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Bakery brothers to share their ire -- not bread -- with their congressman

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 6, 2009 - David McArthur says his quest isn't to create a political ruckus, but simply to protect his family business.

But the region's political world -- especially online -- has been abuzz ever since McArthur posted an angry message to his congressman recently on McArthur Bakery's electronic sign outside its Lemay location.

For three days, the sign flashed: "Russ Carnahan voted to close us and other small business."

David McArthur also sent an angry letter to the Washington office of Carnahan, D-St. Louis. Since then, the bakery has been flooded with supportive calls and e-mails, said McArthur, who is vice president of operations for the 52-year-old bakery. It has three locations, with at least one in Carnahan's 3rd District.

Tuesday morning, David and brother Randy McArthur, the bakery's chief of operations, are slated to meet with the congressman's local representatives to discuss the issue that has them boiling: Carnahan's vote two weeks ago in favor of the so-called "cap and trade'' energy bill that narrowly passed the U.S. House.

David McArthur is pessimistic about the meeting's prospects, but says it will at least allow him and his brother to emphasize their view that politicians in Washington don't get how their actions hurt Main Street.

Sought by the Obama administration, the 1,200-page cap-and-trade bill seeks to reduce polluting energy emissions by setting limits (cap), and requiring those companies who need a higher limit to purchase credits (trade) from companies that pollute less.

Although it calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 by 17 percent, compared to 2005, the measure reduces the financial pain during its early years by giving out free credits to utilities, among others. (Click here to read a recent nonpartisan explanation of the measure.)

A spokesman for Carnahan said last week that public reaction to his vote has been evenly split. The measure is now in the Senate, where hearings are set for later this month.

Supporters say a cap-and-trade law is the best way to curb pollution and encourage the use of cleaner fuels. Critics, who include the McArthur brothers, say it will cause energy prices to skyrocket.

David McArthur said the bakery now spends $150,000 a year just for gas and electric. Even a 10 percent increase could hurt, he said, since the business operates on a profit margin of less than 2 percent.

In addition, the bakery expects the measure to force similar energy hikes for its suppliers, and at the fuel pump, which McArthur predicts will lead to sharp rises in its costs for commodities and transportation.

Periodic spikes in such prices already are the chief reason McArthur's has actually lost money the last three years, he said.

As an example, David McArthur pointed to flour. In March 2008, he said, the cost of flour shot up from $13 for 50 pounds to $42, and stayed at that level for about six months. It was only when it was clear that the nation was in a recession that the cost dropped to its current level around $15 for 50 pounds, he said.

Cap-and-trade, said McArthur, "is a tax increase, no matter what, from a president who promised no tax increases."

Couple that issue with the looming changes in health care, he continued, and "small businesses are scared to death right now. ... There's no stopping the bleeding."

David McArthur emphasized that he and his brother aren't partisan. The two support Gov. Jay Nixon, also a Democrat, "full bore,'' McArthur said.

Still, this July 4 weekend found Randy McArthur speaking at an anti-tax Tea Party rally in Washington, Mo. David McArthur said the conservative crowd began shouting, "Run Randy Run'' as he made his points against the cap-and-trade bill.

Also addressing the crowd at that event was the chief GOP contender for the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Strafford. Blunt has emphasized his opposition to the cap-and-trade bill.

Blunt's likely Democratic rival, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, so far has said little on the bill, noting that she is not in Washington to get a first-hand look at its provisions. She also is the sister of the congressman who has so angered the McArthurs.

For the moment, Russ Carnahan has no announced opponents for his expected 2010 bid for a fourth term. But David McArthur says that if cap-and-trade plays out as he fears, "there's going to be a couple McArthur brothers standing on podiums" on behalf of whoever challenges their congressman.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.