WASHINGTON, October 28, 2012 – The “Farmers for Obama” campaign staff distributed an e-mail to supporters over the weekend, criticizing Mitt Romney for positions he took on agriculture while serving as Governor of Massachusetts and running for the U.S. Senate, but supporters say the comments are taken out of context.
“Romney’s Budget submission in 2003 to the Legislature called for the elimination of the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture and for the residual staff to be downsized into a small division of agricultural resources within the Environmental Affairs Secretariat,” according to the “FarmersforObama” email obtained by Agri-Pulse.
The memo also cites an “Iowa Independent” from 2007, which says that Romney once called for the "virtual elimination" of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and cuts to farm subsides in his failed 1994 U.S. Senate race against Ted Kennedy. A video of his call for cuts in ag subsidies as part of an effort to balance the federal budget is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MydYcXfMwUQ
The reference to “virtual elimination” of USDA dates back to a 1994 Boston Herald story that Agri-Pulse was unable to find and verify the statement.
Sources who worked for Romney while he served as Governor say the comments about his call for the elimination of the Massachusetts Dept. of Agriculture are misleading. When Romney took office in 2002, the state faced a $2 billion budget deficit and he looked for ways to streamline government.
“Agriculture, Conservation and Recreation, Environmental Protection and Fish and Game were departments under the Environmental Affairs Secretariat before Romney took office. They remain so today,” noted one Massachusetts source, who pointed out that the agency was renamed the “Department of Agricultural Resources.”
Romney’s proposal “was an effort to break down silos within government and enhance Smart Growth strategies that actually protected and enhanced agriculture,” explained Doug Gillespie, who served as commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) from April 2002, to January 2007 under both Massachusetts Governors Jane Swift and Mitt Romney.
“Governor Romney assembled an innovative team that put in place policies that allowed nearly all segments of Massachusetts Agriculture to thrive,” Gillespie told Agri-Pulse. “Through the Romney initiatives, over 100 municipal agricultural commissions were created, right to farm bylaws were enacted, the state's Farm Viability Enhancement Program was expanded, and statewide smart growth planning all but eliminated farmland loss to development.”
Romney spokesperson Shawn McCoy said Romney is a strong supporter of U.S. agriculture.
“Governor Romney understands that important role that farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses play in our economy and the need for an efficient Department of Agriculture to support their efforts. President Obama has put forth policies that have shown a clear lack of vision for American agriculture,” McCoy pointed out in an e-mail to Agri-Pulse. “As president, Governor Romney will reduce unnecessary and costly regulations that burden our agriculture sector, introduce fundamental tax reform that will support family farmers and encourage economic growth, and put us on the path to North American energy independence by 2020. Governor Romney also understands the necessity of a Farm Bill and the vital supports it contains for farmers and ranchers. Unlike President Obama, Governor Romney will work with Congress to get this legislation passed and give American farmers and ranchers peace of mind.”
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