Cass County Democrats held their annual Back to Blue Dinner in Belton on Saturday evening. As is their custom, they had a full slate of candidates and guests speaking to the crowd. A sample:
Jim White, the Democratic Party candidate in the 4th Congressional District.
Jim White (D): …And this is what I’m running on, investing in our citizens. We want to invest in their economic well-being. Fifteen bucks an hour and a union. A living wage for all workers. [applause, cheers] At the poverty level today there is only one household that can work for minimum wage and even reach the poverty level – and that’s a household with a single person and only if they work forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a year, which, of course, they’re not gonna get to do. Uh, we all know that the path to the middle class has always been led by organized labor….
Patty Johnson, former Democratic Party legislative candidate.
Patty Johnson (D): ….We’re here because we care about the Democratic Party and because we care about Democratic principles. And how many of you here tonight have worked on someone’s campaign, made phone calls, walked door to door, or did parades? So you all believe, too. And I’m just here to remind you tonight how important your work is and to thank you all so much for all that you’ve done for all of us who’ve run for office and how much we still need for you to do. Jim [White] is going to need all your help. And I know we have a candidate for Attorney General here – and he’s going to need your help. So I’m asking you here tonight to remember why you’re here. The reason that you’re a Democratic is because you care about people, because you want everyone to have the same opportunities that we had growing up. You want your children to have an education, you want good jobs for them when they get out of school, and you all, we all want to have a decent retirement… [….] …We need your hard work. We need you to keep going. And I think that it’s already been referenced that you all realize there’s an election coming up in November of twenty-sixteen. The work for that election starts here tonight. You all have done something toward that because you’ve contributed money for tables and advertising and we appreciate that because that money goes to help us to help our candidates. And here in Cass County, God knows, we need a lot of help. [laughter] And I also want to recognize Janet Burlingame, too. And I want to recognize her for her courage and integrity in running her race for County Clerk and remaining a Democrat and staying true to her principles. For her [applause]…because that’s what makes us different than Republicans, we actually believe in something. We actually work towards those things we believe in. And I wanted to leave you all with a small visual tonight. We are surrounded by Republican darkness. And we can sit here and curse the darkness or we can light a candle. I choose to light a candle. And I hope you’ll leave here tonight with me and take that light out to the people who are sitting still in the darkness and who need our help and guidance to come back to light and the Democratic principles we believe in. So, thank you all so much for being here. [applause]….
Senator Scott Sifton, a Democratic Party candidate for Attorney General in 2016.
Senator Scott Sifton (D): ….And I, I gotta tell you, I know that the previous speaker was asked, uh, to keep her remarks brief. I was thinking of maybe showing you what a Senate filibuster is like, but I, I’m actually saving it for when the “right to work” bill comes to the floor of the Senate. [applause, cheers] There is only one way that bill is gonna come to a vote in the Senate and that’s if the Republicans exercise the nuclear option. I am proud to have been the last Democrat standing against the seventy-two hour waiting period, which was the last time the Republicans exercised the nuclear option. [applause] And there is no way in the world they will get me to sit down voluntarily when “right to work” comes to the floor. I will debate it all night long. [applause]….
Former Senator Wes Shoemyer (D): ….I don’t think that an insurance company that runs around calling their name Farm Bureau represents nobody in the agriculture world. [applause] [….]
….There are some things that really torque me about, uh, what Republicans have claimed and claimed to be….I recall when I was in Jeff City there was a piece of legislation that came up and, for, drug testing for TANF recipients. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Think about it. Now this was the only folks in the whole State of Missouri that got a check signed by the state treasury or federal treasury that we thought ought to pee in a cup to get their money. Think about it. I mean, I’ve had, the day I pee in my cup to get my farm payment probably it would be a good time we could do it for the folks on TANF, wouldn’t it? When Clark [inaudible] wants to pee in a cup for his forty million on his stadium [inaudible} I’ll pee in a cup, too. [applause, cheers]….
At the Senate Ag Committee hearing on HJR 86 last Wednesday, one savvy observer of Missouri politics who was sitting next to me told me that the big divide in this state isn’t between Republicans and Democrats but between rural and urban Missourians. As a suburbanite, I’m only vaguely aware of that conflict and our bloggers–city folk all except for one who grew up in a small town–focus almost solely on the enmity between political parties, usually oblivious to the other divide. But as I sat through that hearing, everything I heard bore out what the gentleman sitting next to me had said: these rural senators feel their way of life endangered by policies that city people try to impose on them.
So the Ag Committee senators from both parties–all of them farmers as far as I could tell–support a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the initiative petition process when it comes to those who raise livestock. In other words, they don’t want city dwellers to pass initiatives that tell them how to run their business. They’ve narrowed the bill to focus on animals and not mention crops. The relevant portion (in the last version I saw) said:
[N]o state law criminalizing or otherwise regulating the welfare or breeding of any domesticated animals shall be valid unless it has been enacted by the general assembly or promulgated by administrative rule….
