SAN FRANCISCO - A liberal Congressman who represents California's picturesque central coast region is under fire for trading his vote on the Iraq war for spinach.
Rep. Sam Farr, a Democrat from the hippy college town of Santa Cruz, originally voted against the Iraq war and has voted against proposals to fund it each of the last four years.
This time, though, he's singing a different tune -- and critics say his change of heart has more to do with the spinach industry than anything else.
That's because Farr's district includes most of the lettuce and spinach grown in the United States, an area often called "the salad bowl of the world." Last September the farms were hit by a deadly e-coli bacteria outbreak that caused U.S.-grown spinach to be pulled from store shelves worldwide.
Now, Farr has inserted a 25-million-dollar disaster relief program to bail out California spinach growers into the 100-billion-dollar war appropriations funding bill sought by the White House.
"It's very disappointing," long-time peace activist Sherry Conable told IPS. "There was a lot of jubilation after the Democrats took back Congress that Sam had finally stepped forward in the leadership and was really trying to bring the war to an end, and I think this vote is just very disturbing."
Farr denies that his support for spinach and Iraq are linked. He told the San Francisco Chronicle his vote for Bush's war funding request "was about turning the corner in Iraq".
He noted most Republicans will vote against the legislation because Democrats have attached conditions on how the war would be waged. The bill requires that combat troops be out of Iraq before September 2008, but would allow President Bush to waive the restrictions.
"They want to go gung-ho," he said. "They want to escalate in Iraq. So what would our 'no' votes mean?"
Farr's decision would appear to put him out of step with his more liberal constituents. In 2002, the Santa Cruz City council was the first local government body in the country to vote against the Iraq war. In September 2003 the council made history by being the first in the nation to call for the impeachment of President Bush.
Conable, who pushed the impeachment resolution through the city council, says peace activists can call Farr's office and write letters, but that will only take them so far.
"He has a very safe seat," she said. "I think the moral imperative has to come from inside him and I've seen it before. We can speak to that, but ultimately, he's the one who will hold up his hand and make the vote."
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Farr is hardly the only Congressman to change his position on the Iraq war after receiving special monies for his district.
According to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), the House appropriations bill contains 21 billion dollars more than President Bush requested to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"None of this has anything to do with the war," the group's President, Tom Schatz, told IPS.
Among the so-called "pork projects" listed by Citizens Against Government Waste: 283 million dollars for the Milk Income Loss Contract program, 74 million dollars for peanut storage costs, 60.4 million dollars for salmon fisheries, 50 million dollars for asbestos mitigation at the U.S. Capitol Plant, and 25 million dollars for spinach.
"People will go to almost any extreme to try to get special provisions to help someone in their state or district and in turn they'll vote for proposals they really oppose," Schatz said.
Like Farr, Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon voted against authorizing the war and previous war funding bills. He decided to vote for President Bush's most recent funding request after Congressional leaders added 400 million dollars in funding for rural schools.
Like Farr, DeFazio's constituents are overwhelmingly against the Iraq war. This week, the Oregon State House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. The cities of Portland, Covallis, and Eugene have all passed similar resolutions, but DeFazio's spokesperson said this week the school funding was more important.
"That's pretty vital for our district, so we'll be voting for the bill," his spokesman Danielle Langone told the website Politico.com
"It frustrates me when what should be a straight up or down vote gets muddied," the Quaker American Friends Service Committee's Kelly Campbell said from the group's Portland office. "That puts Congresspeople in a difficult position and it puts all of us who are trying to stop this war in a difficult position. I'd like to see a system where we could actually vote on particular topics and not force people to weigh unrelated issues into a vote like this."
The House of Representatives began debate on funding the Iraq war Thursday, with a vote likely on Friday. A House vote on continued funding the Iraq war is expected Friday.
Meanwhile, the National Priorities Project, a Massachusetts-based non-profit group, notes that for the more than 410 billion dollars that have been spent on the Iraq war so far, the U.S. could have hired 7,115,508 public school teachers for one year, built 3,696,945 affordable housing units, or given health insurance to 245,860,303 children.
Copyright ©2007 Inter Press Service