By Reggie Ellis
It has been almost 40 years since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger worked and played in the foothills of the Alps and on the banks of the Mur River near his home village of Thal, Austria. It has been at least 30 years since he has worked at any blue collar job. But through all his fame and fortune, the 56-year-old governor has always been willing to work hard and has always been able to connect with the average Joe.
"Growing up around farms in Austria I know what it's like to get dirty, filthy and muddy," the governor told a crowd of 200 selected people, and 8,000 more listening over the speakers at the 38th annual World Ag Expo. "Just like in the Total Recall [election]."
The governor's stop was the first time a Republican governor had ever visited the largest farm equipment show in the world, and was only the third governor to do so. The World Ag Expo was a campaign stop to show the agriculture community's support for his two March ballot initiatives, Proposition 57 and 58.
"The agriculture industry is crucial to California's economic success and they are helping to lead the way in our recovery," Schwarzenegger said.
Prop. 57 is a $15 billion bond measure that would help consolidate the state's $22 billion deficit. Schwarzenegger said if the bond is not passed, harsh cuts will have to be made to state funded programs. Prop. 58 would require the "spending addicts" of the state legislature to have a balanced budget plan each year and includes provisions to limit future deficit borrowing.
"Let's consolidate all the debt, let's refinance it and let's cut the credit card and throw it away," he said. "Proposition 58 cuts up the politicians' credit cards for good. Never again would they be able to spend more money than the state takes in."
The governor's economic recovery plan, primarily the two propositions, is now being endorsed by Democrats and extreme conservatives alike. Commercials promoting the propositions began airing on Feb. 10 featuring Schwarzenegger alongside State Controller Steve Westly, a Democrat. Other Democrats have slowly begun to come around as well.
"Democrats and Republicans are campaigning together," Schwarzenegger said. "One party can't solve the problems, but both together can."
Schwarzenegger said agriculture, one of the three largest industries in California, needs to be protected because "We feed the world." He said because of California's unemployment and workers' compensation costs, which are the highest in the nation, many states offer better deals to all businesses.
"But farmers have to stay here," Schwarzenegger said. "You can't pick up and move this land of yours. That's why I am asking the legislature to pass real [workers' compensation] reform by March 1. If the politicians can't do it, then I will let the people do it."
If there is no reform on his desk by the March 1 deadline, the governor said he will put a measure on the November ballot to ensure that the state reverses the trend of the escalating cost of doing business in the state. Workers' compensation has hit the labor-intensive agriculture industry especially hard and has become one of its primary expenses in the last 10 years.
"We can bring our state back and again be the golden dream by the sea," Schwarzenegger said.
Ag supports Arnold
Schwarzenegger's 10-minute speech was upbeat, entertaining and humorous. After introducing California's new secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura, he said, "A.G. stands for Agriculture God."
Both propositions were supported by the California Farm Bureau Federation, California Women for Agriculture and the Western Growers Association at the campaign rally. The governor's speech was precluded by statements from representatives of each of these organizations.
Western Growers is an agricultural trade association whose 3,000 members grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh vegetables and nearly 70 percent of the fresh fruit and nuts grown in Arizona and California, about one-half of the nation's fresh produce. Western Growers President Tom Nassif said he appreciates the governor's efforts to rally both sides.
"Western Growers is proud to join a long and growing list of people, organizations and associations, both liberal and conservative alike, who are putting aside their differences and supporting Propositions 57 and 58."
California Women for Agriculture has more than 3,500 members in 27 chapters throughout the state. It is the largest and most active all-volunteer agriculture support organization in California. President Jeri Hansen said digging California out of the hole transcends party affiliation or occupation.
"It is something we understand," Hansen said. "After all, there is no Republican way to be a farmer. There is no Democratic way to be a rancher. Governor Schwarzenegger understands that he was elected to get things done and that's exactly what he is doing. We are poised to do something great, and this governor can take us there."
The California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) is California's largest farm organization with more than 89,000 member families in 53 county farm bureaus, including Tulare County. President Bill Pauli said the governor's proposal enjoys bi-partisan support because of the desire to get "California's fiscal house back in order" and help ag continue to create jobs.
"The California agriculture industry is one of the most important parts of the state's economic engine. We create hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue. We do our part, and then some, to keep California's economy moving."
Small farmers love big ideas
Local farmer Kerry Whitson is an ag advocate at the state level for the CFBF and immediate past president of the Tulare County Farm Bureau. Whitson, owner of Golden Maid Packing House on Road 232 in Strathmore, said the most important part of Schwarzenegger's visit is that he has an open mind to business in general, which is good news for agriculture.
"It's hard to find a bright spot in any commodity at this time," Whitson said. "I was excited to hear him speak about wanting to unburden business."
Whitson said Kawamura's appointment to secretary of the State Department of Food and Agriculture was one of the most positive moves for agriculture. Whitson replace Kawamura with the CFBF.
"I worked with A.G. for 10 years. He is a bright, polite and well spoken man who will take ag's message to the governor."
Witson said he hoped the governor would also follow through on his promise to eliminate overlapping bureaucracy between federal and state agencies and decrease the amount of environmental over-regulation.
"We all want a better environment," Whitson said. "But you have to balance the environment with its impact on the economy. The governor understands the need to do this hand-in-hand. He is working from the middle and is asking everyone, 'Come back and join me.' When he speaks I want to listen and you are seeing that throughout the state. He is a powerful, charismatic speaker who knows how to rally support."
Two young dairymen were among many in the crowd who were won over by the governor's speech. Anthony Correia and Anthony Silva, both 19, will be third generation farmers when they take over their fathers' dairies in Escalon, Calif. Correia said the governor gave him hope that the future is bright for agriculture.
"I've always been a fan of Arnold and I think he is really going to help us," Correia said.
Silva, who admitted he did not vote in the recall election, said the governor's idea for less restrictions on agriculture will help keep the family dairy running strong.
"Now that I have a better understanding of what the plan is I will vote for both the propositions," Silva said.