Reid gets pushback on dairy commercial

Sen. Harry Reid is getting some pushback on his most recent TV commercial, the one in which he is credited with saving jobs at Anderson Dairy in Las Vegas.

In the commercial, Anderson chief David Coon says, "Federal regulations were driving us out of business. There was a lot of worry in the faces of our employees." The dairy employed 130 people.

But Reid in 2006 changed the dairy law "so that Anderson could compete. And save the jobs," according to the ad. And Coon says: "Because of Senator Reid, we continue to stay in business."

The law exempted Nevada dairy processors from federal raw milk pricing rules, in the process making permanent an exemption Reid had obtained in 1999 for Las Vegas, where Anderson Dairy was the only bottler.

But Ed Goedhart, a manager at Ponderosa Dairy at Amargosa Valley, and a Republican assemblyman, says the commercial tells only part of the story. While the exemption has been beneficial for Anderson Dairy because it does not have to pay federally regulated prices for raw milk, it has been less so for Nevada dairy farmers who raise and milk the cows.

"When Sen. Reid carved out an exemption for Anderson Dairy – which, by the way, milks no cows – he allowed cheaper ‘overbase’ milk – drinking milk produced in excess of government caps – to flow into Nevada from California, Arizona and Utah, which allows Anderson Dairy to pad their profit margin," Goedhart said in statement in a response to the commercial.

"That’s a great deal for Anderson Dairy; however, Ponderosa Dairy – an actual production dairy, not a processing-only dairy – now has to truck its milk all the way to California in order to get the full “Class 1” allowable price for drinking milk. Then some of our same trucks pick up cheap overbase milk from California and bring it to Anderson Dairy in Las Vegas.

"Ponderosa Dairy now has to ship its milk to California, while California ships its cheaper overbase milk to Nevada. We call it the ‘milk loop’ – and it eats up over a million gallons of diesel fuel, costing us millions of dollars a year in higher trucking costs. The Ponderosa is only 80 miles from Las Vegas, but now we have to ship our milk 280 miles to southern California," Goedhart said.

"If (Anderson Dairy) was not exempted out of the milk marketing order, we could have put my trucks right down to Las Vegas," Goedhart said Friday. The price of milk at the supermarket, he said, is no cheaper in Las Vegas than it is in California or Utah as a result of the government action.

Ponderosa milks more than 9,000 cows, making it the largest dairy in Nevada. Goedhart said the dairy set aside any thought to expand instate and instead has invested over $100 million in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas dairies over the past eight years.

"When a rock is thrown into a pond, don’t look at just the splash," Goedhart said. "Also look at the ripples that extend across the entire pond. In this case, the jobs ‘saved’ at Anderson Dairy were at the expense of thousands of other jobs in Nevada."

A message was left for David Coon at Anderson Dairy seeking comment on Friday.

Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid, said this is the first time Goedhart has complained about the 11-year-old exemption, which he said was supported by the Nevada Dairy Commission, a cross section of national dairy interests, and opened the door for the entry of a second processor, Meadow Gold Dairy, into Las Vegas.

That raises the possibility, Summers said, that the attack was politically inspired. "This could not be any more clear that this is all about playing politics and helping Sharron Angle's desperate campaign," Summers said. "Anyone can see through this."

The passage of milk legislation in 2006 was hardly noncontroversial, according to several accounts from the time, like this one from the Chicago Tribune and this one from The Washington Post.

In an interview, Goedhart contended Reid arranged the exemption as a favor to Anderson Dairy, as its owners and managers have been financial supporters over the years. He called it "crony capitalism."

"They have been buddies with Harry Reid, they have always contributed to his campaigns and are part of the good old boy network," Goedhart said.

David Coon and other members of the Coon family have donated at least $15,000 to Reid from 1990 to the present, according to federal data gathered by the Center for Responsible Politics.

Also, several months after Reid in 1999 obtained the Las Vegas exemption, Anderson Dairy contributed $12,000 to his personal political action committee, the Searchlight Leadership Fund, according to news reports at the time.

Republican Party officials echoed Goedhart's criticism of the Reid commercial. "it would be hard to think this is just an average dairy farm thanking the senator for his assistance, because it appears they have been strong financial supporters of him.” said GOP spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

Goedhart said he believes the entire milk marketing system, a complex net of pricing guarantees that was set up during the Great Depression to provide markets for small dairies, is outmoded and should be scrapped.

""i wasn't going to drum up (the commercial), but when you see it on TV it feeds the fantasy that the government saves jobs in the private sector," Goedhart said. "I don't have anything against Harry personally. I just have something against this government message saying they are gong to mandate and regulate the private sector to prosperity.

"When the government gets involved in the private sector and picks out winners and losers, it screws up the whole market," he said.