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The Newest Senator: Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:00:00 AM PST

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Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand is now Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). She is a member of the Blue Dog Dems - a group of conservative Democrats, but her House site actually displays some decent stuff about supporting family farms (excerpted below). I don't know if Gillibrand will continue to serve on the Ag committee in the Senate (as she has in the House) but, um, I believe Norm Coleman will be vacating a seat on that committee fairly soon.
Jill Richardson :: The Newest Senator: Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
I did a little bit of poking around Thomas. Gillibrand was a first term Congresswoman in 2006, so there wasn't too much to look through. Interestingly, she proposed a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution (H.J.RES.45) - a measure I quite oppose given what a mess it would make out of our current need for some hard core Keynesian deficit spending to dig our economy out of this mess.

Additionally, she voted against Rep. Udall's proposed farm bill amendment that would take money from cotton subsidies and give it instead to conservation programs. She was a cosponsor for HR.1363, a bill aiming to update the standards of "foods of minimal nutritional value" that are not allowed in school lunches (i.e. keep more junk out of kids' lunches... a good thing).

From Gillibrand's House site:

The very first bill I ever introduced was the American Dairy Farmer Protection Act to help ensure our local family farms can stay in business so our families can have fresh and affordable dairy products and we can preserve the rural character of our community that makes living in upstate New York so great.

This bill wasn't passed but it's crucial that dairy farmers gain a friend in the Senate to replace Hillary Clinton. Senators for Wisconsin and New York are often great on dairy issues because their states have large dairy industries. Hillary did a great job, and I hope her replacement will as well.

The new Farm Bill passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 231-191.  Not only did this bill include an extension of the successful MILC safety net program for dairy farmers - something that I fought to have included in the baseline and incorporated into the Farm Bill - but it also included $4.3 billion more for popular conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.

I am proud to have been part of the bipartisan effort to write the 2007 Farm Bill, and I believe that the bill strikes a balance between the needs of farmers throughout the country, while still providing needed reforms of subsidy programs and large increases for dairy and fruit farmers in the Northeast.

It's hard to read much into her comments on the farm bill because it seems that most Congresscritters voted for it and they tend to say similar things about it. But a little more telling are the amendments she supported:

* Buy Local Amendment- Directed the USDA to provide loans to businesses that promote buying and distributing within 400 miles of the farms where the product was produced.  This provision will specifically help agricultural businesses in the Northeast because of the large markets in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  Promoting local distribution also helps to keep local economies strong and prices low because consumers do not have to pay the high cost of transporting products long distances.  Moreover, it helps save energy and reduces pollution by decreasing the truck and train traffic needed to haul products long distances.

* Organics Transition for Small Farms Amendment-  Provided $50 million in grants and free technical assistance to farmers that want to transition from traditional farming to organic farming.  Many of New York's farmers are operating on the financial edge and can not afford the high investment that is required to transition to organic.  This amendment addresses that need and will help keep many of our small farms in business.  Further, the organic market has been growing exponentially recently - especially in New York City - and the Upstate economy can benefit immensely from this increased demand.

Gillibrand's site also mentions the following farm bill "highlights" - while it doesn't say Gillibrand supports these things, I assume since she already said she's proud of passing the farm bill, she wouldn't bring up highlights she doesn't like:

  • Payment limits on subsidies.
  • Expanding the USDA Snack Program and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (programs that give healthy foods to kids)
  • Provisions supporting renewable energy, including ethanol and biodiesel
  • Enhancements to the Food Stamps program
  • Investing in rural communities
  • Better coordination of USDA's research agencies
  • Protecting forests
  • Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling

Here are a few more tidbits about Gillibrand:

From her League of Conservation Voters Eco-nomic Summit page:

"We are blessed with fertile soil to support cellulosic biofuel crops, organic agriculture and the raw materials for value-added products, such as compostable plant-based plastic and plant derived insulation materials. We also have the resources to provide the East Coast with clean, domestically produced energy, such as wind, solar, hydrothermal, geothermal and waste-to-energy," Rep. Gillibrand said in a press release.

