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St. Louis County Could Determine Outcome Of 'Right to Farm'

photo of Thomas Schweich
Provided by the auditor's office

The McArthur Bakery in Kirkwood briefly found itself as Ground Zero in the statewide debate over the constitutional amendment dubbed “right to farm’’ when supporters and an opponent noisily squared off.

Thursday’s incident also illustrated the battleground that St. Louis County may become in the final days of campaigning on that issue, and others, on Tuesday’s statewide ballot.

State Auditor Tom Schweich and Missouri Republican Party chairman Ed Martin held a news conference at the bakery Thursday morning to make their case that Amendment 1 would help protect farmers from too many government regulations. Florissant farmer Justin Keay showed up to challenge their claims, saying the proposal could hurt communities’ efforts to protect their residents.

The event was held the morning after opponents had conducted an anti-Amendment 1 rally -- also in Kirkwood.

Schweich explained that his event was aimed, in part, at engaging urban and suburban voters who may know little about the “right to farm’’ proposal.

“A lot of voters in St. Louis and people in the city are thinking, ‘Why should I even care about this?’” said Schweich. “And I just want them to know that what we’re trying to do is prevent outside, out-of-state interference. Protect the rights of individuals to run their lives and businesses the way they want to, and that’s something all Missourians should be in favor of, whether they’re farmers or not.”

Martin went even further. “We have been under assault,’’ he said, from “multi-million-dollar efforts by left-wing groups’’ that he said have improperly tried to impose more regulations on Missouri farmers.

Ed Martin
Credit File photo
Ed Martin

Martin acknowledged that he was referring, in part, to the Humane Society of the United States and its role in the 2010 battle over Proposition B, which sought restrictions on dog-breeding operations in the state.

Proposition B passed narrowly because of strong support in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.  The rural-dominated General Assembly then spent much of 2011 getting rid of many of the proposition’s mandates.

This time, some Republicans privately fear that urban and suburban opposition could threaten Amendment 1.  Schweich said backers were “cautiously optimistic,’’ but he blasted an opposition ad – now running on St. Louis stations – that says the amendment would open the door to more Chinese control of Missouri agriculture.

He says that's untrue; Amendment 1 opponents disagree.

The renewed focus on St. Louis County also is tied to speculation in both camps that the county could affect Amendment 1’s chances, and that of other ballot measures, because voter turnout in the county might be stronger than in other parts of the state.  Why? Martin pointed to the vigorous contests in both parties for St. Louis County executive.

The Democratic battle between County Executive Charlie Dooley and Councilman Steve Stenger has been particularly lively and may help drive up Democratic turnout in the county – at least compared to the rest of the state. Democrats are believed to less supportive of Amendment 1.

Keay, the farmer from Florissant, said he wasn’t active in either political party. He said he showed up at the bakery because he was opposed to Amendment 1 and wanted to make sure that the public was aware of both sides.

“I think it’s wrong for Missouri, I think it’s wrong for the environment,” Keay said. “I think it’s wrong for the consumer, and it’s wrong for the neighbors of these big (factory farms) that are polluting our air and our water. And lot of these people in northern Missouri can’t open their windows in the summer time, they can’t hang out their clothes to dry in the summertime. The stench of these manure lagoons rises up to where airplanes can smell them… We don’t need a ‘right to farm’ in Mo., We already have a right to farm.”

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.