Two weeks ago Dale Foreman was in Chicago to give his farewell speech as the soon-to-be-ex chairman of the U.S. Apple Association. Such speeches usually follow a stock formula – we did great things, the future is bright, etc. Foreman, however, was determined to shake things up.
He just did something different, he confessed to his fellows of the apple industry. He hosted a campaign fundraiser in East Wenatchee for Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell ... a Democrat. For the first time ever he is publicly endorsing someone from that party.
He does so because Cantwell supports constructive solutions to the most vexing problems of immigration and agricultural labor, which if ignored threaten the very existence of the apple industry. There is a crisis. Millions of dollars in agricultural production are at stake. The great industry that feeds America is at risk if no one will harvest the fruit. It is time to support politicians who support a solution, said Foreman, regardless of party.
You can imagine gasps from the audience. If there are impeccable Republican credentials, Foreman has them. He is as close to pure R as anyone can be. He is an orchardist and attorney, but also a former state legislator, House Majority Leader, state Republican chairman, Republican National Committee member, and if not for some wacky primary results in 1996 would have been the GOP nominee for governor and given Gary Locke a run.
He has never voted for a Democrat in his life, Foreman said, but he will, for reasons he can no longer ignore.
The Chicago audience, Foreman said, gave a standing ovation. His revelation was reported in The Good Fruit Grower, and subsequently in The Capital Press, then The News Tribune, Olympian and Seattle Times. The message is sent: Republicans cannot take agriculture’s support for granted if they fail to address immigration and labor issues.
It has been building to this. In February Foreman submitted testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. A severe shortage of labor cost the Washington industry tens of millions last fall, as prime fruit was harvested late or not at all. In his own orchard, even with offers of $150 a day, they recruited three pickers when they needed 100.
“My wife and I are hopeful that this orchard business we have worked so hard to build up will be a viable business for our children and our grandchildren. Without a solid skilled dependable work force, we simply cannot continue in the fruit business,” he told the committee.
Foreman said he met with members of Washington’s congressional delegation on this issue earlier this year. After an hour-long discussion, he said Cantwell leaned over to him and said, “Dale, why don’t you get your Republican friends to help work something out and get it passed.”
“I felt it was a fair criticism,” he said.
It is not easy. Many Republicans are hostile to immigration reform and indifferent to the agricultural labor issue. But change may come. There is support in the Washington delegation, and elsewhere.
“I’m actually more optimistic now than I have been in the last 10 years,” said Foreman. Even the Republican platform just adopted, among the harsh anti-immigrant planks is a call for a guest worker bill.
“Everybody on both sides of the aisle knows we need it,” he said.
Foreman said Cantwell is sincere in her support for agriculture. “Sen. Cantwell has earned my support.” He called Mike Wade of Columbia Fruit Packers and asked if he’d like to help host a reception for Cantwell. About 80 people came.
“She asked great questions, and she listened. There were a lot of growers there. I think it was a great success.”
Foreman emphasized he remains “Republican to my core ... I’m doing this for the apple industry.” He has nothing against Michael Baumgartner, the Spokane Republican opposing Cantwell. He supports Mitt Romney. He will vote for no other Democrat. But agriculture needs labor, and the solution will not come through inflexibility and partisanship.
“I’m serious,” Foreman told me. “I’m at the age where you have to do what’s right.”Tracy Warner is a columnist for The Wenatchee World. Email him at email@example.com.