It’s a big job.
The Third District is bigger than Florida and 28 other states. After last year’s redistricting, it stretches from Wyoming to the Missouri River, and from South Dakota to Kansas.
For the last six years, Smith, now 41, has represented the district – and he wants to continue. “Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done, and I see the need for some tough decisions coming up,” Smith said.
Democrat Mark Sullivan, a 61-year-old farmer from Doniphan, waited until the filing deadline to make his first-ever plunge into politics. “I checked the Secretary of State’s website March 1 at noon. And about that time, no one was opposing Congressman Smith. And I felt this (is) too important a race to go unopposed, so I filed,” he explained.
Sullivan says he’s discouraged by Congress’s extreme partisanship and inability to get anything done. And he says Smith’s part of the problem. “The farm bill’s a perfect example. The Third District is really agriculture-based. That’s where the congressman ought to be jumping up and down and making noise,” Sullivan said.
Smith did put out an audio news release on September 21, in which he declared “I’m extremely disappointed in Congress’s failure to pass a farm bill or even an extension before the current legislation expires at the end of this month.
“I have to say both parties own this failure and we certainly owe it to the American people to find common ground,” he said.
But in an interview with NET News five days later, after Congress adjourned, Smith declined to say if he would have supported the farm bill as it emerged from the Republican-dominated House Agriculture Committee.
“I have my concerns. But again, I hope that we could have an amendment process so that we could address that. Because I do have my concerns about the size of that. But again, I’m not afraid of having a debate and making an attempt to get some amendments attached and then move forward,” he said.
Smith’s concerns include the growth of nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, that make up the vast majority of farm bill spending.
“When you look at the 10-year window as we often do with budget items, we’re looking at almost $1 trillion of just one title of the farm bill, and that’s 95 percent …food stamps,” Smith said. “I want to make sure we have the ability and the opportunity to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. But we want to make sure we limit it to that.”
Smith criticizes changes that have put more people on food stamps, including automatically qualifying people who are on other programs, like heating assistance, for food stamps, without requiring a separate application.
Sullivan said cutting back on food stamps is the wrong way to go. “I feel if we cut any deeper into the least fortunate of us, we’re hurting our country. We are a more generous, kinder country than that,” he said. “Those are the folks that can least afford a cut or a reduction. And the rest of us can certainly take our share of the cuts and not just put it off on the poorest of us.”
The two candidates also disagree about the broader question of how to cut the budget deficit. Sullivan supports Democratic proposals to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for those in the upper-income bracket, saying deficit reduction will require both spending cuts and revenue increases.
“There’s no way that either one by itself will work. They’re doomed to failure if we don’t do both – increase our revenue and decrease our spending,” Sullivan said. “It’s no different than these credit card advisors. The first thing they tell you if you’re in financial trouble, cut up the credit cards -- well, that’s cut spending. And the second thing they tell you is get another job – increase revenue. It’s the only way to solve it.”
Smith opposes that approach. “I don’t see anyone who has a credit card problem going to their boss and demanding a raise. Generally, you have to address the spending issues first,” he said.
Sullivan said getting his name out is his biggest challenge, and he needs to meet as many people as possible, so they can see he would be a good representative. “I’m a mirror image of the demographics of the Third District. I’m a middle -- older-middle aged-farmer, and been here all my life. And made my business in agriculture and agricultural businesses. And that’s what I do best,” he said.
Smith said he does represent the district. “I know that there are a lot of young people out there. I don’t look really at the district that specifically in terms of demographics,” he said.
“I do say that the most common ask from my constituents as it relates to the federal government is to be left alone. That’s a pretty consistent point of view out there and one which I take very seriously.”