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All IN: Democratic ticket stumps in South Boston

South Boston News
Sen. Tim Kaine, running for a second term in November, speaks to the crowd at the South Boston Farmer’s Market with 5th District congressional candidate Leslie Cockburn standing on sidewalk in the background / July 09, 2018
The South Boston Farmer’s Market provided an apt setting for a message that Democratic candidates Tim Kaine and Leslie Cockburn brought to town Saturday morning: Congress needs to curb President Donald Trump’s authority to impose trade tariffs that invite retaliation and hit farmers hardest.

“This trade war is really a war on workers and farmers,” said Kaine, who is running for a second term in the U.S. Senate after serving as Hillary Clinton’s ticket mate in the 2016 presidential election.

Kaine and Cockburn, the Democratic candidate for the 5th District congressional seat now held by Republican Rep. Tom Garrett, campaigned jointly in South Boston on Saturday with a distinct focus on issues vital to agriculture: not only the risks of Trump’s trade tariffs, but also immigration reform. Both candidates have called for a comprehensive solution that includes border security, guest worker programs and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who follow the nation’s laws and contribute to the U.S. economy.

Pointing to the importance of immigrant labor to the farm sector, Kaine and Cockburn said they have gotten an earful from farmers who are having a tough time finding migrant workers because of Washington’s failure to straighten out the country’s immigration laws. Cockburn called Congressional inaction “upsetting” and added, “I’m hearing this not from just advocates for immigrants, but from farmers everywhere in this district. You talk to poultry farmers, [it’s their] no. 1 issue. Immigration reform. Treating people with respect.

“The engine of the 5th is agriculture, and [immigrants] are such an important part of this,” Cockburn said.

She harshly criticized the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of detaining asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexican border and separating children from their parents as “a level of cruelty I’ve never seen in this country.”

Cockburn, making her first run for public office after a career as an investigative journalist and producer for PBS Frontline and 60 Minutes, highlighted yet another threat to agriculture in the 5th District: uranium mining, which will be debated in the Supreme Court this fall when justices rule on the legality of Virginia’s longstanding moratorium on the industry in Pittsylvania County.

“I was talking to two farmers this morning,” Cockburn told a crowd of about 80 people at the farmers market. “What did I hear? Real concern about lifting the ban on uranium mining.”

If the Supreme Court sides with Virginia Uranium Inc., which has sued to overturn the state ban, Cockburn vowed to use her office in Congress as a platform to “make sure people realize just how devastating [mining] would be to this area.”

As Democrats push to gain control of Congress — both in the House, where Republicans hold a two dozen-seat majority, and in the Senate, where the GOP has a slim, 51-vote margin — Kaine and Cockburn outlined their differences with the Trump Administration on a variety of fronts: trade, jobs, health care and the environment.

Kaine offered one example of how he is working to check the Trump Administration: by attempting to pass legislation to require Congressional authorization before the executive branch can impose trade tariffs. Kaine described his advocacy of the idea as consistent with his longstanding effort to restore Congressional authorization before presidents can wage actual wars.

Members of the Senate are considering attaching a provision to the pending Farm Bill or other legislation to “limit the ability of the president to do this [impose tariffs] without the authorization of Congress,” Kaine said.

“These trade wars, tariffs, retaliation — it’s hitting ag harder than anybody in Virginia and anybody in the country,” he said.

Kaine cited recent estimates that suggest Trump’s imposition of tariffs and resulting retaliation by America’s trade partners will create 30,000 jobs over a three-year period — mostly in steel and aluminum, protected industries in Trump’s first round of tariffs — but cost 430,000 jobs in other sectors of the economy, primarily agriculture and manufacturing.

On Friday, Trump imposed tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese imports, and the Chinese government has pledged to respond in kind with equal levies on soybeans and other U.S. farm products. Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs on European automakers, raising the prospects of a much wider trade conflict with America’s western allies.

Kaine made no mention of his opponent in the Senate race, Republican nominee Corey Stewart, who lags behind in the race by 18 points, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. In the Congressional race, Cockburn is seeking to flip a Republican-held seat for Democrats — running in the conservative-leaning 5th District against a relative newcomer, Nelson County distiller Denver Riggleman, who was tapped as the Republican nominee after incumbent Garrett bowed out of the race, citing his struggles with alcoholism.

Interviewed after her speech at the farmers market, Cockburn said her chances of winning the seat improved when Garrett opted not to run and Riggleman stepped in. Cockburn criticized Riggleman for pledging to join the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus, a commitment that she contended has alienated moderate Republicans who are supporting her campaign.

“These people are not extremists, they don’t agree with the Freedom Caucus,” Cockburn said.

Kaine said the differences between the two parties were brought into sharp relief last year when Republicans sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “I’ve worked very well with my Republican colleagues, but I was watching them push a bill that would have taken health insurance away from 30 million people including many of their own voters,” Kaine said. The bill failed in the Senate only because three Republicans — senators John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — voted with Democrats to defeat the leadership-backed bill to overturn the ACA, better known as Obamacare.

“I watched those leaders try to take health care away from their own people, and I watched Democrats again and again and again stand up, to try to do good things not only for our folks but even for folks who don’t support us,” Kaine said. “If there’s any reason to be proud to be a Democrat, it’s because we’re for all people. We do it with love in our heart — everybody is our neighbor.”

Both candidates, Kaine and Cockburn, vowed to work next year in Congress to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and improve health care access in rural areas. Cockburn, who has endorsed Medicare for All legislation, said she also supports a “Medicare X” bill introduced in the Senate by Kaine and Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet that would allow health insurance customers to buy into Medicare coverage, beginning in mostly rural markets where only one coverage option — or none at all — is available on the health insurance exchange.

“Health care is the number one issue in this district for everyone,” said Cockburn.

Kaine also hailed the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program, approved during the recent session of the General Assembly after years of Republican opposition. Expanded Medicaid will extend health coverage to some 400,000 low-income Virginians, including many in rural areas that are represented by Republican lawmakers, Kaine noted.

He praised a handful of GOP legislators who joined with Democrats to push Medicaid expansion through the General Assembly, but he observed that it only happened after Virginia Democrats made sweeping gains in legislative elections the year before.

“Make no mistake, the energy was Democrats pushing for Medicaid expansion,” he said.

Cockburn predicted that “a big blue wave” would help her to score an upset victory in the 5th District, which was last represented by a Democrat when Tom Perriello unseated Virgil Goode in the 2008 election, also the year that Barack Obama was first elected president. This time, the Democratic standard bearer in Virginia is Kaine, who appeared with Cockburn as part of a coordinated campaign around Virginia with congressional candidates who are hoping to unseat Republican incumbents.

Kaine said Cockburn’s career in investigative journalism would serve her well in Congress: “Her career has been about telling stories that other people won’t tell. You can’t tell a story unless you listen. Somebody who has the capability of understanding a story that maybe others aren’t talking about, that maybe others aren’t interested in, that others aren’t paying attention, that’s a pretty good skill set to have as a member of Congress,” Kaine said. “Because some people get all of the attention, but a whole lot of people don’t get any attention.”

Before their joint appearance at the South Boston Farmer’s Market, Cockburn stumped for votes at the Halifax farmers market Saturday morning. Afterwards, the two candidates traveled to Keysville to meet with supporters and residents in Charlotte County.

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No surprise here. Kaine’’s poor service is a real Cockburn to his constituents.

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