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Originally published Monday, May 17, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Candidate who bashes U.S. aid got thousands in subsidies for farm

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Clint Didier likes to bash bloated government as he courts support of the conservative tea-party movement for his primary-election campaign. But Didier himself has cashed in on federal farm subsidies, according to a database of U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidies maintained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Seattle Times political reporter

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Clint Didier likes to bash bloated government as he courts support of the conservative tea-party movement for his primary-election campaign.

A former NFL player turned farmer, Didier has repeatedly called the federal government "a predator." He vows to oppose the "Marxist utopia" he says Democrats want to create — "where everyone is taken care of from womb to tomb."

But Didier himself has cashed in on one big government aid program. He has received nearly $273,000 in federal farm subsidies since 1995, according to a database of U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidies maintained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Didier's 1,000-acre Pasco farm has received price-support payments for wheat, corn and barley, reimbursement for crops destroyed by hail, and "conservation subsidies" to replace steel irrigation pipes with plastic. His annual take has ranged from $2,700 to $65,000, according to EWG, a nonprofit organization critical of the farm-subsidy program.

Reached by phone Monday as he worked an alfalfa field, Didier acknowledged receiving federal subsidies, but said he favors weaning farms off such payments. (He disputed the amount he has received, pegging it at no more than $140,000.)

Didier said farmers pretty much have to participate in the subsidy program or be at a competitive disadvantage. "If your neighbor has an advantage he is in the position to buy the next farm up for sale," he said.

While the subsidies in the farm bill get a lot of criticism, Didier pointed out that the food-stamp program — also a part of the farm bill — consumes far more of the federal budget.

"I say we get the government completely out of the market," he said. "Let's get rid of the farm bill. Let's get rid of all of it."

Didier was raised on his family's farm in Eltopia, an unincorporated area north of Pasco. His parents scratched out a tough living in the arid land, he said, living in a tent for the first year as they got their farm started.

That lifestyle wouldn't have been possible without the Columbia Basin Project, the massive irrigation and hydroelectric-dam network authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress in the 1930s and 1940s. Didier acknowledges that "without water from the Grand Coulee, we would be nothing more than a desert."

But he said farmers make payments for that water to the government, so it should not be viewed as a handout.

Didier grew up to excel at football and is best known for his years as tight end for the Washington Redskins, who won two Super Bowls in the 1980s. After retiring from the NFL in 1990, he returned to Eastern Washington and bought his own farm.

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"It's a hard way of life. It's a good way of life," Didier said — and one that in his view is disappearing because of smothering government regulation.

For example, Didier complained the state Department of Labor and Industries has put so many restrictions on the work hours and wages of teenagers that farms and other businesses can't hire them.

"I think that's what's missing in our country — we've taken away the right to work our kids," Didier said.

America has gotten "lazy," he said, and relied on a "work force coming in from Mexico" when the country should be hiring its own ditch diggers and fruit pickers.

One of 15 candidates who have filed paperwork to challenge U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Didier has never run for office and said he was motivated to run by a feeling the nation is spending itself into oblivion.

Didier has vowed to stay in the race even if Dino Rossi — the former Republican gubernatorial candidate being wooed by some power brokers — decides to jump in.

He favors cutting back almost all categories of federal spending and says he'll serve a maximum of two terms if elected.

With regard to farm subsidies, Didier said there may be some that are justified — such as payments to farmers who lose crops to disasters. But overall, he said, he thinks the government should start paring back some of the very payments he has received.

Didier's share of the subsidies is minuscule compared with the $3.64 billion paid out to Washington farmers since 1995.

EWG and other farm-subsidy critics say the payments amount to corporate welfare largely benefiting giant agricultural companies. The politics of the farm bill has ensured that the payments keep flowing, no matter the state of the farm economy, and no matter which party is in charge of Congress.

In all, the federal government has paid out nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in farm subsidies since 1995.

"It is a bipartisan pork boondoggle," said Donald Carr, a senior communications and policy adviser at EWG.

Didier isn't the only conservative political candidate to talk the tea-party line while receiving farm subsidies.

The Washington Post reported last month on controversy over Tennessee Republican Senate candidate Stephen Fincher, a cotton farmer who has received about $200,000 a year in farm subsidies.

Indiana Senate hopeful Marlin Stutzman, a Republican, received $179,000 in subsidies between 1997 and 2009, according to EWG.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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