10/17/04 — In Goldsboro stop, Bowles says Burr impeded better buyout

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In Goldsboro stop, Bowles says Burr impeded better buyout

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on October 17, 2004 2:05 AM

Tobacco farmers narrowly escaped economic disaster when Congress passed the tobacco quota buyout last week, U.S. Senate candidate Erskine Bowles said Friday.

"We were looking at another 30 percent cut in the quota next year and that would have been 'game over,'" Bowles said to a crowd of around 100 people at Wilber's Barbecue.

But the buyout is a good news-bad news situation, the Democrat said.

While it will provide needed relief to a hurting industry, the buyout is not nearly as large, Bowles said, as ones previously derailed by U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, Bowles' Republican opponent. Both men are running for Sen. John Edwards' seat.

While Bowles was lobbying in Washington, D.C., for the buyout's passage, Burr and his Republican allies in the U.S. House were able to cut the total amount from $13 billion down to $10 billion. That sliced the amount going to N.C. farmers by $790 million, Bowles said.

"Who's he representing -- you or R.J. Reynolds?" the candidate said, with a handful of people answering, "RJR."

The payouts will be done over 10 years, not seven, as the U.S. Senate had proposed, so annuals payments will be smaller, Bowles said.

And the agreement also allows foreign-grown tobacco to be transported into the U.S. without inspection. "That's just wrong," Bowles said. "Can you imagine tobacco with blue mold being brought into this country?"

Tobacco growers need a champion in Congress, he continued. If elected, Bowles promised to serve on the Senate's agriculture committee and be an advocate for the state's farming interests.

Bowles has already begun work, several growers said.

Jerry West, a northern Wayne County farmer, said that Bowles had worked tirelessly to gather the Democrats in the U.S. Senate behind the buyout.

"You tell me who got the job done -- the weatherman," West said, gently mocking Bowles' spectacled appearance.

Bowles arranged one-on-one meetings with 24 senators, added Pender Sharp, a Wilson County grower. "Personal connections are everything in Washington. I don't know of anyone in the world who can knock on that many doors and get in. I doubt I could even get in one."

In contrast, Burr and his fellow Republicans have been a constant roadblock for quota buyout bills, said Jimmy Hill, a director of the N.C. Stabilization Board. A $28 billion buyout was proposed in 1998, followed by a $17 billion proposal in 2000 and $13 billion earlier this year, Hill said.

The final buyout will not save the tobacco industry, Hill said, predicting that more help will be needed within six years.

"When I go back to Washington, I want to talk to Erskine Bowles, not his opponent," Hill said.

In an interview after the luncheon, Sharp said, "To you, maybe this is a political appearance, a campaign thing, but to us, this is real. This is our lives. He has helped us get what we were after for so long."

In an interview, Bowles said he's feeling comfortable and confident heading into the last days of the race. Polls show the race has tightened, but Bowles feels he'll prevail, despite Burr's recent barrage of negative ads.

"On Nov. 3, Richard Burr will wake up and realize that he was running against Erskine Bowles, not Bill Clinton," Bowles said. "I'm tough and strong and will be totally nonpartisan."

Born in Greensboro in 1945, Bowles was the second of four children of Jessamine and Hargrove "Skipper" Bowles. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a business degree in 1967. He earned his MBA from Columbia Business School in 1969. In 1975, Bowles founded the firm that would become Bowles Hollowell Conner, one of the country's leading investment banking firms specializing in middle market transactions.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton asked Bowles to head the Small Business Administration. He then served as deputy chief of staff to the president from October 1994 to December 1995 and as chief of staff from December 1996 until November 1998.

Bowles was chairman of the N.C. Rural Prosperity Task Force. He then ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002, losing to now-Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Bowles and his wife, Crandall, have three adult children.

For more information, go to www.bowles2004.com.