Which is a roundabout way of saying ‘keep your damned initiative petitions out of our face and off our land.’
There were lots of polite observations from the senators and those testifying about how urban people fail to grasp basic facts about raising animals. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Tom Loehner, reminded listeners that lambs are born with eight inch tails that need to be docked. City people think that’s cruel. Rural people know that 40-50 percent of the lambs will die if their tails aren’t docked. Republican Senator Chuck Purgason responded that farmers just want to be able to raise animals and survive at it. They don’t go into farming to get rich; they go into it because they want to feed people. Then he mentioned that California had had an initiative petition to allow hunting of mountain lions. It passed in every county except Orange County. (Translation: ignorant city folk kept livestock breeders from protecting their animals.)
Democratic Senators Frank Barnitz and Wes Shoemyer concurred with those ideas. In fact, returning to Purgason’s comment that farmers just want to be able to survive, not get rich, Shoemyer (pictured at left) offered the notion that he does know how to make a small fortune at farming: start with a big fortune. Then Shoemyer took the argument one step further. He’s upset that the Humane Society (HSUS) is pushing an initiative petition to rein in Missouri’s puppy mill industry. He believes they’re doing it basically because dog breeders are the easiest target for interfering city folk to go after. He further believes that rural Missourians must unite, must be like a herd protecting a calf from a predator. “Once we whup ’em on this fight, they’ll go elsewhere,” said Shoemyer. There was much nodding of heads.
His attitude about dog breeders is that many farmers were forced into that business because the factory farms made it virtually impossible for independent livestock breeders to make a living raising hogs or chickens. Like Leslie Holloway, a witness from the Farm Bureau, he insisted that he doesn’t condone mistreating dogs. He and Holloway want more state regulators on the job finding and eliminating the bad actors. But the contempt for HSUS in that room was palpable. They believe that the initiative petition campaign is nothing more than a way for HSUS to raise money. Witness Dale Ludwig of the MO Soybean Assn. asserted that HSUS raises $100 million a year with campaigns such as this and that only $1 out of every $200 raised actually goes to pet care.
On the other side of this question about dog breeders is the Better Business Bureau’s recent scathing report. It says that one third of the federally licensed dog breeders in the country (as well as many unlicensed facilities) are in Missouri and that half of the complaints made to BBB nationwide are about puppies bought from Missouri breeders. Horror stories about abominable conditions in some facilities have surfaced, as well as many complaints about sick puppies who die soon after they are bought. But our cash strapped state has only 13 regulators to oversee all this.
Rather than a constitutional amendment to forbid initiative petitions that would restrict the puppy mill industry–in fact, rather than supporting an initiative petition–BBB has different ideas about how to alleviate the problems. It suggests:
That both the U.S. and Missouri Departments of Agriculture more aggressively pursue penalties against repeat offenders.
That Missouri consider raising annual licensing fees which have remained the same since the program of regulating dog breeders and sellers began 17 years ago.
That in seeking a puppy, consumers also consider “adopting” a pet from an animal shelter.
That Missouri consider legislation, if necessary, to streamline the process for penalizing repeat offenders, while still allowing for due process.
BBB’s solutions, however, may be coming too late. The Humane Society’s initiative petition campaign is gaining steam. Eighty-five percent of those polled support it. And so, senators on the Ag Committee see no way to stop further interference in their business than to negate the petition with a constitutional amendment that would void its results.
I’m not without sympathy for their viewpoint, but there are major problems with such a bill. First, it voids the results of initiative petitions only if they are aimed at livestock breeders. Anybody can start an initiative petition on any other subject. Whoa. That’s not exactly equal treatment to all Missourians, and it’s likely to be unconstitutional.
Furthermore, consider this wording in the bill:
No state law criminalizing or otherwise regulating the welfare or breeding of any domesticated animals shall be valid … unless it is consistent with scientific and economic standards generally accepted within the agricultural community.
Really? Who gets to decide what scientific standards are “generally accepted”? The Farm Bureau with some bogus study that supports the notion that CAFOs do no harm? No, this wording virtually guarantees that disagreements will frequently end up in court. Much as the Missouri legislature drives me crazy with many of its decisions, at least legislators are subject to pressure from the voters. Remember, those very voters pressured legislators to remove the “no local control of CAFOs” provision from this amendment. Try calling a judge before he rules on one of these issues and see how far you get.
In general, I oppose state constitutional amendments anyway. The ones that are proposed–including this one–seldom merit being enshrined in the state constitution, and it’s relatively easy to get them passed. (Think of the unnecessary, because it was already illegal, ban on gay marriage.) BBB’s suggestions for solving the problem of inhumane dog breeders, if taken to heart, would solve the problem–and a helluva lot better than this amendment would. This constitutional amendment would do nothing to alleviate those problems. All it does is say, “Hands off.”
That’s not a solution. It’s just a way of dodging an issue that needs to be dealt with.
