● Max Baucus (D/Montana) announced on Tuesday he will not run for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2014. Senator Baucus is chairman of the Finance Committee and has been a powerful figure on a range of federal issues, including international trade policy. Former policy aides of his are scattered throughout important positions in Washington, D.C. For example, the current acting USTR, Ambassador Demetrios Marantis was once a top aide to Chairman Baucus. The question now for Ambassador Marantis is will he get nominated as permanent Trade Representative by President Obama even though his political mentor is a lame duck. Also of interest is the fact that with Senator Baucus’ retirement, Senator Ron Wyden (D/Oregon) is set to gain control of Finance in the next Congress, provided Democrats continue their control of that body. Political power ebbs and flows.
● Immigration reform hearings in the Senate this week. We shall see if the whole package moves forward to a vote on the floor. I do know that the agricultural worker package was saved by a last ditch effort led by Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, and assisted by Monte Lake, a veteran immigration lawyer based in Washington, D.C. I first came to know Mr. Lake when we both worked together on what turned out to be the last comprehensive immigration law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
● The American Farm Bureau Federation on April 8 released its suggestions for the 2013 Farm Bill. Surprisingly, the Farm Bureau included a new crop insurance product called STAX that was crafted for the big commodity crops, like cotton, but is now suggested to be extended to apples, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes and sweet corn. STAX stands for Stacked Income Protection Plan. This was not run by the traditional groups that represent the apple industry on national issues, such as USApple or the Northwest Horticultural Council. My hunch is that the crop insurance people and the cotton industry might be trying to gather more and geographically broader political support for STAX, by pulling in these specialty crops.
● Brain Bonlender is now the Seattle-based director of the Washington State Department of Commerce. The native of Yakima and former top staffer for Jay Inslee when Mr. Inslee served in Congress, heads a department that, among other things, has a keen interest in promoting exports.
● On Monday the United Fresh Produce Association sent to its membership a suggested ballot for board officers and directors for 2013-2014. Barring an unprecedented rejection of this slate by those few members of United that actually vote, these candidates will serve effective May 14. Of special interest to our industry is the fact that Kevin Moffitt of the Pear Bureau Northwest will continue to serve as an at-large member of the board, while Tony Freytag of Crunch Pak Sliced Apples and Roger Pepperl of Stemilt Growers will continue on the board and will be chairmen of one of United’s several boards or councils. Mr. Freytag will lead the Fresh-Cut Processor Board, while Mr. Pepperl is set to provide leadership to the Produce Marketing & Merchandising Council. I plan to attend United’s annual convention, which is set for May 14-16 in San Diego.
● Political Fruit: “Thanks for helping our kids dream big, hope deeply and realize a brighter future. So with that, I would like to present Jeff with his apple. And I want to–don’t bite into it–(laughter)–and invite him to say a few words.” From transcript of remarks on April 23 by President Obama at the 2013 National Teacher of the Year event honoring Jeff Charbonneau, a high school teacher in the Lower Yakima Valley.