By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- Don Villwock, former president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, calls his state's governor and now vice presidential candidate Mike Pence "our dream candidate for agriculture."
Villwock said in a phone interview Monday that he's been getting a lot of calls over the past few days from people asking about how Pence worked with Farm Bureau as a congressman and governor. "Indiana's back on the map again," Villwock said.
Villwock said he's known Pence since the governor was elected to Congress. Villwock also said Pence's history supporting trade, biofuels and reduced regulation should ease concerns of farmers who did not know where GOP candidate Donald Trump stood on some of these issues.
"He likes agriculture, he understands agriculture, he is pro-livestock, pro-renewable fuels," Villwock said. He added, "Pence's addition has really been a plus for agriculture. He's a good listener and he reaches out to commodity groups and Farm Bureau."
Pence, 57, was named last week as Trump's running mate and will headline GOP convention speeches on Wednesday night before Trump closes the convention on Thursday.
Pence was a congressman from 2001 to 2013 and moved from Congress to the governor's mansion. While in Congress, Pence served on the House Agriculture Committee from 2001-2007 before shifting off to other committee assignments. He backed the 2002 farm bill, when Republicans controlled the House, but voted against the 2008 farm bill when Democrats controlled the chamber.
Pence also was a strong backer of trade deals, having supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) as well as trade deals with Colombia, Panama, Peru and South Korea.
"That's a biggie and will help the Trump ticket," Villwock said. "He's very supportive of trade and what that means for agriculture. Hopefully that will rub off on Donald Trump. He (Pence) can step forward and educate him (Trump) on the importance of trade to the agricultural sector."
Villwock said that could help, given that Democrat Hillary Clinton has flip-flopped on trade, going from a supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to being an opponent. "All of us in agriculture were worried with both candidates and their stances, so we were a little unsure," Villwock said.
Though Trump also has taken aggressive positions to tighten the borders, Pence also worked in Congress on legislation to help deal with agricultural labor challenges. Pence had an immigration plan that included an enhanced guest-worker program for agriculture.
Regulatory-wise, Villwock noted Pence put in a regulatory moratorium on his first day in office as governor that included a review of current regulations as well. Pence also has stressed wanting more agricultural education in Indiana schools. "So for farmers and ranchers, I think that is good music to our ears," Villwock said.
Villwock recalls Pence would take time to walk farmers through the Capitol when they came to visit, which surprised him. "It really played well with our members. I think he really had a true historical love for the Capitol."
While Villwock praises Pence, Indiana Farmers Union President Jim Benham has a different take. Benham described how Pence once snubbed members of the Indiana Farmers Union who came to his office to lobby him on an issue. Benham said none of the farmers were from Pence's district, so the congressman left the meeting to his staffers. Benham said he didn't work with Pence on Farmers Union topics after that incident. Benham said he felt as if Pence was more interested in working with people who had the wherewithal to contribute to campaigns.
"I didn't get a whole lot of support at all from Mike," Benham said. "He was on the opposite side of us on a lot of issues. My take was that he was always more interested in what we were going to do for Mike than what Mike was going to do for us."
Chris Clayton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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