Missouri Right to Farm amendment one – still a bad idea

Following our earlier posts – click here and here – , we recently have been inquiring of promoters the reasons for their support.

Television advertisements in favor of the amendment have the motto, “Keep Missouri Farming,” as if there were threats to ban farming. No one can reasonably believe that farming itself is under attack. We all support farming and farm families. What then about unreasonable and expensive regulation? Few think that unwise regulation from the state of Missouri – which the Legislature could and would change – is sufficient reason for the amendment. All agree that most unwise regulation comes from Washington, D.C. and that the Missouri constitution would be powerless to stop the Federal juggernaut. Some think that “big farm,” large-scale corporate farming, is behind the amendment and is a threat to smaller, family farms. One legislator denies that the corporation named in a comment, Smithfield Foods, has anything to do with support for the amendment. The support comes from farmers, say the legislators. The Governor believes that the amendment would likely do very little. A prime backer of the amendment agrees with the Governor and believes that the primary benefit of the amendment is to require a higher level of judicial scrutiny than would ordinarily be the case.

So what is the justification for this amendment if farmers already have protection from right to farm legislation and it will accomplish little? We believe the amendment has little to do with farming, but much with puppy mills, the split between urban and rural Missourians, and government overreach and citizen ballot initiatives.

It all started with Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, an initiative promoted by animal-welfare groups in and out of state. It passed in 2010 with 51.59 % of the vote and triggered violent opposition. A few provisions were rather extreme, though in our opinion most were sensible. Missouri was considered the puppy-mill capital of the nation. We personally could not adopt rescue dogs from out of state, because the shelters were afraid the dogs might be treated inhumanely. Dog breeders were opposed. The Missouri Farm Bureau stepped in out of concern for the slippery slope, by which puppies would be the first step leading to onerous regulation ultimately putting smaller farmers out of business. The Missouri legislature then stepped in and rewrote the initiative, keeping some provisions and removing many of the worst. This also led to strong opposition; the legislature nullified the voice of the people, many thought. The Governor then got into the act and led the crafting of compromise legislation that satisfied most groups, including the Missouri Humane Society. We thought this was reasonable. The Governor deserved rare congratulation. Then the opposition to the compromise, including the Humane Society of the US, pushed for a constitutional amendment enjoining the legislature from repealing or amending successful citizen initiatives except under unusual circumstances. The proposed amendment never got off the ground. Bottom line: Amendment 1 is just the latest in the tit-for-tat battle between duelling initiatives and constitutional amendments.

In all this we see the familiar rural-urban split in Missouri politics: St Louis and Kansas City against the rest of the state. The split shows itself in emotional statements, on guns, human life, and God, not just puppies or farms. So really the dispute is more on an emotional level, pitting each side’s truth, justice, and the American Way against those of its enemies. We usually have little truck with slippery-slope arguments, but acknowledge that state and notably Federal regulation can be insanely stupid.

We have pointed out that the Amendment is a blunt instrument. If it protects against bad regulation, it will also do the same towards good regulation, making it less resistant to future legal challenge. This is not a good outcome and in itself a good reason to vote down the amendment. All the reasons we cited earlier – click here – still apply. A higher level of judicial scrutiny might be a good thing – but much better not to let political disputes wind up in the courts. Many, ourselves included, believe that reform of the initiative process as well as of the Missouri Plan for selecting judges, is urgently needed. This amendment addressees only a symptom, not a real problem, and then only for a specific industry. The constitution should be the fundamental structure underpinning our government. It is not the place for feel-good statements. Constitutions do not always protect against bad government, as we see in the unconstitutional actions of the Obama administration. Our energies should be directed toward electing good people zealously dedicated to meaningful reform.    Troglo



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