OKLAHOMA CITY, September 9, 2015 - Oklahoma is the next arena for the battle over “Right to Farm,” after voters in Missouri and North Dakota chose to enshrine the controversial provision in their state constitutions.
The Sooner State’s Senate and House have already approved a constitutional amendment, HJR 1012, by wide margins, paving the way for a vote by the state’s 2 million registered voters in 2016. The amendment – state question 777 -- is similar to one passed last year in Missouri and in 2012 in North Dakota. It would guarantee “the right to engage in certain farming and ranching practices” and make it unconstitutional to enact legislation or file litigation to challenge that right.
Brian Klippenstein, executive director of Protect the Harvest, which was created to defend farmers, sportsmen and animal owners from radical animal rights interests, is working to advance the measure. He said the amendment serves as “a signal to those that want to malign agriculture . . . with unnecessary laws and regulations.
“At the end of the day, what it really is (something that) gives supporters of affordable food their day in court,” Klippenstein said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “When you have something that’s constitutionally enshrined, and someone does something that abridges that provision in the constitution, it gives you a very powerful tool to take to court.”
Opponents of Right to Farm include animal-welfare activists and opponents of genetically modified crops, who say the amendment will be used by corporate farms to escape unwanted regulations such as pollution control.
The amendment won’t be on the ballot until the November 2016 election, giving proponents and opponents plenty of time to state their case. With that in mind, John Collison, Oklahoma Farm Bureau vice president of public policy and communications, said the circumstances that resulted in a just a razor-thin margin of victory in Missouri, where big “anti” votes came out of urban areas like St. Louis, likely won’t play as heavy a role in Oklahoma. The demographics in the state also point to victory, he said.
“God and guns are very strong here in Oklahoma -- PETA and HSUS aren’t,” Collison said, pointing to the expected opposition to the amendment from animal welfare groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.
“Agriculture remains a very big part of Oklahoma’s fabric, it’s who we are, it’s what we were founded on. I don’t see the hurdles that Missouri had to face.”
However, both Klippenstein and Collison know they have their work cut out for them. As Collison put it, “it’s never easy to change the Constitution, and it’s always easier to say no.”
Voter turnout for the November 2016 election is expected to be strong as the White House is in play and there could be a vote on Oklahoma’s controversial Ten Commandments monument remaining on the state Capitol grounds, giving both sides of the debate plenty of people to attempt to persuade. Klippenstein said those hoping to pass the amendment “will prepare and expect the other side to fight this hard.”
“Missouri was a very close call, but we’d like to have more room to spare than that in Oklahoma,” Klippenstein said. He added that there is no polling data at this point, but said that fundraising commitments “look very promising.”
Oklahoma’s agricultural groups appear to be united in seeking the amendment’s passage. Supporters include American Farmers & Ranchers, Oklahoma’s affiliate of the National Farmers Union. This is noteworthy because the Missouri Farmers Union opposed the
Right to Farm measure in the “Show Me” state. Collison said this debate could serve as an opportunity for Oklahoma’s agriculturists to say they are “tired of it” and are willing to join in the fight against animal welfare groups and other outside interests.
Collison said backers of Right to Farm look forward to the debate with their opponents. “They’re welcome here anytime they want, because we will prove that we are doing the best possible we can with crops and animal production.”
“This isn’t a fight of Farm Bureau versus HSUS. This is Farm Bureau wanting to make sure that our rights are protected for the next 1,000 years in the state of Oklahoma.”