For the record

Farm Forum

It’s tough being a politician in today’s Big Data Age because something you said—or didn’t say—15 or 20 years ago pops up every 15 or 20 minutes on a database someplace between Terra Haute and Tierra del Fuego.

Take the Republican vice presidential candidate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.

Before the-then presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump, had even introduced Pence as his choice to be just one haircut away from the Oval Office, the New York Times already had mined its archives for some less-than-shining highlights of Pence’s dozen years in Congress.

For example, noted the Times July 15, Pence “left little mark on the institution: During his 12-year congressional career, he introduced 90 bills and resolutions. None became law.”

Digging deeper into its archives, the newspaper discovered that two years prior to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1998, “Mike Pence mocked” what “government regulators had confirmed (about) the lethal consequences of cigarette smoking… as ‘hysteria’… ‘Time for a quick reality check,’ (Pence) wrote. ‘Smoking doesn’t kill.’”

The bigfoot of Big Media wasn’t the only news operation checking its database for Pense-iveness. The same day the Times ran its background piece, Agri-Pulse, an authoritative, respected ag weekly published in Washington, D.C., reviewed the Hoosier’s Congressional ag record. It turned out to be as checkered as Richard Nixon’s pet cocker spaniel.

“In 2002,” wrote Agri-Pulse’s Spencer Chase, “Pence voted in favor of the farm bill, but supported President George W. Bush’s veto effort of the 2008 bill. Bush said the bill spent too much, but his veto was ultimately overridden in a 317-109 vote in the House.” Pence was one of the losing 109 that supported the veto.

Pence’s Capitol Hill voting record on ethanol also roasted more than a few American corn growers. “On the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a policy that Trump supports,” Agri-Pulse reported July 15, “Pence voted in favor of the original 2005 legislation that created the program, but voted against the 2007 bill that created the current version of the RFS.”

Despite this on-again, off-again support for Farm Bills and the Renewable Fuel Standard, Pence never waived in his unreserved support of free trade agreements. He voted for the Korean free trade pact in 2011 and for a similar deal with several Central American nations in 2005.

He confirmed his free trade bona fides in an April 2015 letter, noted Agri-Pulse, to the Indiana congressional delegation that urged all members to support President Barack Obama’s uphill push for Trade Promotion Authority. (It was later approved on the strength of Republican support.)

But Pence’s almost-dogmatic stand for free trade—echoed both by fellow Republicans and almost every American farm and ranch group—is distinctly out of sync with that of his running mate and potential boss, Donald Trump, who rails against free trade almost as much as he rails against White House rival Hillary Clinton.

When confronted with this ticket paradox on CBS’s 60 Minutes July 17, both Trump and Pence stretched their previously inflexible trade positions so far to find common ground that both almost needed chiropractors to complete the interview.

Characteristically, Trump ended that portion of the televised interview by labeling his trade critics—24-carat GOP Big Biz stalwarts like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—as “really stupid people…”

Come November, however, Trump’s anti-trade tirades and Pence’s flip-flops on key farm and ranch issues such as the Farm Bill and renewable fuels will mean little to nothing to farmers and ranchers who, if the past is prologue, still will overwhelmingly vote for the Republican Trump/Pence ticket.

At some deep, yet-to-be-examined level that probably makes sense: If farmers and ranchers truly believe that government is the problem, who better to lead them than a president who has never written one policy proposal and a vice president who has never passed one.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Source material and contact information are posted at