right to win their own primary with the general election being decided by the drawing of boundary lines more than anything else.

Puglia said the new voting system as well as other factors played a significant role in how the California Legislature acted this year.  “You put it all in a blender and the Legislature was much more moderate than many thought it would be,” he said, then quickly added that it remains to be seen if this was a one-year anomaly or the beginning of a trend.

Among the bills that did not pass included one (AB880) that would have assessed a Medicaid penalty on businesses when workers qualified for that program.  Another United Farm Worker bill (SB 25) was amended significantly to knock out some of its more onerous aspects, but its core provision remains, which would allow the union to force employers into state-imposed mandatory mediation and imposition of a contract in place of negotiation in contract renewal situations.  That bill could reach the governor as early as January.

 

Minimum Wage & Labor Issues

Of course, the fact that the California Legislature was more moderate than many thought it would be, does not mean every piece of legislation that passed was cheered by the business community.  One negative was the hike in the minimum wage to one of the highest levels in the country.  By 2016, California businesses will have to pay a minimum wage of $10 per hour.  That is significantly higher than almost any other state as well as the federal minimum wage.  As a point of reference, while California’s minimum wage moves up $1 to $9 per hour in 2014, the Arizona minimum wage will be raised 10 cents per hour to $7.90.

In 2014, both the state’s organized labor lobby and the UFW will have political agendas that need to be monitored and most likely fought.  One major fight that could take a lot of organized labor’s time is an effort limiting the strike options of some public unions such as transit workers.  The BART strike in San Francisco this past summer has led to a movement to outlaw that type of strike, and it is being pushed by some Democrats.  It is not a fight that agriculture has a stake in, but it could occupy the time and resources of organized labor.

As far as the UFW is concerned, Puglia said it is difficult to predict what its legislative agenda will be.  Several groups of farmworkers did petition and win the right to hold decertification elections this fall.  Based on past experiences that would lead one to believe that the UFW will attempt a legislative fix to further tilt the law governing organizing and union certification in its favor, as the union is attempting with SB 25. The union has seemingly shown its colors in these fights as it has been arguing for the rights of the union itself rather than the workers it supposedly represents.

 

Water

One of the big issues in 2014 will surely be water.  “At this point the water bond is on the November ’14 ballot,” Puglia said.  “We do expect it to be debated by the Legislature and the governor to determine how big it should be and what it should include.”

Early predictions are that a bond in the neighborhood of $6-$8 billion is what will eventually reach the voters.

For production agriculture, Puglia said the key provisions are “the storage chapter and the Delta funding chapter.”  In both cases, he believes agriculture has some good allies and he is cautiously optimistic that the final bond will satisfactorily address agriculture’s concerns.

The original bond has $3 billion allocated for water storage.  A coalition of Republican legislators and the Latino caucus are backing a strong storage component so Puglia is hopeful it will survive largely intact.

The Delta funding provision is backed by most of the Southern California legislators, which hold a clear majority in both the Assembly and the State Senate.  Consequently, Puglia said that provision also appears to be in good shape.

Just as important to the passage of the bond is the position of the governor.  He is quite popular and how much he wants and how much he is willing to fight for it and promote it is very important.  “In this debate the governor’s voice is very large,” Puglia said.

California voters have turned down several bonds in recent election cycles and this one could have well-organized and well-funded opposition.

Puglia said it is way too early in the discussion to determine what WG’s position will be on the bond.

 

Nitrates and Contaminants in Drinking Water

Another potential battle in 2014 looms with regard to nitrates and other contaminants in drinking water.  There is no doubt this is an issue that needs a long-term solution…and that will be expensive.  While there is also no doubt that the use of nitrogen fertilizer has played a role, how big a role is not known.

Puglia said there are many known contributing sources of nitrogen in soil including fertilizers, animal feces, human waste from compromised sewage systems and even naturally-occurring nitrogen in the atmosphere.  And there are several contaminants in drinking water sources throughout the state, such as perchlorate, which comes from the pyrotechnics industry as well as many other sources.

“It is our belief that contaminants in the drinking water is a statewide issue and needs a statewide solution,” said Puglia.

Though some have tried to push the relatively-easy political solution of taxing fertilizer, Puglia said fertilizer is not the only cause and so the cost of the solution should not be levied on just that business sector.

He said researchers are getting closer to identifying the DNA, if you will, of the nitrates in the drinking water, which will shed more light on the causes and hopefully lead to a more broad-spread solution.  But in any event, he said there are other contaminants and WG will be advocating for a broader solution.  Typically that has meant the passing of a general obligation bond, but Puglia said in today’s fiscal environment that is not simple solution.

“This is not an easy discussion to have,” he said.  “It is easier politically to single out one group and place the blame there, but I am not anticipating that happening.”

To levy such a tax on fertilizer would take a two-thirds vote of the California Legislature as well as the governor’s signature.  That also will not be a simple solution.

 

California’s 2014 Election

Again a relatively large class of incoming freshmen should be the order of the day in the November elections as many legislators are terming out.  It is far too early to handicap those races, but it appears that there are several scenarios in which the Democrats could lose their super majority in one or both houses.  There were several races with good Republican numbers in the district that fell to the Democrat column because of better campaigns or better candidates.  It is not a big leap to believe at least one or two could fall the other way come November.  That would be enough to change the super majority status of Democrats.

Though as mentioned earlier, moderates did quite well in 2012 and if that trend continues, “functional” rather than “dysfunctional” might be the new buzz word for the California Legislature.

