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Opponents Of 'Right To Farm' Launch TV Campaign In St. Louis

Curt Dennison

(Updated 10 p.m. Saturday, July 26, with link to new ad)

Opponents of the proposed “Right to Farm’’ state constitutional amendment will begina TV ad campaign in St. Louis and Kansas City this weekend as part of a last-ditch effort to block the proposal on the Aug. 5 ballot.

The ad features Richard Oswald, president of the Missouri Farmers Union, who asserts that the proposal -- officially known as Amendment One -- is really intended to make it easier for China to own more farm land in Missouri.

Oswald represents the chief opposition group -- "Missouri's Food For America" -- which received a $375,000 campaign contribution  Thursday from the Washington-based Humane Society Legislative Fund. Until then, the group had little money.

Former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, a lawyer and hog farmer from Mexico, Mo., says the aid comes as internal polls indicate his anti-amendment side is “in striking distance.”

St. Louis area TV viewers already are seeing ads (here and here) run by supporters of the “Right to Farm’’ proposal. It is backed by the Missouri Farm Bureau and several farming groups that have formed a campaign coalition called “Missouri Farmers Care.”

The coalition says the proposal gives farmers a constitutional guarantee that they can raise crops and livestock without too much interference from the government and animal-rights groups like the Humane Society.

Opponents – which include other farm groups and environmentalists -- say the amendment would block state and local laws on water and air pollution. They say Amendment One is really intended to help large corporate farms, including one owned by China, that have been battling local regulations for years.

In any case, a TV ad battle on St. Louis area stations illustrates the pivotal role that urban and suburban voters could play on Aug. 5 in what some have characterized as a rural issue. A heavy Democratic turnout in St. Louis County, for example, because of the nasty primary for county executive could have a ripple effect on other ballot measures, such as the “Right to Farm’’ proposal.

In 2010, it was the overwhelming urban and suburban support that passed Proposition B, a measure to impose restrictions on dog breeding. That was also strongly backed by the Humane Society of the United States.

The rural-controlled General Assembly acted the next year, with Gov. Jay Nixon’s help, to weaken or eliminate many of the restrictions. That battle fueled the campaign to put Amendment 1 on this year’s ballot.

Several farm groups, including the Missouri Pork Association and the Missouri Corn Growers, donated $140,000 on Friday in an attempt to counter the last-minute Humane Society money.

The pro-amendment campaign has been heavily outraising the opponents for some time. The latest campaign reports showed Missouri Farmers Care had $478,109 in the bank as of June 30, compared to only $35,623 for the opposing group, Missouri's Food for America. Both tallies exclude the latest donations.

Chris Koster received the backing of several major agricultural groups, including the Missouri Farm Bureau.
Credit Missouri Soybean Association
Attorney General Chris Koster campaigning this week for Amendment 1

Missouri Farmers Care also just completed a two-day rural campaign tour this week that featured Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat running for governor in 2016.

Koster, who is from St. Louis, is backing Amendment 1, saying it’s necessary to protect Missouri’s agricultural industry. That has put him at odds with Maxwell, a fellow Democrat from Mexico, Mo.

Maxwell said that he was initially  “surprised and disappointed’’ by Koster’s stance. However, he pointed to Koster’s record in the state Senate showing Koster was at times sympathetic with the corporate-farms' efforts to curb local regulations.

Meanwhile, Missouri Farmers Care chairman Don Nikodim has blasted the $375,000 donation from the Humane Society Legislative Fund, but asserts it “comes as no surprise to Missouri farmers” because of the expensive 2010 battle over dog breeding.

Missouri Farmers Care said in a statement that the donation shows that Missouri still is a “target of animal rights agenda.”

Nikodim said that the Humane Society plans further attacks against farmers, an accusation that Maxwell denies.  Maxwell, now the Humane Society’s vice president of outreach, says the aim is to enlist farmers who share similar goals. “We believe that you need to have respect for the land, the animals and your neighbors,” Maxwell said.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.