St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay had said nothing publicly about Amendment 1, the “right to farm” proposal, until thousands of city and St. Louis County residents received a robocall featuring the mayor on Monday, the day before the vote.
“Hi, this is Mayor Slay,” the robocall said. “I'm calling about an important issue you will see on the ballot tomorrow: Amendment 1, the Missouri Farming Rights Amendment. I support the 'right to farm' to keep food costs affordable for all Missourians. Please join me in voting ‘Yes’ on Amendment 1.”
Only 26.5 percent of the city’s voters — 9,064 — agreed with the mayor. But that support, while small, is several times Amendment 1’s narrow 2,600-vote margin of victory statewide.
Slay's robocall is generating political talk, largely because it was unexpected. The Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, an opposition group, called Slay's supportive involvement "the most disappointing development in this campaign..."
Slay's chief of staff Jeff Rainford said that the mayor — who generally avoids robocalls — was asked by the pro-Amendment 1 campaign last week to help out. He recorded the robocall on Thursday or Friday, Rainford said.
He emphasized that the robocall was produced by the Amendment 1 campaign, not by Slay.
Dan Kleinsorge, spokesman for the Missouri Farmers Care Coalition — the chief group campaigning for Amendment 1 — said the robocall was sent out Monday to tens of thousands of registered voters. Most are believed to have been city residents, but a few county voters also have told St. Louis Public Radio that they received the Slay robocall.
Why did Slay agree to help the pro-Amendment 1 camp, when the proposal proved so unpopular in St. Louis and St. Louis County?
Rainford cast Slay’s involvement as an example of his effort to bridge Missouri’s traditional rural/urban divide — which Slay sees in the best interest of the city and the state.
“He’s tried very hard to open doors and build friendships with rural legislators and rural people,” Rainford said. As an example, Rainford said, he and Slay make a habit every fall of traveling to rural parts of the state to meet with rural state legislators on their home turf.
That effort has paid off, Rainford said, with some rural legislators “supporting the city’s agenda, including on big issues like local control’’ of the city police department. Legislators agreed to put the proposal on the statewide ballot, and it subsequently was approved by voters.
Slay's help part of effort to woo rural support
The mayor’s rural focus also has resulted in friendships with some outstate legislators, including state Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar.
“Sen. Parson asked the mayor to help out on Amendment 1,’’ Rainford explained. “The mayor got a briefing on Amendment 1 and was convinced that it wasn’t going to hurt anything.”
Some Amendment 1 opponents disagree, contending that the measure could block animal-welfare efforts in the state and help massive corporate farms fight off some local or state regulations aimed at curbing pollution and odors.
Slay is of the same mind as two other prominent state Democrats who also endorsed Amendment 1 — Attorney General Chris Koster and Secretary of State Jason Kander. Koster has said the amendment won't do any harm.
Rainford said Amendment 1 won’t affect the Slay administration’s efforts to curb euthanasia of unwanted pets and “ensure the humane treatment of animals in the city of St. Louis.”
“There is nothing in (Amendment 1) that will slow us down one iota,” Rainford said.
But more importantly, he contends that Slay’s assistance could help the city’s relationships with rural legislators, when it comes to other issues important to St. Louis.
“That’s way more healthy for our state than this idea that all urban political people have to hate all rural people and vice versa,’’ Rainford said. “That’s not going to get us anywhere, not going to get our city anywhere, and not going to get our state anywhere.”