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Missouri Republicans See 'Right To Farm' Ballot Proposal As Aid To GOP Turnout

Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The Missouri Republican Party has endorsed the proposed “Right To Farm” constitutional amendment set for the November ballot.

The official support is aimed, in part, at promoting GOP ties to the proposal, which some Republicans believe will boost turnout by rural conservative voters this fall – and that could help all GOP candidates.

“We’ve got to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our farmers,’’ said state GOP executive director Shane Schoeller during Saturday’s meeting of the party’s state committee, held in conjunction with the party’s annual Lincoln Days festivities this weekend in Springfield, Mo.

Backers say the amendment, if passed, would block any more efforts by the national Humane Society and other animal-rights groups to win voter approval of provisions that some farmers view as restricting their rights.

But Republican committeeman John Sanderford, a lawyer from Kansas City, raised questions about the wording of the "Right to Farm" amendment. He said the language was so sweeping that it could have unintended consequences. Saturday he ended up casting the only vote against the party's endorsement.

Sanderford said that marijuana growers, for example, might even be protected under the amendment, which states that “the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

Sanderford emphasized that he supported farmers but feared that the "Right to Farm" amendment could end up igniting lengthy legal battles that likely would result in judges – whom many Republican distrust – in determining what the amendment really does.

“I’m concerned we might not necessarily be protecting what we think,’’ Sanderford said.

The amendment’s wording doesn’t appear to differentiate between legal and illegal farming, although some Republican backers said other state laws would bar illegal activity, such as growing marijuana.

Republican committeeman Bill Stouffer, a former state legislator and farmer from central Missouri, said he agreed that the amendment’s wording could have been better. But he said he backed the proposal because of its overall aim to make clear to the majority of Missourians who don’t farm that they rely on farmers for their food, and the public needs to respect farmers' rights to produce that food as they see fit.

Stouffer took note of the current fight brewing between Missouri egg producers and California, which has imposed new restrictions on how egg-laying chickens are to be housed and treated. Those restrictions are to apply to all eggs sold in California, which Missouri farmers said would bar the sale of Missouri eggs.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed suit to block California's restrictions from being imposed on eggs from Missouri.

Waging 'war on rural America'

The chief impetus for Missouri’s "Right to Farm" proposal was the narrow passage statewide 2010 of Proposition B, which restricted dog breeding in the state. The General Assembly subsequently rolled back some of the restrictions, since Proposition B was not a constitutional amendment.

Credit Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio
A flier handed out by pro-amendment supporters

Stouffer said the "Right to Farm" amendment could bar future laws. He and others dismissed some critics’ assertions that the amendment also would protect corporate-run “factory farms,’’ which are controversial in some parts of the state.

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, exhorted Republicans at Friday night's banquet to do all they can to back the "Right to Farm" amendment, which he sponsored as a state legislator in 2013 in a successful bid to get the proposal on the 2014 ballot.

Smith said that the federal government is waging “a war on rural America, a war on rural Missouri.”  Aside from the "Right to Farm," Smith and some top Republicans – including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder –also are vocally opposing federal management of the  Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which runs through much of southern Missouri and includes the Jacks Fork and Current rivers.

Some Republicans -- including Smith and Kinder -- want the National Parks Service to drop its proposed management plan or transfer control of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways to the state.  Many Republicans also see this fight as a boost to GOP candidates on this fall's ballot, which could explain why many Lincoln Days speakers mentioned the Riverways dispute -- and the proposed "Right to Farm'' amendment.

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.

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