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MRCC Wins Major Victory for
Local Democracy and Family Farmers

by Tim Gibbons
Columbia, Missouri

Senator Wes Shoemyer addresses a crowd of over 300 at the Missourians for Local Control Rally on March 3, 2007 at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.
Loan rates set floors and release levels set ceilings on market prices. When these levels are below parity, farm prices and farm prosperity suffer (CARD).

2007 was a challenging and victorious year for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC) and it’s work to protect and promote local democracy. Moving toward the new year, MRCC knew that it had to build upon previous successes in order to make local control a key issue for the November elections and to be prepared for an intense local control battle throughout 2007.

Through its rural organizing power and public education, MRCC did make the issue of factory farms and local control a key issue in numerous local and statewide races during the 2006 election through mailings and public and candidate meetings. MRCC successfully distinguished local control as a “wedge” issue to split the usual base for pro-corporate politicians in November 2006. In areas like Northeast Missouri where local control vs. factory farms was a core values issue, citizens chose local control candidates over pro-corporate contenders in three out of four races.

Unfortunately, in the 2007 legislative session pro-corporate ag interests did not learn from the November elections that the majority of farmers and rural citizens support independent family farms and local democracy. Since both Houses and the Governor’s Office were heavily controlled by pro-corporate interests, and 2007 was not an election year, they knew this year was their best opportunity to stifle citizens voices on issues related to corporate agriculture. Governor Blunt made it one of his top three legislative priorities! In his State of the State, the Governor urged the legislature to pass Senate Bill 364. His other top priorities, and many of his lower priorities, passed the republican-controlled legislature. SB364 did not!

The Farm Bureau and 18 major commodity groups made SB364 their sole No. 1 priority in a State Legislature that they believe they control -- and they have, in the past. But as MRCC said in one of their many flyers:

The Farm Bureau Just Doesn’t Get It

The radical notion of taking away local control and the rights of farmers and rural property owners to defend their property does not fly in rural Missouri.

Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Senator Chris Koster, and deceivingly spun as the “Missouri Farm and Food Preservation Act”, would have ended local governments’ authority to protect the health and well-being of their constituents. SB 364 would have…

  • ... taken away authority of local elected representatives to protect the health, welfare and property rights of the majority of family farmers, landowners and rural citizens.
  • ... abolished constitutional rights of farmers and property owners to defend their property through legal challenges when the negative impacts of corporate livestock factories infringe upon their property rights.
  • ... protected the rights of corporate agri-business at the expense of the environment and the vast majority of independent family farmers and rural citizens.

MRCC organized a coalition, under the name Missourians for Local Control, that brought literally thousands of farmers, rural landowners and county commissioners from across the state into the debate resulting in bipartisan opposition sufficient to defeat these bills despite the priority placed on them by the people who normally dominate politics in rural Missouri. The CAFO Bills (SB 364 & SB 428) never had the votes to pass in the Senate or the House during 2007.

When the Kansas City Star summarized “Winners and losers” in the 2007 State legislative session, it was clear --

“(Loser) Sen. Chris Koster: The Harrisonville Republican…efforts to crack down on illegal immigration went south, and his proposal to eliminate local control of large-scale hog farms left him in a lagoon of trouble with small farmers, environmentalists and rural residents…”

“(Loser) Corporate farms: Large-scale corporate hog farms (and cattle and chicken farms) failed to eliminate local ordinances regulating them for health and odor concerns.”

The politicians had to be made to understand that the majority of farmers and other property owners in rural Missouri, who are also the majority of voters in rural Missouri districts, would hold them (the politicians) accountable if they voted for these pro-corporate bills. Rural Missouri politics has historically been dominated by, and actually run by, the Farm Bureau and the commodity groups, who use misinformation about “big government”, combined with their overwhelming financial superiority, to control and demoralize rural civic participation. But it’s the property rights and democratic rights of the majority of family farmers and rural citizens that are being threatened by the small minority of industrial farm operators and the agribusiness corporations. MRCC’s Rural Civic Participation campaign has been able to successfully increase the participation of the working class, low-income majority.

However, MRCC knows this fight is not over. If anything, the opposition will be even more savvy having witnessed and become victim to this successful campaign. MRCC must and will maintain, and build on, the grassroots power and momentum created from this campaign in order to insure the protection of democracy at all levels in 2008.

Published in In Motion Magazine February 12, 2008.

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