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May 7, 2021

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Did dairy lose business because of executive’s support of Harry Reid?

Coincidence? Two weeks after an Anderson Dairy exec narrates an ad for senator, Speedee Mart switches brands

reidangle_milk

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

The acrimonious race between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle appears to have soured a longtime business relationship between two Las Vegas Valley companies.

Speedee Mart executives have notified Anderson Dairy that the convenience store chain will no longer stock Anderson products. The decision by Speedee Mart owners, who regularly support Republican candidates, was made within weeks of Anderson Dairy Vice President Dave Coon narrating a campaign ad for Reid, highlighting the senator’s efforts to help the business.

Speedee Mart Operations Manager Ray Johnson said this week that the decision to stop selling Anderson Dairy products, and instead offer Meadow Gold, was purely a business decision — Meadow Gold offers a cheaper gallon of milk.

“We switch vendors all the time,” Johnson said. “We’re going to make more money.”

But Coon, although reluctant to discuss the matter or disclose details of his communications with Speedee Mart executives, said: “The general observation among people involved in this situation is that it was politically motivated.”

Another source familiar with the situation said Speedee Mart’s decision was in direct response to Anderson’s ad on behalf of Reid.

The ad, paid for by Reid’s campaign, features Coon thanking the majority leader for helping to exempt Clark County from changes in a farm bill that would have put local dairies at a competitive disadvantage.

“Federal regulations were turning us out of business,” Coon says in the ad. “Because of Sen. Reid, we continue to stay in business. He really came through for us.”

Coon said the regulatory changes saved 130 jobs, including those of employees whose families have worked for Anderson for generations.

The ad first aired Sept. 9. By late September, Coon received a call and a letter from Speedee representatives ending the companies’ relationship.

Coon said the letter explained the reason for ending the business relationship of “many years,” but he declined to disclose more information.

“I’m a little bit reluctant to comment on a relationship with a customer. I don’t know if a customer would appreciate that,” Coon said. “If it were another customer for another reason ... I just feel obligated to preserve that relationship.”

Johnson acknowledged that people have asked about the timing of the change in vendors. But he said if politics were behind it, the company wouldn’t have waited more than two weeks to pull Anderson products from its shelves.

“I had people say that” it was politically motivated, Johnson said. “If that were the reason, we would have done it immediately.”

A gallon of Meadow Gold milk will cost Speedee Mart about 40 cents less than a gallon of Anderson milk. A pint of Meadow Gold milk, however, will cost about 30 cents more because it is packaged in a plastic bottle rather than a carton, Johnson said. Still, he said, market research shows bottles outsell cartons even if they are more expensive.

Johnson said Speedee Mart stays out of politics. The company does not allow campaign signs in stores and during the 2008 presidential election, the convenience stores sold buttons for all of the candidates, regardless of party.

“I tell people, ‘I want you as a customer first. How you vote is up to you,’ ” Johnson said.

Johnson declined to identify the political affiliations of the stores’ owners. But campaign finance disclosure reports show that Speedee Mart owners Walter “Wally” and Sherolyn Emery have contributed exclusively to GOP and Tea Party campaigns.

Sherolyn Emery gave $500 last year to the Tea Party Express’ political action committee — the group that has endorsed Angle — and $1,000 to the National Republican Trust political action committee. Over the past 10 years, she and Walter Emery donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Republicans Jon Porter, Dean Heller, John Ensign, John Thune, Fred Thompson and John McCain. Both Emerys supported Richard Ziser, the Republican who challenged Reid in 2004, and both have donated to the Republican National Committee.

Coon identifies himself as a Reid supporter, but has given to both Democratic and Republican candidates, campaign finance disclosure reports show.

Employees at Speedee Mart’s 21 stores across the Las Vegas Valley received an e-mail from the corporate offices last week informing them of the product switch, but no reason was given.

This week, Anderson Dairy milk, butter, sour cream and cottage cheese still filled Speedee Mart refrigerators, but they were crammed next to similar Meadow Gold products. Clerks were told that once the Anderson goods are sold, they will not be replaced.

At a Speedee Mart on Horizon Ridge Parkway, an Anderson milk man said goodbye Monday to the clerks he had come to know. “He shook my hand and said, ‘Nice doing business with you,’ ” a Speedee employee said.

The Anderson ad was the focus of criticism from Ed Goedhart, a Republican assemblyman who manages Ponderosa Dairy in Amargosa Valley, who released his own ad in which he claimed Reid’s help for Anderson Dairy had hurt Ponderosa. Goedhart alleged that because of Reid’s “deal making,“ Ponderosa had to ship its milk to California at an added cost of $4 million a year and had to forgo plans to invest $100 million in its Nevada plant.

Mark French, former executive of the Nevada State Dairy Commission, offers a conflicting assessment, saying Ponderosa Dairy supported the farm bill exemption and like all dairies in Nevada has benefited from the change.

Coon said he had expected repercussions from the Reid ad. He has fielded several calls from vendors and customers who criticized him for inserting Anderson Dairy into politics, a move companies rarely take.

Coon explained his rationale, saying Reid stuck up for Anderson and the Clark County dairy industry and successfully changed a regulation that unfairly targeted Southern Nevada. Dairy leaders had approached Nevada’s senators, Reid and Ensign, for help on the issue, but “Reid had the ability, energy and determination to see it through,” Coon said.

Most people understand, Coon added.

“We have a great respect for all our customers’ political views,” he said. “We stand by what we did because what we stated was truthful. The attempt by anyone to distort what had factually taken place is not only disingenuous, it’s dishonest.”

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