Letter From Langdon: Popularity

In that voting booth on Election Day, the word “right” should have nothing to do with politics.

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Mother and Dad liked Roosevelt and Truman. They were afraid the Pope would tell JFK how to run the country, but that never happened. Dad and most of our neighbors always said the country did better under Democrats. 

Since then people’s views have changed

Last week a Republican friend in the county courthouse asked what I thought about the upcoming election. I held back telling her what Dad said. She does her job well. Besides, it doesn’t matter which party local officials belong to because office holders like her are good people doing important jobs, all of which is determined mostly by state and local law. 

Unfortunately, not many state or national candidates have the luxury of being judged and elected on their actual best qualities. Nowadays political party affiliation makes up for not really knowing candidates, their families, or the kind of people they are. We just tune in to our favorite biased news programs for whatever we want to hear and let prejudice make the choice for us.

Here in extreme northwest Missouri, that means Fox News. 

As we live in the corner, next to political boundaries of two other states, Missouri TV stations don’t have power enough to get all the way up here. So most of our tube watching comes via satellite, or from Omaha, Nebraska.  

Nebraska has been a bastion of Republicanism much like Missouri, only longer. Consequently we don’t get much liberal programming.

When I tell people I live north of Kansas City, “Oh,” they say, ‘St Joe.'” And when I tell them, well, actually 60 miles farther north — or 60 miles south of Omaha — they look puzzled. 

“Iowa???”

Well, almost.

Missourians aren’t completely blind to political boundaries or competence. In a state where Republicans outnumber indoor plumbing and two-car garages, we can still elect a Democrat once in awhile. Case in point is Jay Nixon, who just might have a lifetime lease on the governor’s mansion. 

That’s because Jay is, to put it simply, good.

Big agriculture producer groups in Missouri carry a lot of weight in spite of our urban population. Missouri still has a large rural, agricultural base that’s veered to the political right, along with the rest of the state. Endorsements for Republicans compared to those for Democrats look like Custer’s odds at the Little Big Horn where the Sioux were 100:1 favorites. 

The Farm Bureau in Missouri recently bragged that they’d never endorsed a Democrat.

But fact is, if Jay Nixon had been out there on the prairie that day, Crazy Horse might have stopped by for a peace pipe, and everyone could have gone home happy. Now as Jay runs for a second term, some of the most conservative ag groups in the state, none other than Farm Bureau and the Missouri Soybean Association, have endorsed him. 

It’s a first for a Democrat.

That seems to imply that until now, there’s never been a Democrat good enough, but it really says that Republicanism, in this state at least, is leaving agriculture behind.

Here’s an example:

When conservatives in the Missouri General Assembly tried to make Jay dump his rainy day disaster fund, the one he was able to squirrel away through some very surgical budget cutting, he resisted. 

Actually he just said, “No.” 

No way, no how, not today, not ever. He told opposite party lawmakers, who claim a public mandate based on their control of the Missouri House and Senate, that he was hanging onto that money to help Missouri citizens in case of disaster. 

Jay must be clairvoyant. We had some disaster doozies, most of which hit rural Missouri hard.

Tornadoes, floods — unprecedented destruction across our state. While Congress talked about cutting the deficit, Missouri homes were flowing and blowing away. And the state of Missouri was there to help, not because of partisan politics or cost conscious Republicans, but because one good public servant with foresight and political grit stood up for what he believed.

He’s a pretty good politician, too. Ask a private citizen who his state representative or senator is, the one they voted for in the last election if they voted at all, and chances are they’ll draw a blank. But just about everyone knows Jay.

Sadly, Nixon is an exception to the rule of so-so public service. For instance, consider Missouri Congressman Todd Akin. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent and a Democrat.

Akin is a staunch conservative Tea Party darling who believes that abortion is unnecessary because rape victims, sincere in their desire not to be, cannot get pregnant. That’s not quite as bad as the elderly priest who said this week that molested children are usually the ones to blame for being assaulted. On the other hand unlike the priest, Akin is on the House Science Committee where real, factually-based knowledge should be considered a plus.

The good news for all of America is that regardless of how this year’s Senate race in Missouri turns out, Akin won’t be returning to the House Science Committee.

In 16 years as a Missouri Congressman, Akin never once voted in favor of a Farm Bill. I haven’t researched this for accuracy. It’s based on Akins own brag. Remember, Missouri has broad rural and agricultural interests. Not once in his political career has Akin supported rural Missouri or farmers with his vote.

But when Akin won the Republican primary against another staunch conservative Sarah Steelman and unknown businessman John Brunner, Akin automatically received the endorsement of Missouri Farm Bureau. 

If you’re like me, then right now you’re asking yourself, why? Earlier, during the primary, some Missouri Ag groups actually endorsed John Brunner. It’s almost unheard of for a farm group in Missouri to offer endorsements within the party during a primary. It’s risky, because if they pick the wrong Republican, all they might see during next year’s lobby day at the Capitol is a closed door.

