Record Searchlight Editorial, Posted February 22, 2012 at midnight
It’s amazing how nuanced a staunch small-government conservative can get when he’s the one cashing a government check.
Doug LaMalfa, Republican state senator and would-be congressman, will spend the better part of 2012 talking about the need to slow runaway federal spending and our government’s nauseating deficits. And he’ll be right.
But bring up the awkward subject of his own family farm’s federal crop subsidies — which have averaged more than $300,000 annually over the past 15 years, a sum every small-business owner would envy — and suddenly there’s a reasonable explanation for the importance of multibillion-dollar government giveaways.
The subsidies, he argues, merely help farmers stay afloat in the face of high taxes, stifling regulations, bad trade policies and high fuel prices. Which might be true, but most businesses in America could make a similar case. If there’s a company immune to taxes, trade and the rising cost of gasoline, we’d like to buy a few shares.
In fact, federal crop subsidies long predate LaMalfa’s 21st-century gripes. They go all the way back to the New Deal, when a general collapse in prices during the Great Depression waylaid farmers en masse. That the subsidies are still in place 80 years later is a testament to how hard it is to get rid of a government program — an observation it wouldn’t be surprising to hear coming from the mouth of LaMalfa himself.
We don’t for a moment fault the man for participating in the programs that help support his family’s Butte County rice farm. Whatever you think of farm subsidies, LaMalfa didn’t invent them. He’s not in Congress yet. And simply running a business according to the rules you find in place is no sin.
But we will say this about LaMalfa. He’s one of those conservatives whose rhetoric has hit an increasingly bitter anti-government note of late. He recently touted his congressional candidacy on the Republican website FlashReport in part by saying, “I see it as my job to stand between the bureaucrat thugs and the people.” Are those the same “thugs” who send his family business six-figure subsidies each year?
LaMalfa over the years has displayed considerable common sense and leadership about wasteful spending, including his crusade against California’s high-speed rail line. Some straight talk about what the government should do, as well as what it shouldn’t, could make for a useful election-year debate as the north state chooses whom to send to Congress.
But a combination of pandering to the base about small government while paying the farm’s bills thanks to FDR’s legacy? Yeah, some folks might think that smells like fertilizer.