CHICAGO — United Fresh keynote speakers keep inching toward a U.S. president.
Former Secretary of State, U.S. senator and first lady Hillary Clinton spoke June 10 as United Fresh 2014 opened, marking as close as the event has come to the presidency.
First ladies Barbara Bush and Laura Bush have spoken in previous annual conventions, as well as Jeb Bush.
Is it too much to hope for Bill Clinton or George W. Bush at a future expo?
We saw comments on our stories on thepacker.com criticizing United Fresh for bringing in such a political lightning rod as Hillary Clinton, but they miss the point.
The produce industry must be willing to listen to and befriend people of both political parties, although Republicans’ pro-business policies tend to benefit the produce industry more.
While it was rewarding to see such a powerful political figure in person, Clinton’s statements were more in line with a book promotion tour, a book which coincidently came out June 10. No fewer than two dozen times did she work its name into her remarks.
I give her credit for speaking to her audience. She knew she had agriculture and food industry people listening, and she tailored her speech to those issues.
She knew about and made her position clear on school lunch reform.
She also talked about immigration reform, and while her audience generally agreed with her position — even the Republican voters in the crowd — she missed the mark on where American voters are on immigration reform.
Clinton said both political parties’ leaders in the House have embraced the Senate bill that passed last year but has stalled in the House.
She said a small minority of House representatives are fighting reform because “they don’t realize the U.S. is a nation of immigrants.”
Yet on that same day, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., and majority leader in the House, lost his primary to an underdog opponent who hammered Cantor on his support for immigration reform, which he called Cantor’s support for “amnesty.”
The fact is, amnesty is a lighting rod that works.
A year ago in San Diego, United Fresh had a workshop on immigration reform, and I wrote a column predicting the House Republicans would not pass a bill and would not work on a compromise because of amnesty fears.
Not only was there little compromise in the past year, the anti-amnesty side has gotten stronger.
It’s easy for Republican politicians to come out against amnesty to their voters.
Republican voters do not want to reward law breakers, bring in millions of new Democratic voters, bring in more people to compete for their jobs, bring in people to stress the social services.
Not only that but in the past few weeks, Americans are seeing news of illegal immigrant minors from Central America arriving at the southern border by the thousands daily, and the Obama administration unable to handle it either operationally or politically.
In mid-June, the National Border Patrol Council called the situation “de facto amnesty,” saying the Obama administration and U.S. media have spread the message that if enough people crowd the border, the U.S. will simply release them within the country.
This only feeds the amnesty fears among conservative voters.
The produce industry certainly needs some legislative action on immigration, but trying to persuade Republican House members to go along with the Senate bill is simply a waste of time in the current political environment.
The produce industry can’t win by backing reform policies tied to any amnesty, or any eventual citizenship granted to people who came here illegally.
The industry should continue to focus on the facets that a majority of Americans support: agriculture is important, and guest workers are needed because most Americans will not take farm jobs.
Build on that.
Politicians everywhere were paying attention to what voters told Cantor, and those candidates who need conservative voters to keep them in office will not make the same mistake.
In fact, the produce industry needs to be careful it doesn’t get caught up in anti-amnesty politics as the heat rises this summer election season.
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