Lessons learned from "Right to Farm" amendment, as recount begins

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2014 - To no one's surprise, Missouri's “right to farm” amendment, officially known as “Constitutional Amendment 1,” is headed to a recount. Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Tuesday that a statewide recount was requested by Wes Shoemyer on behalf of Missouri's Food for America after the initiative passed by just 2,489 votes.

“We are talking about less than a quarter of a percent of all votes cast,” said Shoemyer. “With such a close margin, we owe it not just to all the volunteers and organizations who put in countless hours fighting for Missouri's family farmers, but also to the 497,091 people who voted ‘no' on August 5th."

Lets Talk Food

According to Missouri law, recounts are not automatically triggered but must be requested by a registered voter whose position on the ballot question was defeated. Statewide races are only eligible for a recount when results are separated by less than one half of 1 percent of total votes cast. Of 996,672 votes cast on Constitutional Amendment 1, there were 499,581 “yes” votes and 497,091 “no” votes, with a difference of 0.24 percent. Kander's office has created a webpage (www.sos.mo.gov/elections/Amendment1) to show the recount schedule and a summary of recount results which will be certified by his office no later than September 15.

But even though most political analysts expect the thin margin of victory to stand, the bigger story may be in how rural voters beat back their better-funded opponents who overwhelmingly resided in urban centers.

“I've never seen our members work anything like this before,” says Blake Hurst, president of Missouri Farm Bureau and a key supporter of the amendment. Indeed, signs supporting the amendment graced fences and farmyards across the state.

“This proved that, if we can get the rural voters enthused and out to vote, there's no telling what we can do,” says Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. 

The relatively low voter turnout -- where slightly fewer than 1 million votes were cast statewide - probably worked in favor of supporters. In the 2012 presidential race, there were about 2.7 million votes cast.

In St. Louis, where the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) advertised heavily against the amendment and there was a very contentious race for St. Louis county executive, there were 25,148 “no” votes compared to 9,064 “yes” votes for Amendment 1.  In St. Louis County, there were only 65,549 “yes” votes compared to 122,066 “no” votes. Both areas had higher turnouts than Amendment 1 supporters had expected.

Just across the Missouri River in St. Charles County, the margin of defeat was much lower than supporters had expected, with 28,832 voting “yes” to 31,866 voting “no.”

The margins were much narrower in Kansas City, with 23,025 opposing the amendment and 14,160 supporting. Deering gives a lot of credit to former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, who now represents Missouri's 5th Congressional District. “Congressman Cleaver helped tremendously and we are very proud of his efforts,” Deering added.

And in the southeast part of the state, which had previously shown a great deal of support for a previous HSUS-supported ballot initiative on “puppy mills” called Prop B., the approvals flipped. There were 10,340 “yes” votes in Cape Girardeau County, compared to 5,190 against.

“Our reach into urban areas was inadequate,” says Brian Klippenstein, Executive Director of Protect the Harvest and former Hill staffer. “Still, you will find a lot of correlation between wealth and opposition to the amendment. The wealthier the county, the harder time we had getting our message across about the importance of producing food using modern farming techniques.”

Klippenstein says that, in hindsight, he thought this debate would be an opportunity to talk about how to double food supply in the next 40 years with technology and modern practices. “That message didn't really surface. Our opposition succeeded in trying to divide rural versus rural and even more so in dividing rural versus urban.”

Deering says that, producer groups spend so much time promoting their products that they often neglect to educate about process and overall agricultural literacy. “We should have spent more time with urban editorial boards and done so a lot quicker than our opposition.”

Almost all of the state's urban newspapers, with the exception of the Southeast Missourian, wrote editorials against the amendment. Hurst says he wishes he could have been more effective with convincing some of his state's major dailies and needed a “quicker elevator speech” to explain the benefits of amendment one. Also, it would have helped to include more language in the amendment to clarify that it would not change existing state law which strictly limits foreign ownership of farm land. Lacking that type of clarity, opponents tried to make the case that the amendment opened up the state to more foreign ownership and confused many voters. Missouri Farm Bureau is staunchly opposed to any additional foreign ownership of farmland.

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