The Illinois Farm Bureau hosted the Illinois Agriculture Legislative
Roundtable Wednesday at a farm in tiny Downs.
Republican Mark Kirk
and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias both made their case for Senate to
the group of 150 or so farmers and farm group leaders. They both
agreed that Illinois agriculture, the state's No. 1 industry, needs
to say that way. But the candidates differed on how.
They faced questions about ag policy, transportation, taxes and
Giannoulias walked the line and said that environmental rules and
limits mean one thing to someone living in the Chicago suburbs but
something completely different to downstate farmers.
"It's less about blocking than it is about making sure the EPA
works with the agriculture community and take their input," he said.
"And the biggest complaint (from farmers) is more of an overall
complaint that there is not even a conversation taking place, and I
think that's important because a lot of these regulations have a big
impact on these farmers."
Kirk echoed the message that environmental law must walk that
line. He said to let "the science" become key.
But the agreement ended over the extension of the federal estate
tax. Giannoulias said the tax should be revived, though he wants a
$10 million carve-out for family farms.
Kirk said the better answer is to let the tax die and not get
into the sticky business of carve-outs.
"Why would you just exempt a family farmer and not exempt
family-owned businesses across Illinois who happen not to be in
farming?" he said.
Kirk said killing the so-called death tax would spur growth and
But the event was more than just a chance for the candidates to
try to massage their message for the farm crowd. The 150 farmers and
farm group leaders will go home and talk to a lot of people about
what they heard.
Chad Schutz, a farmer from Whitehall who is also an Illinois Farm
Bureau leader, said that could end up being tens of thousands of
"As far as Illinois Farm Bureau goes, we pack a pretty good punch
as far as membership goes," Schutz said. "We have over 400,000
members statewide. So it's beneficial for them to come down."
Giannoulias and Kirk know that.
"You gotta earn the vote from Rockford to Cairo. You have to be a
senator for the whole state. … You need to represent (all) 12 and a
half million people of Illinois," said Kirk.
"I think being a good senator, being a good candidate, is
understanding the challenges that everyone faces and addressing
them. And admitting when there are things that you don't know and
being willing to learn and have these conversations," said
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The same voter math ran through the minds of the candidates for
governor. Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington and
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn both made their case on their record for
folks on the farm.
Quinn, who spent a lot of time talking about jobs and taxes and
education, touted his ranking as the only "soybean governor."
"We can feed the world; we know that in Illinois. We can fuel the
world; we understand the importance of biofuels," Quinn said. "There
is only one candidate for governor who's been declared 'Mr. Soybean'
in Illinois, and that's me."
The governor said that title, and more important, the beans from
Illinois are key to the state's recovery.
"What we have to do in Illinois is continue to grow our exports.
We are a great exporting state. We can be even greater," said Quinn.
Brady said the jobs from agriculture need to come from and stay
"Agriculture is the foundation of Illinois' economy; it was the
founding foundation, and it continues to be the foundation," he
He said Illinois needs to reverse the job losses that have
plagued the state for years. Quinn said those are part of the
national recession. But neither talked about any specifics that
would bring either farm jobs, or nonfarm jobs, back to the state.
Statehouse News; By BENJAMIN YOUNT]