Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, talked about the headlines coming out of the nation’s capital at a farm-and-politics themed dinner Monday in Pasco.
Newhouse was the featured speaker at the first-ever Farm to Free Market Dinner, sponsored by the Washington Policy Center.
He told the agricultural crowd that President Trump’s interest in trade, immigration and regulatory reform could be good news for Mid-Columbia farmers, if handled right.
Newhouse, a hops farmer from Sunnyside who served in the state Legislature before winning a second term representing Washington’s Fourth Congressional District in November, received a warm welcome from the crowd, which paid $85 a head to attend the program at the Pasco Red Lion.
The reception was chillier outside, where protesters waved signs near the hotel’s entrance calling on Newhouse to hold a public town hall meeting and support investigations into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Newhouse held a telephone town hall last week. A second for residents in Benton, Franklin, Grant and Walla Walla counties begins at 5:50 p.m. Wednesday. Constituents can sign up online at the congressman’s official website.
He also has pledged to hold an in-person town hall, possibly during a weekend break from his duties in Washington, D.C.
The dinner itself was a celebratory affair. The Washington Policy Center, a free market-oriented think tank, established an agricultural arm in the Tri-Cities a year ago. Led by Madi Clark, it has issued more than a dozen position statements and weighed in on state legislation as part of its mission to reduce regulation on family farmers and taxpayers.
Start bilateral trade talks
When the president pulled the U.S. out of Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, local farm groups took a wait-and-see attribute.
Washington is one of the nation’s most trade-dependent states. That includes farm products ranging from potatoes and onions to hay and cherries. Farm leaders said at the time that they were encouraged to see the country move to make direct or bilateral agreements with individual countries. Newhouse agreed.
A 2012 bilateral agreement with South Korea ended an 18 percent tariff and sparked increased exports.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Newhouse said. “Let’s get started tomorrow.”
Law and (executive) order and immigration
Newhouse acknowledged jitters caused by Trump’s executive orders on illegal immigration. For Washington farmers who raise labor-intensive crops, there is a lot of concern among those who rely on undocumented workers.
“It is darned hard to get people to work on farms,” he said.
Newhouse predicted that the president will shift from issuing executive orders and proclamations to working with Congress to pass laws he can sign.
Newhouse favors a plan that allows guest workers to come to the U.S., work legally, and then depart, he said.
“The reforms and changes he wants to make will not all be done by executive orders that can be undone by the next president,” he said, adding, “I’m going to do whatever I can to bring positive change to immigration reform.”
Regulatory reform, but not repeal
Newhouse praised Trump for what he called early wins, namely his Feb. 28 executive order to roll back the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States rule. Backers embraced the regulations, but opponents called it federal overreach that harmed farmers.
He also pushed his own legislation to reform the Endangered Species Act of 1973, saying the law should be returned to its original purpose, to rehabilitate endangered species and stop using it as a tool to “de-industrialize” the country.
Last week, Newhouse introduced a resolution to compel the government to disclose data used prior to listing new species.
But Newhouse reminded the crowd that regulations benefit industry as well.
“I used to run a regulatory agency,” he said, referring to his time as Washington’s agriculture director. “Some regulations work.”