(Oct. 17, 2:20 p.m.) Among major U.S. produce associations, Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers stands alone in its decision to endorse a presidential candidate in 2008.

No other associations endorsed a candidate.

“United does not endorse candidates for political office,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

“We’ve never endorsed a candidate,” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

Noting the association is diversified throughout the supply chain, Means said the PMA is very diverse in membership and political views.

“We don’t have the kind of consensus you might want to endorse a candidate, but we will work with whoever the people send to Washington,” she said.

Likewise, Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, Fla., said the association does not endorse presidential candidates.

“We need to work with whatever administration gets elected and we will certainly do that,” he said.

In the same way, Barbara Haumann, senior editor for the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association, said the 1,700 member association will remain neutral in the presidential contest.

And while John McClung, president of the Mission, Texas-based Texas Produce Association, expressed personal support for Obama in an Oct. 6 column in The Packer, he said the association’s board did not endorse Obama or McCain.

“Texas Produce Association does not endorse political candidates,” he said Oct. 15.

McCain a favorite son

Despite standing alone, Western Growers is solidly behind McCain.

“It wasn’t a tough decision, said Tom Nassif, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers. “There was no question about it.”

He said the endorsement won unanimous approval from the association’s board of directors in March. A three-quarters majority of the board is required for endorsement of political candidates, a standard which Nassif said he installed in when he was hired by the association in 2002. Previously, only a majority vote was needed.

“I just figured we shouldn’t be in the business of endorsing anyway, and if we do feel that strongly, then it would have to be by a 75% vote,” said Nassif, who attended the Republican National Convention in September as a delegate.

In the previous presidential election, Western Growers backed George Bush, Nassif said.

This year, Nassif said McCain is not only a favorite son from Arizona but also has political positions that agree with those of members of the association.

Nassif said McCain’s experience in the Senate, stance on immigration, his history of support for Western Growers tipped the scales easily in his favor.

In addition, McCain has opposed legislation that would allow workers to organize a union simply by signing authorization cards and not by secret ballot election.

While Obama has said he endorses AgJobs, Nassif noted McCain worked to include AgJobs in its complete form to comprehensive immigration legislation he introduced in the Senate with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

“He allowed us to have exactly the language we wanted in the AgJobs bill,” Nassif said.

McCain also is a strong believer in international trade, and Nassif said that commitment is essential. Nassif said McCain’s opposition to higher taxes is also appreciated.

Nassif said he has met with McCain many times, in his office and at various fundraisers, and that the senator said he is committed to working on comprehensive immigration reform right away, if elected.

Western Growers backs McCain, others stay mum
Western Growers president Tom Nassif visits with Sen. John McCain at a June 23 fundraiser for McCain in Fresno, Calif.

Courtesy Western Growers