Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 31, 2006

CLINTON VISIT: Senator pushes agricultural agenda in Cambria

By Jill Terreri / terrerij@gnnewspaper.com

CAMBRIA — Sen. Hillary Clinton came to this small farming community on Monday and delivered a speech on what she thinks needs to be done to better the lives of farmers across the country.

During an address at Robinson Farms on North Ridge Road, Clinton discussed the need to reduce energy costs, the importance of opening more markets to farmers, the need to establish an immigration policy that addresses agriculture workers and the need to bring high-speed Internet access to rural places.

“We are a rural state,” she said. “We have to pay attention to our rural communities.”

Alluding to the construction of the Erie Canal, which was dubbed “Clinton’s Ditch” for a time for then-Gov. DeWitt Clinton, Clinton called her address “Clinton’s Pitch.”

“A lot of people thought it couldn’t be done,” she said, referring to the canal. “We’ve got to build the rural economy.”

She also discussed the need to create development that will raise wages for farmers, noting that she doesn’t think federal lawmakers should get a raise before the minimum wage is increased or average wages increase.

She also noted that federal aid generally is sent to areas with dense populations.

“The policies are not geared to helping rural America grow,” she said.

Clinton suggested eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and instead reducing energy costs for agriculture, adding that the use of ethanol and other biofuels is “no longer a pipe dream.”

“We need to look at wind and we need to look at solar,” she said.

For farmers in attendance, some points Clinton discussed hit home more than others.

Peter Smith grows grapes in Cambria and said the speech was “very nice.”

“I don’t remember hearing about our taxes,” Smith said, adding that he appreciated Clinton’s attention to the issue of biofuels.

For the hosts, Greg Robinson and his father, Don, the event put a hold on the work that would have occurred on Monday.

“She has covered some good points,” said Greg, the sixth generation in his family to work at the farm.

Asked whether Clinton’s Democratic registration affected his view of the senator, Greg said: “She’s working on agriculture issues. As long as she’s helping the cause.”

A small number of the people who attended the event held “Hillary” bumper-stickers, but for the most part the fact that Clinton is in the midst of her second Senate campaign seemed to go largely unnoticed.

The crowd of about 100 Niagara County farmers that listened for just less than an hour in a metal barn during one of the year’s hottest days was recruited by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York Farm Bureau.

Cambria Supervisor Wright Ellis said he doesn’t remember the last time a senator came to his town.

“I think it’s wonderful for her to be giving some visibility to agriculture and the Town of Cambria,” said Ellis, who is a part-time farmer. “It’s magnificent.”

The selection of Cambria as the site of Clinton’s speech could be tied to farmer Paul Bencal’s membership on the senator’s agricultural advisory committee.

Bencal, president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, was out of town on Monday and Michael Von Heckler of Warm Lake Estate introduced Clinton to the crowd.

Other elements of Clinton’s plan included:

—Extending the new market tax credit available in urban areas to rural areas.

—Mandatory country-of-origin labeling. “I don’t think it’s fair that the consumer who might want to know that these are New York apples won’t be told they’re New York apples and they buy Chinese apples,” Clinton said. “If they want to buy Chinese apples, fine, but let’s make sure they know.”

—Student loan forgiveness, rural tax credits for home purchases and business startups, and government-backed rural savings and investment accounts to entice people to live and work in rural areas.

The speech was fourth in a series of messages Clinton has delivered this year on issues of national importance. The others concerned privacy, energy and the economy.

Contact Jill Terreriat 282-2311, Ext. 2250.