"Lastly, our proximity to top-notch engineering schools and high-tech businesses makes us uniquely positioned to transfer our manufacturing know-how into creating the energy-efficient technologies and products needed to address our current energy challenges."

The 20th Congressional District that Gillibrand represents encompasses more than 7,000 square miles of Hudson Valley, Catskill Mountain and Adirondacks terrain, and includes among its businesses about 4,000 family farms.

From Gillibrand's Record Shows She's True to the Blue Dog Creed:

  • "Less-than-stellar" gay rights record
  • 100% rating from the National Rifle Association
  • Supported an Iraq funding bill without a timeline for troop withdrawal (The majority of Dems, including Clinton and Obama, opposed it)
  • Only Dem to vote against helping states purchase foreclosed homes to offer them at discounted rates to low income families
  • Opposed allowing Bush to do warrantless wiretapping (good!)... but then voted to give immunity to the telecoms who did the warrantless wiretapping.

From Politics of the Plate:

Gillibrand's staff suggests that she will assert herself in areas such as organic marketing, farmers markets, "buy local" networks, and even state and local efforts to keep small farms and rural landscapes from being subdivided and developed. If Gillibrand turns out to be a bridge between farmers and direct markets, her influence could be far greater than expected from a junior senator representing a state that in the past has barely paid attention to farm policy.
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Hmmm... (4.00 / 2)
Could do worse, I guess?

Great writeup, good finds.  Thanks!

The consensus seems to be that on most issues, Gillibrand will move a bit to the left since she now represents the entire State of New York, and not just her Republican-leaning Upstate Congressional District.  Otherwise, a primary challenge from the left will be a very real possibility that she'll face next year.

Do you think that will have any bearing on her stances on Agricultural issues?

no idea (4.00 / 2)
I really don't know. I just hope she can fill Hillary's shoes as a friend of dairy. If the NY and WI (and perhaps VT) Senators don't do that job, then nobody will.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
she's great, but (4.00 / 3)
I don't like this choice at all.

We almost certainly lose NY-20, and there are other talented Democrats in NY's House delegation who are more liberal and more experienced than Gillibrand.

I wish Paterson had gone in a different direction on this one.

that's what I was thinking about NY-20 (4.00 / 2)
she took over from a Republican incumbent.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
They are going to carve her district supposedly (4.00 / 3)
by 2010 in redistricting.  

[ Parent ]
From her press conference (4.00 / 3)
She will ask to serve on the same committees in the senate as the house (armed services and agriculture).

investing in agribusiness and small farms, cultivating high-tech and biotech,

agribusiness and biotech? Monsanto will be happy. These are her subcomittees:

   * Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research
   * Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry
   * Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture

Also this from the press conference (4.00 / 3)
She supports "biofuels and cellulosic ethanol".  

[ Parent ]
oh gross (4.00 / 2)
not quite what we're looking for, huh.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
On ag issues (4.00 / 2)
She's a mixed bag. Some good. Some awful.

[ Parent ]
Senate Ag Committee (4.00 / 3)
Hard to know if she has a shot at getting it.  The Senate is all about seniority and she is now the lowest ranking member - she would presumably have to get in line behind any other more senior Senators who want that seat.  But there's no straightforward process for committee assignments so other factors can come into play.  One interesting question will be how Al Franken fits into this.  I had assumed that he would be offered Coleman's spot on the Ag Committee, but I could certainly be wrong about that.

I've been wondering about Al & the ag committee (4.00 / 2)
he seems pretty clueless overall about ag issues. I listened to his radio show for years. He occasionally had Collin Peterson on and basically seemed to take Peterson's lead on ag issues since I guess he assumed Peterson was the expert? But that's just my impression - Franken may turn out different (better?) as a Senator.

Franken seems interested in more mainstream issues - the economy, the war, protecting the troops, health care, that sort of thing. Or maybe he just focused on that bc it made good radio. He DID have a great chapter about factory hog farm pollution in one of his books.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
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