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Dole Cultivates Votes on Michigan Farm

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Drawing on his prairie roots, Bob Dole harked back to a simpler, more agrarian America on Thursday, telling a crowd made up mainly of farmers that he celebrates their lifestyle and understands their plight far better than President Clinton.

As proof, Dole said he would work to ease the controversial Delaney amendment, which bars the use of any food additives and some pesticides that have been shown to have cancer-causing potentials.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee also vowed to renew efforts to raise the exemption on estate inheritance tax from the current $600,000, a matter of deep concern on the nation’s family farms, most of which are passed on from one generation to the next.

The Delaney amendment long has been a thorn in the side of the food and agriculture industries, which regard it as too stringent a test in this era of widespread chemical use. Dole heartily agreed in a meeting here with Michigan’s agricultural leaders, although he did not get into specifics on the issue, which does not lend itself to simple rhetoric.

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While banning any food additive that may cause cancer, the measure does allow for certain residue amounts of potentially carcinogenic pesticides on fresh produce--but not in packaged, processed foods, such as catsup, according to Food and Drug Administration officials.

More than two years ago, the Clinton administration proposed replacing the 38-year-old measure with a single “health-based” standard, but Congress did not act on the legislation.

“We don’t believe zero-tolerance ought to be the rule,” Dole said during a free-flowing 45-minute session with about 150 farm leaders from across Michigan. Pledging an effort to weaken the legislation, Dole said it could be “one of the first things” that his administration would take up.

“For health and safety, there’s a role for the federal government to play. But let’s try some common sense,” he said.

Dole added: “We want to make food safe . . . or you’re not going to sell it.”

The former Kansas senator stopped here on his way back to Washington after a three-day campaign swing in California. Even though a statewide poll released this week showed him continuing to run far behind Clinton, Dole insists that he will press an all-out quest for California’s 54 electoral votes. His next trip to California is scheduled for early July.

Dole’s comments on the estate tax exemption came after a woman who helps run a family farm asked about the issue, saying that the current exemption has remained unchanged for 15 years while land values have increased by as much as fourfold, making the tax especially onerous.

In response, Dole referred to the seven-year balanced-budget legislation that was passed by the Republican-dominated Congress but vetoed by Clinton. That bill would have raised the exemption limit on the estate tax for family and business assets to $1.5 million, with assets above that taxed at half the current rate of 55%.

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“We weren’t trying to carve out some tax break,” Dole said. “We were just trying to make certain that farms stay in the family.”

He added: “It’s not fair that you work and work all your life--for 50 years on a farm--and you pass away and your heirs have to sell the property to pay the estate taxes. We’re going to raise that exemption.”

The session took place at Robinette’s Apple Haus, a four-generation family farm.

While Dole shook hands outside the apple orchard, one woman sharply advised him to “quit waffling” on abortion--a reference to the unresolved controversy over where in the Republican Party platform to insert his call for a “declaration of tolerance” aimed at those supporting abortion rights.

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Dole angered many social conservatives when he said it should be placed in the abortion plank rather than in the platform preamble, where it presumably would apply to many issues. Dole is scheduled to discuss that issue today at a meeting with Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), an ardent foe of abortion rights who the candidate picked as chairman of the GOP platform committee.


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