Sunday, October 10, 2004

From orchards to Iraq, Goodlatte's tenure takes him near and far

Bob Goodlatte will be the only name on the ballot in the 6th District race again this year.

By Todd Jackson
The Roanoke Times 981-3253

As Bob Goodlatte completes his second year as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, the job has taken him from Botetourt County apple orchards to Shenandoah Valley poultry farms to Afghanistan's war-torn mountains.

He's been to military command central in Iraq, made a trip to the South African Customs Union nations and has stood on the Truman Balcony of the White House preparing to meet with the president.

Goodlatte, 52, is the first congressman from Roanoke to hold a congressional committee chairmanship, the first Virginian to hold the agriculture post in almost 60 years, and the first congressman east of the Mississippi to hold it in 40 years.

"It's a great opportunity," the Republican said.

Life is definitely sweet for Goodlatte, who announced in 2002 that he would break a self-imposed term limit and has faced no Democratic competition the past two times he's stood for re-election.

Goodlatte will be the only name on the ballot in the 6th District race again this year, although former Roanoke NAACP president Martin Jeffrey is waging a write-in candidacy for the second straight time.

Goodlatte doesn't acknowledge Jeffrey's campaign publicly, and instead has concentrated on his congressional dealings.

Goodlatte recently used his pull as the agriculture committee chairman to get additional disaster relief funding for some localities in his district that told him they were still seeking financial aid from flooding several years ago. He also sponsored successful legislation that recognizes the oak as America's national tree.

"The oak has long been an enduring and mighty tree," said Goodlatte, a member of the National Arbor Day Foundation for the past 18 years.

Goodlatte's agriculture chairmanship has also made him the target of a tenacious group of horse enthusiasts - including some in his district - who say the congressman is purposely holding up a proposed horse slaughter prevention act.

An Internet search of "Goodlatte and horse slaughter" turns up a massive amount of information, including Web sites dedicated to the subject with such headlines as "Goodlatte's Horse Holocaust."

Goodlatte maintains that the legislation, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., would actually cause more harm to horses because it would flood an already stressed adoption and rescue industry with thousands more animals.

Goodlatte is quick to point out that dozens of organizations oppose the legislation, too, including the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Quarter Horse Association.

In an extended interview this month, Goodlatte - who will be agriculture committee chairman for at least another four years - talked at length about the horse slaughter situation and other issues.

Here's a a synopsis of his comments:

Q: Talk about the past two years and what it's been like to chair the committee.

A: Goodlatte said there's no doubt that holding a chairmanship gives him a stronger voice in Congress. He mentioned two specific examples. Goodlatte said he worked closely with poultry farmers and others related to the business in the Shenandoah Valley after Pilgrim's Pride, a major employer, announced it was closing a large operation there.

Goodlatte said his chairmanship position helped craft a deal so the farmers and related business interests could form their own cooperative and keep the industry there intact. Goodlatte also said his chairmanship has given him pull when it comes to federal funding for Roanoke's long-discussed flood control project.

"It certainly helps to be able to go to other committee chairs and say, 'This is something I'm facing, will you take a look at?'"

Q: Since becoming the committee chair, you've received many contributions from agriculture-related political action committees. How much pressure have you received from the agriculture lobby when considering legislation?

A: Goodlatte said he's well aware of the perception that many congressmen are in the hip pocket of big-money corporate interests. But he disputes that.

"It's good to dispel that notion because it's not the case," he said. "If it did, there would be many more [criminal] prosecutions than we have now."

Goodlatte offered an example: As a member of the agriculture committee, he said he's lobbied by three different groups that encompass the U.S. sugar industry - beet growers, sugar cane growers and fructose syrup makers. That's three distinct groups within just one issue, he said, all of which could be giving him a campaign contribution.

"You have to listen to everyone's arguments and try to be fair," he said. "As committee chair, I have to be my own person. Quite frankly, it's not hard to do the right thing."

Q: Some opponents to your stand on the horse slaughter issue say you're single-handedly holding the legislation up for big business interests, including some who have contributed to you. What's your response?

A: "They have the misimpression that I can do whatever I want," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of false information out there on this issue."

Goodlatte said only a small percentage of the agriculture committee's members have signed on to Sweeney's horse slaughter bill - and that speaks for itself.

Q: Is the horse slaughter issue the testiest you've faced, especially in the 6th District?

A: "No. How about the war in Iraq and the impeachment of President Clinton?" Goodlatte responded.

Goodlatte, however, acknowledged that the backers of the proposed horse slaughter act are tenacious. "They're pretty intense and they are very dedicated. They think I'm the key to this. I'm not, but sometimes you have to deal with that when you're chairman."

Q: Moving away from federal issues, what are your thoughts on Roanoke's stadium predicament?

A: "That's a matter that should be decided by city council and the people they've appointed to the committee that's studying it. I do think council has appointed some wise people."

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