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Koster's Support For 'Right To Farm' Prompts Praise And Criticism

Chris Koster
(Official Portrait, Missouri Attorney General's office)
Attorney General Chris Koster has announced that he will seek another term in 2012.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s decision to endorse the proposed “Right To Farm’’ constitutional amendment is resurrecting a split within Democratic ranks over the issue – and him.

Koster, a Republican-turned-Democrat, now is seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor in 2016.  He also has become the de facto leader of the state Democratic Party, in part because he’s currently the party’s largest single donor.

Earlier this week, Koster appeared with Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst and representatives of various agricultural groups at a news conference highlighting Koster’s support for the Right to Farm proposal, officially known as Amendment 1.

Koster said, in part: “The Right to Farm Amendment will ensure that agricultural production in Missouri is always economically competitive with other states across the country. This amendment ensures Missouri farming methods are not subject to extreme regulations that damage our state’s number one industry.” 

In a joint statement, Hurst and the proposal’s campaign chief -- Missouri Farmers Care chairman Don Nikodim – said that Koster’s support will help counter “misinformation being spread” and “help communicate that this amendment is about ensuring the future economic viability of Missouri’s family farmers and ranchers and continuing to provide consumers food choices.”

But critics – including former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, a Democrat and hog farmer – contend that Koster is helping to perpetrate untruths.

“Surprised, no, disappointed, yes,” said Maxwell, who’s also a lawyer. “The effects of this ambiguous law are so broad, you would think that as Missouri’s ‘Lawyer in Chief’ he would be more cautious with his support of a law that could tie up Missouri’s court system and cost the state millions.”

And state Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican who also may run for governor, questioned whether Koster’s support for the “Right to Farm’’ measure was genuine. Schweich endorsed the proposal several weeks ago.

Schweich campaign spokesman Nathan Adams issued a statement saying, “I congratulate Mr. Koster on actually taking a position and hope he will not waffle on this issue as he has done on so many issues before.  Unlike Chris, Tom leads from the front."

The jabs reflect, in part, Koster’s mixed record on large commercial hog farms, known as “concentrated animal feeding operations” or CAFOs, that figure in some of the debate over Amendment 1.

Koster’s critics point to his actions a few years ago, as a Republican state senator from suburban Kansas City, when he sponsored a bill aiming at curbing county regulations overseeing commercial farms. The bill went nowhere.

But as state attorney general and a Democrat, Koster has prosecuted some commercial farming operations deemed to be polluting the environment, particularly area streams.  Schweich’s campaign alluded to that record when it questioned whether Koster was too close to environmentalists and the EPA.

Former state Sen. Wes Shoemyer,  a spokesman for the chief opposition group -- Missouri’s Food for America – asserts that Koster’s support means that he also backs more foreign ownership of Missouri farming operations.  Shoemyer’s group contends that Amendment 1 would particularly help the Smithfield pork company, which now is owned by a Hong Kong-based conglomerate.

Koster's campaign declined to reply. A spokeswoman said the attorney general is saying nothing beyond his comments made at the pro-Amendment 1 news conference.

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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