8th District candidates debate ag issues in Poplar Bluff

Thursday, October 14, 2010
Missouri 8th District candidates, from left, Larry Bill, Tommy Sowers, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and Rick Vandeven participate in the second of four debates Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

Watch video of the debates at http://www.semissourian.com/multimedia/v...

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Agriculture was front-and-center at the 8th District debates Wednesday night as the four congressional candidates fielded questions about farm subsidies, environmental regulations, fuel costs and other issues important to Missouri farmers.

Other topics including the economy, immigration and education were also put to candidates Larry Bill, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Tommy Sowers and Rick Vandeven. The debate, hosted by Three Rivers Community College, was held in the 500-seat Tinnin Fine Arts Center.

The tone of the second debate was cooler than the first, especially between what most believe to be the two top candidates, Emerson, the 14-year Republican incumbent, and Tommy Sowers, a Democrat.

"You obviously didn't read it," Emerson said to Sowers at one point, talking about the health care reform bill.

Emerson was also critical of an interview that retired general and Sowers supporter Wesley Clark gave at a St. Louis fundraiser in June in which Clark called Poplar Bluff a "sad place," Emerson said.

"Mr. Sowers just sat there," Emerson said. "He didn't defend Poplar Bluff. But our home demands to be defended."

Sowers said that during the debate Emerson did a "standard D.C. blame game, that it's not her fault." He said Emerson doesn't take responsibility for the rising debt, lost jobs and closing factories.

Bill, who describes himself as a conservative independent, continued to stress his business experience and the fact that he is not beholden to any outside interests because he has taken no campaign money from outside groups. Vandeven, the Libertarian candidate, continued to talk about his party's platform issues.

Moderator Chris Rushin, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Poplar Bluff, asked the candidates how, if elected, they would make sure agriculture remains a sector that exports more than it imports.

"When it comes to ag subsidies, agriculture is the vital economy for our area," Sowers said. "I want to protect ag subsidies for farmers, big and small. It's less about the subsidies than it is about security. The American farmer can compete given a level playing field."

If elected, Sowers said, he will seek a position on the agriculture committee, chiding Emerson for giving up that position to be on the appropriations committee.

"The district deserves an ag leader," he said.

Emerson then noted that she serves on an agriculture appropriations subcommittee.

She also said today's farmers are under threat from foreign competitors but also those in the metropolitan areas who "don't understand that food doesn't come from the grocery, it comes from the farm."

The candidates were also asked where they stood on Environmental Protection Agency regulations and whether they would support scaling back regulations that hinder a growing farm community.

"I sometimes think the EPA thinks that fish are more important than people," Emerson said. "The EPA wants to require dairy farmers to provide an oil spill and response plan like BP and Exxon Mobile. This is absolutely ridiculous."

She said she favors scaling back regulations because "the EPA is an economic crisis in itself."

Bill, Sowers and Vandeven all agreed that regulations should not be so stringent.

The candidates were also asked about immigration and what they would do to stop the influx of illegals.

"You can't tell me we put a man on the moon 50 years ago and we can't secure a border today," Sowers said. "We need workplace enforcement with teeth. Two million illegal immigrants went home because they couldn't find work."

Emerson spoke along similar lines, saying she was against amnesty for those in the country illegally. She said she favors putting employers in jail if they knowingly hire illegals.

The third debate will be Sunday in Rolla, Sowers' hometown. The last debate will be Monday at Park Hills. The election is Nov 2.

smoyers@semissourian.com

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