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Dairy Industry Crushed Innovator Who Bested Price-Control System
Reid made his move on Dec. 16, with the Senate chamber nearly empty. He brought up the milk bill, which passed a few minutes later by "unanimous consent," a procedure that requires no debate or roll call vote if both political parties agree. Reid and Kyl said in recent statements that their goal was to level the playing field for milk producers.
That set the stage for a bitter battle in the House, pitting Nunes, the new California-dairy-district congressman, against Lewis, then a 14-term veteran with friends on both sides of the aisle.
Lewis used the muscle of his 66-member Appropriations Committee, the dispenser of billions of dollars a year in spending. But he faced the nearly unified front of the dairy lobby and its friends. Virginia dairy farmers had helped win the key support of Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Agriculture Committee, convincing him that if Hettinga were brought into line, the threat "would be less likely to show up back here," said lobbyist Charles Garrison. Nunes was a protege of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). And he had recently backed John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in his successful campaign for majority leader.
In late March, Boehner placed the bill on a special docket usually reserved for uncontroversial measures such as naming post offices. Under that docket, bills require a two-thirds majority for passage. But the parliamentary procedure also meant that no one could offer an amendment to slow the bill down.
McGrath, Hettinga's lobbyist, watched the vote from the Capitol Hill Club. After Lewis came up 13 votes short and the bill passed, McGrath recalled, a large contingent of dairy lobbyists arrived, some trading high-fives. Lewis was to have had dinner at the club with his wife, but when he showed up and saw the lobbyists celebrating, he turned and left.
In an interview later, Nunes called the milk legislation a victory for "every dairy farmer in America except those who were gaming the system." He added, "People out there were making millions of dollars a year off the backs of America's dairy farmers . . . that was a wrong that was finally righted."
The next morning, lawmakers in dairy districts who voted against the dairy groups got an e-mail from a lobbyist expressing "disappointment on behalf of the members of the International Dairy Foods Association for your vote." It added: "We will be letting our member companies and their employees know of the outcome."
Hettinga vowed to keep supplying his customers in Arizona and California even though the new law required him to pay the Arizona pool what he said was a "crippling" sum of up to $400,000 a month.
"The irony is that Hein is paying his competitors," said Alfred W. Ricciardi, Hettinga's Phoenix lawyer.
Hettinga and his relatives gave nearly $20,000 to Kyl's Democratic challenger this year. Kyl won handily and got his own dairy industry support: A few weeks before Senate action on the milk bill, 11 officials of Shamrock contributed $14,800.
Hettinga also turned to the courts. In October, he filed a lawsuit charging that the milk bill was unconstitutional because it was aimed at penalizing a single individual.
"I still think this is a great country," Hettinga said. "In Mexico, they would have just shot me."
Research editor Alice Crites, research database editor Derek Willis and staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.