Downstate spread proves fertile ground for political pandering

SHARE Downstate spread proves fertile ground for political pandering

BLOOMINGTON —The state’s top farm groups gathered here Wednesday on Tim Bittner’s 3,000-acre spread to give the four major candidates for U.S. Senate and governor a workout on the issues of interest to the agriculture community.

And guess what? Nobody asked them about releasing their tax returns or a patronage scandal in the Illinois Department of Transportation, except for the pesky reporters who were given their turns later under a walnut tree.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin asked Bittner if his family had owned the farm before the booming new Bloomington airport was built nearby, and the fourth-generation farmer told him his ancestors had owned the land since before the Wright brothers.

Bittner is also an old hand at hosting such political events, dating back to a Bob Dole presidential rally, but despite the obvious Republican leanings of the crowd, the candidates were treated most ecumenically.

Now in partnership with his son, Bittner , like most Illinois farmers, is looking at a bumper corn crop this year,  the stalks already towering over your 6-foot-3 columnist.

The farmers wanted to know what the politicians will do to expand more markets for that corn — and all their other products — and how they will improve the state’s transportation system to help them get their products to market.

And you’re not going to believe this, but the politicians said they will do everything they can to help on both counts.

The event was coordinated by the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable. I counted the Farm Bureau, the Corn Growers, Pork Producers and the Beef Association in attendance, and I suppose that means I just wasn’t looking hard enough for the Soy Bean Growers.

It wasn’t a debate. The candidates appeared back to back over a grueling (for the audience) four-hour period with Gov. Pat Quinn going last. The crowd of 100 people under a white tent had thinned by a third by the time the governor rolled in 15 minutes late, which he blamed on his attendance earlier at the  Jackie Robinson West Little League celebration.

But the forum was instructive, even if the candidates did their best to avoid being too specific on any of the tough issues.

Each of the candidates tried to lay some claim to familiarity with the farm community.

Jim Oberweis reminded everyone he grew up on a dairy farm and said he’d baled hay and, on rare occasion, milked the cows.

Bruce Rauner again invoked his grandfather, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, as we should all know by now, living in that “double-wide.”

Durbin mentioned his dad grew up on a farm, but confessed to being a “city boy” himself and said he’d always worked hard to educate himself about farmer concerns.

Only Gov. Pat Quinn made no attempt to claim any rural roots, but then more than made up for it by listing any involvement he’d ever had with farm issues in all his public jobs.

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