November 2014 will also feature a gubernatorial election in California.  Barring any unforeseen issues that may arise, Governor Brown is certainly expected to seek re-election in 2014.  Though he will be 76, there appears to be no indication that he is slowing down or lost his appetite for public life.  He is not expected to face a stiff challenger in the primary.

On the Republican side, former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado does have a Maldonado for Governor website and has been campaigning for months.  There are also several other Republicans expected to vie for their party’s nomination.

At this point, it appears that Gov. Brown is in a strong position to win reelection.  He has good poll numbers and California’s voter registration numbers tilt heavily in the Democrat’s favor.

 

Arizona Poised for an Interesting 2014

By comparison to California, Arizona politics are typically fairly dull.  Republicans have a firm grip on both legislative bodies and have been in control of the state house for 16 of the last 22 years.  Only Janet Napolitano’s six year run from 2003 to 2009 is a blemish on that record.  Typically the governor and the Arizona Legislature work together to pass pro-business legislation and tweak the budget as needed.

But this past year a schism formed over the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid.  While Gov. Jan Brewer backed the state’s refusal to set up its own ACA-authorized insurance exchange, she did put together a coalition of Democrat and Republican legislators to accept the Medicaid expansion for Arizona.  Under ACA, the states were allowed to expand Medicaid with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the tab for the first three years and 90 percent in year four.  Conservatives legislators were largely against this move and many Republican-led states across the country did not pass the necessary enabling legislation.

For many other governors, including Brewer, it was a no cost way to increase health care eligibility in their individual state while pumping hundreds of millions of federal dollars into the state.  In Arizona, Medicaid expansion is expected to add 300,000 to the Medicaid roles and bring an additional $1.6 billion of federal money into the state.

But conservative Republicans in the legislature opposed the legislation and Brewer needed to rely on Democrats to pass the bill.  AnnaMarie Knorr, WG director of Arizona state government affairs, said the hard feelings created by that ploy are expected to spill into 2014.  “It remains to be seen how well Gov. Brewer and Republican legislators can work together,” she said.  “The division within the Republican Party is very evident.  The wounds are still fresh.”

Adding to the drama, she said is a similar fracture in the Democratic caucus which recently threw out its Senate minority leader and replaced the state’s only African-American senate member with Sen. Anna Tovar on an 8-5 vote.  Some cried “racism” and in any event it left the Democrats in a somewhat similar position to Republicans heading into the 2014 legislative season.

 

Elections 2014

Because 2014 will be an election year and there are no burning issues waiting to be solved, WG’s Knorr expects a relatively quiet 100-day session, which is the prescribed length of Arizona’s legislative season.  “We expect a lot of members to be primaried,” she said, “and so that will take a good portion of their time.”

She explained that the districts that were redrawn by an independent commission before the last election did result in a couple of Democratic victories and eliminated the super majority status that the Republicans held in both state houses.  “But in redrawing these districts and creating several competitive districts, the commission made many other districts very non-competitive,” Knorr said.  “Consequently, in the near term, Democrats have virtually no chance of capturing either House.”

Knorr said that makes the primary fight in many of these Republican-leaning districts all important, and that is where the money will be spent and the battles take place.

Gov. Brewer is terming out and the battle to succeed her has begun.  On the Republican side, Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Treasurer Doug Ducey appear to be the front runners.  Bennett has a long history of public service and might appear to be the establishment candidate, but Ducey is racking up the endorsements and has created a grassroots campaign.  Other candidates, including some potentially strong ones, are also waiting in the wings.  It is also possible that Gov. Brewer will challenge state law and seek re-election.  Arizona law says a governor cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.  Brewer became governor via Arizona’s constitution from the secretary of state position after Janet Napolitano resigned to take a position in the Obama Administration.  Though running and winning a second term would seemingly run afoul of Arizona law, there are indications that she might ask the courts to rule on the issue.  Brewer has said she will not announce her intentions until sometime in 2014.

On the Democrat’s side only former Clinton administration Fred DuVal appears to be mounting a serious challenge.  He is a respected civic leader who has had a long career in public policy work.

Though Republicans hold a significant edge in registrations in the state more than a third of the populace are registered as independents.  Add to that the growing number of Hispanics and DuVal could create a pathway to victory.  Knorr said all of the top candidates do appear to be pro-business candidates and no victory should radically alter the state’s trajectory.

 

Water is A Key Issue

While it might not play out in 2014 because of other factors, the fight for water continues to heat up and Knorr said it “will probably be the number one issue over the next five to 10 years.”

Arizona’s population continues to grow and there is a need to find new water sources as the urban centers grow.  There is an increasing debate between rural and urban advocates as to how the state’s water should be used and allocated.  Water supplied to Phoenix and Tucson through the Central Arizona Project has a junior position with regard to Colorado River water rights and there is concern that a Colorado River drought could have dire consequences for the vast majority of the populous.

This past session, a bill was introduced by the Speaker that was designed to create authorities with the means to transfer water to urban areas.  WG and the ag industry fought and killed the legislation and thus the sponsor did go back to the drawing board to hold listening sessions in rural communities and try to drum up support for the idea.  “It received very little support,” said Knorr, “but that does not take the issue off the table.  We all worry about what would happen if we face a severe water shortage.”

She said while water rights of rural communities, and specifically agriculture, are well founded, a severe drought would cause consternation and the urban communities do have the votes.  “Western Growers is very engaged in this issue and we know it needs to be a major focal point moving forward.”

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