Chuck Muth: Harry Reid’s dirty dairy diary |

Chuck Muth: Harry Reid’s dirty dairy diary

Chuck Muth

When Democrat Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign ran that recent TV commercial featuring Las Vegas-based Anderson Dairy telling everyone how Sen. Reid “saved” the company, I’m pretty sure they never expected it would be challenged, let alone backfire in their face. But it has.

According to Anderson Dairy, Sen. Reid pushed through a special-interest piece of legislation that exempted it from federal pricing regulations in 1999, resulting in higher profits that the company otherwise wouldn’t have received. Sounds good … on the surface.

But Harry Reid’s ongoing, some might say extraordinary, efforts on behalf of Anderson have hurt other dairy operators in Nevada, as well as Nevada consumers who are paying artificially higher prices for their milk, butter and cheese.

According to a December 2006 story in the Washington Post, Hein Hettinga – who operates a dairy in Pahrump, as well as in other states – “started bottling his own milk and selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition” in 2003, as was allowed by law at the time.

Joe Benoliel, a senior vice president for Costco, told the Post that milk producers were “gouging the public on price” until Hettinga entered the market. “As Hettinga’s milk began reaching Costco stores, there was a snowball effect as other milk suppliers were forced to lower their prices,” Benoliel said.

This, of course, upset the big dairy profiteers who didn’t like competition coming from outside the government-controlled Soviet-style system. Hein Hettinga had to be stopped!

So according to the Post story, “a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga’s” operation and spent “millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”

The ultimate deal was cut between Reid and Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl. “Kyl agreed to back removing all of Nevada from federal milk regulation,” reported the Post, “and Reid agreed to support legislation cracking down on Hettinga.”

Under the new law Mr. Hettinga was allowed to continue selling his milk at the lower price; however, the difference between his price and the higher price set by government regulation had to be paid into a “pool” shared by other dairy operators, such as Anderson Dairy.

All in a bi-partisan scheme to “save” one of Harry Reid’s major soft-money campaign contributors.

At least Mr. Hettinga kept a sense of humor. “I still think this is a great country,” the Dutch-born immigrant told the Post. “In Mexico, they would have shot me.”

But in America, Mr. Hettinga could end up having the last laugh on November 2 if Nevada voters put the old special interest bull from Searchlight out to pasture.

• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization. He may be reached at chuck@citizen