Group’s endorsement highlights ag’s respect for Feinstein

Feinstein gets early nod from Western Growers board.

Western Growers’ board voted unanimously last week to endorse U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bid for a fifth full term, further signaling the respect that farm groups have developed for the moderate San Francisco Democrat over the years.

Tom Nassif, the group’s president and chief executive officer, issued a statement that Feinstein “has demonstrated a willingness to approach the concerns of California agriculture with pragmatism and practicality.”

Nassif asserts these qualities are “in stark contrast to the ideological zealotry embraced” by her likely autumn opponent, Democratic state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles. In California, the top two finishers in the June 5 primary, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

“Senator Feinstein has stuck to the hard work of seeking positive, workable compromise in a harshly divided and partisan Congress,” Nassif said in the statement. “This is often thankless work, but it’s essential to the protection of the nation’s largest agricultural state and our desperate need for water and labor.”

Feinstein’s work on water and labor issues is what earned her the endorsement, says Matt McInerney, Western Growers’ senior vice president. Feinstein backed the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which authorized water projects in various parts of the state, and has sought in recent years to pass legislation that would have shielded many undocumented farmworkers from deportation.

“It’s all about water and immigration,” McInerney told Western Farm Press, explaining that “having someone in a ranking position in the Senate” who can articulate agriculture’s need for immigration reform “is critical to California.”

The endorsement comes as more than 2 dozen Democrats, Republicans, minor party candidates and independents are campaigning for Feinstein’s seat. However, de Leon is the only other elected official in the race. Nearly a dozen Republicans are in the race, but those with recognizable names such as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer opted not to run.

This isn’t the first time Feinstein has won an early endorsement from farm groups. The California Farm Bureau Federation gave her an early nod in her last two re-election bids in 2006 and 2012. The group announced its endorsement of her 2012 bid in the spring of 2011. In a news release at the time, then-president Paul Wenger cited attempts Feinstein had made at freeing additional water supplies for farmers and supporting increased storage.

The CFBF, which elected a new president in Jamie Johansson and two new vice presidents in December, has yet to endorse anyone in this year’s elections.

“There was no calculation into the timing or dynamics of the primary season in California,” McInerney said of Western Growers’ endorsement. “I think it really stems from a body of work we’re familiar with from the senator.

“I think we take a pretty pragmatic approach,” he says. “When people are willing to work with you, we want to acknowledge that and (proceed) in a way that’s sooner rather than later.”

Feinstein, 84, won re-election in 2012 with 63 percent of the vote. She is endorse

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