The 2016 general election can be split into sectors of interest for food and agriculture issues: state referendums on agricultural issues; four municipal referendums on soda taxes, and three House races in which the food movement targeted Republican incumbents. If Democrats win control of the Senate, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a steadfast defender of food stamps during final negotiations over the 2014 farm law, would chair the Senate Agriculture Committee when it drafts the 2018 farm bill.
Aides to Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, and Stabenow declined to look beyond today’s election when asked about their plans for the congressional session that opens in January. Stabenow “will stay as the top Democrat on the committee,” said an aide. A Roberts aide said Roberts “will continue to defend crop insurance against any cuts” while turning aside questions about what role Roberts would have on the panel.
If Democrats win the Senate, Thad Cochran of Mississippi might invoke seniority — a right highly respected by the GOP — to take the post of ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee ahead of Roberts, the same maneuver that he used in 2013, says The Hagstrom Report. Cochran, a friend of public-nutrition programs, preferred traditionally styled crop subsidies for the 2014 farm law while Stabenow championed revenue-based supports. In the end, lawmakers wrote both subsidy systems into law and let growers decide which was best for them.
The soda-tax referenda are a potential watershed for public-health advocates who blame sugary drinks as a factor in the U.S. obesity epidemic and rise in chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. “If one or more of these measures passes, there will be, if not a groundswell, a significant uptick in interest,” said David Goldberg, of Healthy Food America, in a Politico story.
Berkeley was the first city to approve a soda tax, by a landslide vote in 2014. The referenda in three Bay Area cities—San Francisco, Oakland and Albany—are patterned on Berkeley’s 1-cent-an-ounce tax on distributors. Voters in Boulder, CO, will decide a proposed 2-cent-an-ounce tax. The Philadelphia City Council approved a 1.5-cent tax on June 16.
The food-movement group Food Policy Action has called for defeat of three House Republicans who scored poorly in FPA ratings. The three, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Rod Blum of Iowa, and David Valadao of California, are in competitive races. The political handicapper Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates Blum and Valadao as being in “leans Republican races,” while Garrett is in a “leans Democratic” race.
Here is a scorecard for today’s elections:
Massachusetts Question 3 A statewide referendum on minimum-space requirements for farm animals. The initiative effectively would bar sow crates, battery cages for egg-laying hens, and veal calf stalls on Massachusetts farms. A bigger impact would be its prohibition on the sale of eggs, pork or veal raised outside of the state unless animals are housed in similar conditions.
Oklahoma Question 777 A statewide referendum on adding a right-to-farm amendment to the state constitution. Farm groups say it will protect them from out-of-state animal-rights activists and anti-GMO campaigners. Opposition is much stronger than in North Dakota in 2012 and Missouri in 2014.
Montana Initiative 177 A statewide referendum on banning animal traps on public land.
Soda tax referendums
Boulder Measure 2H A 2-cents-per-ounce excise tax on distributors of soda and sugary beverages, both bottled and fountain drinks. Exemptions for milk products, baby formula and medical drinks. Backers say revenue will be used for healthier food in schools and public-education campaigns. Foes say it will drive up food costs.
San Francisco Proposition V Q 1-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, sports drinks, iced tea, energy drinks and juice drinks. Exemptions for diet sodas, infant formula, milk, all-fruit and all-vegetable juices, and medical drinks. Simple majority needed for approval. A soda tax failed in 2014 when a two-thirds majority was required.
Oakland Measure HH A 1-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas, sports drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks. Exemptions for milk products, 100-percent juice drinks, baby formula, diet drinks and medical drinks.
Albany Measure 1 A 1-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, energy drinks and sweetened tea. Exemptions for baby formula, milk beverages, diet drinks, medical drinks, and all-natural fruit and vegetable juices.
U.S. House races
New Jersey 5th House District Garrett vs. Democrat Josh Gottheimer. A Republican, Garret has represented the northern New Jersey district for seven terms. Gottheimer, a former White House speechwriter, has raised more money than any other U.S. House candidate ever in the state.
Iowa 1st House District The Republican, Blum, is a former software developer elected to the House in 2014 with 51 percent of the vote. He is challenged by business owner Monica Vernon, a Democrat, in the district covering the northeastern quadrant of Iowa.
California 21st House District Seeking his third term representing the Central Valley, Valadao, a dairy farmer, faces Emilio Huerta, son of labor icon Delores Huerta. Valadao is on the House Appropriations subcommittee in charge of the USDA and FDA budgets. He out-polled Huerta in the June 7 “jungle” primary.