Supporting Kansas cattle ranchers by ending collusion among the top meat packers is at the top of former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s list if he’s elected to the U.S. Senate in November. The Republican candidate spoke to local residents Saturday while having breakfast at Re-Perks in Great Bend.
Traveling with his oldest daughter, Lily, and members of his campaign, Kobach’s next stop would be Saturday’s Republican Expo at Dodge City. He and other candidates going into the primary were expected, including Dr. Roger Marshall of Great Bend, who is seeking a transition from the House of Representatives to the Senate to fill the seat held by Pat Roberts, who is not seeking a fifth term. Ex-Chiefs player and businessman Dave Lindstrom from Overland Park and businessman Bob Hamilton from Johnson County are also candidates.
Kobach was a Constitutional law professor at UMKC for 15 years before he became Secretary of State in 2011. He said he plans to attend a Constitution 101 event this weekend in Dodge City, boiling down a class he once taught into a one-hour presentation.
Kobach was scheduled to appear at Perkins but had to make other plans as the 10th Street restaurant was packed Saturday morning, thanks in part of the Rocky Mountain Race Week participants. Ellinwood residents Linda and Barry Borror were on hand to redirect people.
“We’re ardent supporters,” Linda Borror said. They’ve worked as volunteers on three of Kobach’s campaigns.
“I think he’s a man of integrity,” she said. She likes how he’s working to help cattle ranchers and his role in getting the first 200 miles of the wall at the U.S./Mexico border built. “And unlike many politicians, what he says never changes,” she added.
“I want him in the senate when it’s time to vet the next two Supreme Court justices,” Borror said. “It is important that we have true originalist justices, unlike (Chief Justice John) Roberts that seems to be a swing voter.”
Finding a spot to meet people face to face had been a challenge until recently, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kobach said. In April the candidates had a debate in Manhattan with no live audience.
“It’s kind of like the whole state is waking up from COVID-19,” he said. “For over three months we were shut down completely.” So he did weekly live meetings on Facebook until things reopened in May. “It just isn’t as good as getting out and talking to people face to face. People appreciate it when you show up.”
Losing money on cattle
“The one issue I want to talk about the most is the crisis in the Kansas cattle industry,” he said. “In the last 20 years, almost 6,000 Angus cattle ranches have gone out of business, yet we see the highest prices of our lives in the price of steak at the grocery store. Any person who’s curious about things would wonder how is that possible? How can the product that a Kansas cattleman grows be so expensive and yet he’s going out of business? And the answer appears to be collusive pricing by the big four meat packers. In the last few decades, meat packing in beef has consolidated so 80% of all Kansas cattle are processed by one of the big four packers.”
Kobach said the typical rancher loses about $200 per head of cattle sold while meat packers make about $1,500 per head.
“So, one has to ask, how is this possible? And that’s what the Justice Department of the United States is now looking at. Eleven state attorney generals have asked the Justice Department to investigate collusive pricing where the four packers have colluded. And the Justice Department has responded by launching an investigation. It’s a big deal and it needs to be solved as quickly as possible because every time another Kansas cattle ranch has to sell out, America loses a little bit of its soul."
The issue of helping ranchers highlights a marked difference between Kobach and Marshall, Kobach said.
He supports the 50/14 bill by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act, or PRIME Act, which is in the House of Representatives.
As Grassley describes the bipartisan 50/14 bill, it would foster efficient markets while increasing competition and transparency among meat packers who purchase livestock directly from independent producers. This bill will require that a minimum of 50% of a meat packer’s weekly volume of beef slaughter be purchased on the open or spot market and it mandates that cattle are delivered within 14 days.
Kobach said this is important because the big packers use long-term contracts to set the price, which is contingent on the spot market, “but only 20% of cattle are purchased on the spot market. They can manipulate that market.”
If elected, one of the first things Kobach plans to do in the senate is to introduce a version of the PRIME Act, which is currently in the House, he said.
“It has 48 cosponsors but Roger Marshall is not on it and he will not support the bill,” Kobach said. “I’ve pressed him on that in the debate. It deregulates the small and medium-sized packers so they can come back into the markets free from USDA regulations and makes them so they are only required to follow state regulations. USDA regulations are very costly.”
Roger Marshall supports neither the 50/14 bill nor the PRIME Act, Kobach said.
“This is a real gap between candidates, because sometimes you see Republican candidates and they just all say the same thing. He’s against those two bills and you can ask him why he’s against them. I’d sure like to hear an answer. But we have to do something to protect Kansas cattle ranchers. We do know that if you go to opensecrets.org it shows Marshall got over $200,000 from large packers and their allies,” Kobach said.
H-1B and H-2B visas
Kobach said he also supports President Donald Trump’s new restrictions of visas for temporary foreign workers in non-farm jobs. He said large corporations opposed that because they are “importing cheap labor to replace Americans.”
On May 26, he said, Marshall joined moderate Republicans who signed a letter demanding the president allow more H-2B workers. Kobach said we need to “put American workers first.” He added, “I know in my heart and soul my President is correct.”
Every time another Kansas cattle ranch has to sell out, America loses a little bit of its soul.Kris Kobach