When John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, recently took the stage at the U.S. Potato Board’s annual meeting in Colorado Springs, he could have led off with a number of topics.
There are the recent successes the NPC had a hand in, including reinstating potatoes to the school meal program and working to eliminate a Mexican tariff placed on potatoes and other agricultural products after Congress scuttled a cross-border trucking program.
On the horizon, NPC is setting its sights on allowing Women, Infants and Children program vouchers to include potatoes.
But as someone who rubs elbows with Beltway insiders, Keeling cut right to the subject that he’s probably asked about on a daily basis: the presidential race.
He didn’t have good news — or at least didn’t have news the members of the potato industry in attendance wanted to hear — saying that if things keep on track, President Obama will get four more years.
“I really know how badly the Republicans and most of the people in this room want to replace the president with somebody else, but you have to have somebody to beat somebody, and the Republicans are not exactly trotting out the most exciting group of candidates,” Keeling said.
Based on a show of hands, Mitt Romney doesn’t have a lot of fans in the potato industry. And Romney will be the nominee, he said.
Relying on enthusiasm not for the Republican nominee, but on replacing Obama with anyone, is not a winning strategy.
“How motivated is the Republican base going to be when they don’t have the candidate they prefer?” Keeling asked.
On top of that, Keeling has a theory that candidates have one chance at the brass ring, and Romney’s ended during the last presidential primary.
Regardless of who the eventual nominee is, Keeling said the campaign has diminished the candidate’s capabilities.
It could be worse, he said. This could be Russia, where Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency amid allegations of fraudulent voting. Putin campaigned with an anti-U.S. message.
“Then you’d better bring Vladimir Putin over here,” Keeling said after his question of how many people in the room wanted to replace Obama was met with cheers and whistles.
Despite the Republican infighting and its effect on voter sentiment, the system works.
“It’s not been pretty to watch,” Keeling said. “But we have a lot to be thankful for in this country, and I’m proud of it in terms of our government.”
Back to Russia. My sister used to live south of Homer, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula. While you couldn’t see Russia from the cabin she built with her husband (unlike at Sarah Palin’s house), her three-sided outhouse had a spectacular view of Kachemak Bay.
Down a series of switchbacks just off the bay is a fiercely independent Russian community. Strangers are given the cold shoulder, I’ve been told. I never went there, but it’s no secret that Alaskans still have the frontier mentality.
I found it refreshing. Things are a little wilder. Laws seem laxer.
But there’s a point when that independent streak can be seen as extreme.
Take for example, Tammie Wilson’s idea of how food safety issues should be handled in Alaska.
Wilson, a North Pole Republican, has introduced a bill in the hopes of boosting local food and farmers markets sales.
The bill, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, would do away with most of the state’s food safety regulations pertaining to direct-to-consumer sales. That includes seafood, dairy and meat.
According to the Daily News-Miner the state doesn’t have regulations for produce sold directly to consumers, but relieving producers, no matter what size, from food safety responsibility has Alaskan health officials worried.
Wilson offered the bill as a response to what she claims are undue expenses for permits and equipment needed by local food purveyors.
Her solution: Blame the consumer.
“We just think that there’s something called responsibility that is here,” she said during a committee hearing, according to the News-Miner.
“I don’t think government is there to keep us safe from absolutely everything. You can’t protect everybody from everything.”
Instead, small growers/ranchers would hand out cards telling consumers the food hadn’t been inspected and could be harmful to eat.
Wilson must have a dim view of her constituents. I’ve never met anyone from the North Pole, but this should fire up the electorate to replace her in the next election.
I also believe that people should take responsibility for what they eat. Don’t eat old fish. Wash fresh produce. Don’t eat raw meat. Avoid raw milk.
But anyone selling food should be responsible for their negligence, should a foodborne illness outbreak occur.
There’s no get-out-of-jail free card.
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