Ideally–and I’m dreaming, I suppose–senators on the Ag Committee would propose the legislation that BBB suggests. It is sensible. But if that’s not going to happen, I sincerely hope this amendment dies a slow death from several more revisions. Whether it dies or it doesn’t, though, the other problem remains: that the initiative petition to rein in puppy mills is likely, as the gentleman in the seat next to me warned, to create a culture clash in this state like no other we’ve witnessed.
John Edwards at the press availability after the speech
As a strong Edwards supporter, it had not occurred to me that John Edwards might have a problem filling the Carpenters Union Hall. I badly wanted to see him speak here; naturally there would be many people like me. But early Saturday morning, at about 7:00 am waiting for the bus in single digit cold, I started to realize, “I am not a normal person.” Normal people don’t go out into the freezing morning cold to see a longshot presidential candidate; normal people sip their hot coffee in their warm living room watching morning TV. Better yet, normal people stay snuggled under warm blankets.
My fears were allayed when I arrived; there were already 30 people standing in line waiting for the doors to open 45 minutes later for a speech that wasn’t set to start until over 2 hours from then. That line quickly doubled and then tripled, and after doors opened, the room swelled with over 1000 people spilling into the foyer and into an overflow room in the back.
A row of speakers warmed up the crowd. Alderman Stephen Gregali, St. Louis American City Editor Alvin Reid, State Senator Tim Green, State Senator Wes Shoemyer, House Minority Whip Connie Johnson, St. Louis Carpenters Council President Terry Nelson, and Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell each in turn made fiery speeches almost equal in passion to John Edwards himself. The main points that came across were: “John Edwards can win a general election against even John McCain” and “John Edwards is a fighter for the middle class of America.” Rep. Connie Johnson made some of these points, but she emphasized the personal connection John Edwards has with Missouri, as he has come back to Missouri several times since 2004 to campaign for downticket Dems and for ballot initiatives like the minimum wage increase.
St. Louis American City Editor Alvin Reid after the speech
State Senator (and family farmer) Wes Shoemyer
Attorney General candidate Rep. Jeff Harris works the crowd. He is not endorsing a presidential candidate.
John Edwards himself did not disappoint. Making his way through a throng to the right of the stage, he took the stage to deafening applause. My colleague hotflash, who was also in attendance, made the following notes:
“I have never taken a DIME from a lobbyist or a special interest group.”
“When did our party become the party of big money? When did we become the party that takes money from drug companies? from insurance companies? from Washington lobyists? The candidate taking more money from Washington lobbyists, Democrat or Rep., is not a Rep. It is a Democrat. The dandidate taking more money from drug companies, Democrat or Rep., is not a Rep. It’s a Democrat. Let me just say this, as your candidate and your nominee for president, that will not be me.”
E referred to Obama’s praise of Reagan as pres of change. Reagan is “no example for change.” He did “everything in his power to break the organized labor movement.” he changed the tax structure to favor the wealthy. he deregulated industry as far as environmental laws.
(I don’t think he actually used Obama’s name for the following, but the reference was clear.) “we don’t really have to fight. You know, if you’re good to these people, if you’re nice,” you can get along with them. You can’t “nice these people to death.”
E concerned re global warming. Americans 4 % world population, use 25 % of its energy. Wants national cap on cargon emissions and make polluters pay.
Unlike Cl. and Ob. “dead against” building more nuclear power plants” and against building more coal-fired plants until technology to clean them up can be used.
He wants to ask Americans to be “patriotic about something other than war.”
We must conserve. You “can’t spend and innovate your way of of this problem.”
Wants to stand on White House lawn and actually say the word “union”.
Minimum wage is finally $7.25. Ought to be at least $9.50.
“The first year that I am president I will end this war in Iraq.” no more combat missions, no permanent bases
“Suppose we had a president that believed in the United States Constitution and the bill of rights.” He’d close Guantanamo. no more illegal spying on the Amer. people. “No more debate in America about what kind of torture is permissible.”
“NAFTA CAFTA and these kinds of trade policies, they exist only for the purpose of destroying Amer. jobs.” E would “close that tax loophole that gives tax breaks to Amer. cos. sending jobs overseas.”
Health care woman finds lump in breast. what is she supposed to do? There’s no chemotherapy in emergency rooms.
Exxon $40 billion profit last year–world record for any corp.
Health insur. co. exec made $200 million
Conclusion: His parents and grandparents would have done anything to give him the chance at a better life. Everyone in audience has experienced that. We must take the reins and offer that same possibility to our children and grandchildren.
For a fuller picture of the speech, this video of his speech the previous night in Oklahoma City is very similar:
All in all, it was an electric atmosphere. I got the feeling from talking to people in the crowd that the majority of them were already committed Edwards supporters, which led to an even more charged response than there otherwise would have been. The task now for the Edwards campaign is mobilize these people and use that energy to bring others on board.