Clinton Visits The Heart Of Tobacco Country
Protesters greet the president
CARROLLTON, Ky. (April 9) -- President Bill Clinton traveled into the heart of tobacco country Thursday where he expressed his commitment to tobacco farmers while issuing a defiant warning to big tobacco companies.
During a roundtable discussion Clinton heard about the crop that feeds the local economy from tobacco farmers.
"Tobacco has been good," local farmer Mattie Mack told the president. "We paid our farm off tobacco. We educated our kids off tobacco. We paved our old driveway with blacktop on tobacco."
Kentucky Farm Bureau Chief Bill Sprague told Clinton farmers are afraid to borrow and make long-term plans because of the controversy over a proposed national tobacco settlement. He said the uncertainty is as much a threat to tobacco farmers as the proposed national settlement.
"We need someone of your stature who can take this thing by the throat and push it through," Sprague said.
The president promised to do just that and to make sure tobacco farmers get financial and other help if demand for their crop declines.
"We have no interest in putting the tobacco companies out of business,"
Clinton said. "We just want to put them out of the business of selling to children and I think every American recognizes that the tobacco farmers have done nothing wrong, you are growing a legal crop, you're not doing the marketing of tobacco to children and you are doing your part as citizens."
Several hundred placard-waving protesters greeted the president as he traveled to Kentucky to make clear opposition from tobacco companies would not affect his push for national tobacco legislation this year. (576K wav sound)
"Tobacco Pays My Bills," "It's my job," and "Don't Tax Me Out of My Job"
were the slogans on some of the placards lining the road into Carrolton. Tobacco companies bused protesters to sites near two events where the president was speaking.
Two Kentucky Democrats who have demanded that tobacco farmers not be punished by any tobacco settlement, Sen. Wendell Ford and Rep. Scotty Baesler also traveled with the president.
Later Clinton delivered a speech at a local school on the dangers of teen smoking.
"To me, no company's bottom line is important compared to America's bottom line. America's bottom line should be your future, your life, your health," the president told the Carroll County High School students.
The president made it clear he plans to push ahead with tobacco legislation "with or without" the support of the industry.
The sons and daughters of tobacco farmers cheered the president's pledge to push a multibillion dollar tobacco settlement through Congress this year.
"I dont want to put the tobacco companies out of business. I do want to put them out of the business of selling cigarettes to teenagers," Clinton said.
Tobacco companies offered some tough talk of their own in ads that ran in several major newspapers Thursday. "Regrettably, we believe the political process has ended any prospect for achieving a rational, comprehensive tobacco solution," the ads read.
Five big tobacco companies sponsored the ads which also said, "We agreed to change the way we do business ... not to go out of business."
The president left Kentucky encouraged by his reception and determined to press ahead back in Washington. The White House views a fight with big tobacco as a political winner, whether or not a national settlement can be salvaged this year.
CNN's John King contributed to this report.