The reason is simple. When Steelman ran in the Republican gubernatorial primary four years ago, one plank in her platform would have ended support for Missouri ethanol. That got the attention of livestock, corn, and soybean association leadership. Even though it may not be popular among some segments of the population, or even some livestock producers, renewable energy is a big deal in Missouri — especially among the ag groups. It’s a centerpiece of overall farm-friendly legislation. That’s when most of the groups represented in a coalition now known as Missouri Farmers Care were able to push Steelman aside by enlisting Missouri Congressman Kenny Hulschoff in the race. 

Hulschoff eventually lost his bid for governor to Nixon, who proclaimed full support for ethanol, renewable energy, and a “livestock corridor” with improved transportation and relaxed regulations across central Missouri.

This summer, four years later, Steelman popped up again in the Senate primary and Missouri agriculture was confronted with the possibility of having a hostile face in the U.S. Senate. Akin was seen as an unelectable radical on the fringe. No one thought he had much of a chance. That’s when Brunner started collecting endorsements, as aggie conservatives backed him as their primary candidate.

Then Akin shocked everyone by winning. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democrat, was “blamed” for Akins’ win because she ran political ads against him leading up to the primary, ads that basically just told the truth about Akin. Conservative logic goes that without McCaskill’s helpful truth telling, Akin would have lost among ultra conservative voters.

Now, after everyone thinking the Democratic seat was a goner for sure, it seems the biggest question mark isn’t which Missouri Republican will win the Senate seat up for grabs, but if Republicans even have a chance.

Senator Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, isn’t exactly a Massachusetts liberal. Her actual voting record in the Senate has her sitting pretty close to the center.

In fact some Democrats wish she’d scoot a lot farther to the left.

But Republicans have made much of the fact that she campaigned on behalf of Senator Barack Obama during his primary run and the presidential election of 2008. Obama was not the most popular candidate in Missouri. Most Democrats I knew then favored Hillary Clinton. So while Claire demonstrated her ability to pick a winner, she did not endear herself to many voters by working with Obama. Even Democrats.

Governor Nixon and McCaskill have much in common. Both hold law degrees. Nixon served four terms as state attorney general, where he pioneered the Missouri telemarketing no-call list, which we now have as a national registry. 

McCaskill served as a prosecuting attorney who pursued her job ethically and aggressively by locking up bad guys. She was elected state auditor and ran for governor four years before Nixon, against Republican Matt Blunt, who won. Blunt then failed to seek a second term when confronted with serious ethical lapses while in public office. Two years after running for governor, McCaskill upset Republican Senator Jim Talent to win her Senate seat

Claire started out in Missouri statewide politics, much the same way Jay Nixon did, in the General Assembly. That was back in the day when Democrats still held political high ground here. One newspaper editor, Republican of course, told me she remembered Jay and Claire touring the state together during the eighties, with other members of the General Assembly, to listen to citizen concerns and promote their Democratic vision of Missouri. 

In this day and age I have come to expect female professionals to support other women in public office regardless of party simply as a way to promote the issue of gender equality. The editor, a woman, surprised me by saying she had always been able to tolerate Nixon, but that she found McCaskill a little too pushy.

To me that says that not only has agriculture turned away from serving its own best interests above politics, but also perhaps that all of Missouri has become so divided by over simplification and fact distortion that we are unable to sort meaningful issues in any realistic way.

That brings us back to Farm Bureau and other Missouri ag groups that attach more importance to party than policy. I think the belief pervades America these days that any politician can be bought. Lobbyists who mistakenly back losers, according to current campaign law, can still contribute to winners after the election. That’s why political winners carry campaign account surpluses while losers never manage to retire campaign debts. 

Six years ago, when Missouri Farm Bureau invited Claire to an interview in competition with Jim Talent for the Farm Bureau Senate endorsement, she declined. She knew no matter how she answered their questions FB would never endorse her candidacy. 

And she told them that.

This year as a US Senator representing all Missourians, Claire accepted Farm Bureau’s invitation. After interviews were complete, McCaskill, the Senator who voted for the Farm Bill, who comes from an agricultural background, lost the Farm Bureau endorsement to the son and grandson of St Louis industrialists. 

McCaskill v. Akin

She lost the Farm Bureau endorsement to a man who attended divinity school instead of business school, who believes that women can prevent pregnancy simply by willing it to be so, and who proudly proclaims never to have supported wasteful farm legislation during any of his 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lately Claire’s been saying farms need a safety net for disasters like last year’s flooding and this year’s drought. She’s right. She also says the direct payments farmers have been getting need to go, because they make no sense and we can’t afford them. 

Right again. 

As president of Missouri Farmers Union I’ve had the privilege to get to know Claire a tiny bit better then the average Missouri citizen. She can be plain spoken and blunt. Frankly I like that because it’s the way my parents raised me to be, too. Like them, she has grit and determination.

The National Farmers Union puts Claire’s Senate voting record for family farms at about 70% favorable. She’s no pushover for our policies, but Farmers Union supports her. That means she gets a Golden Triangle award. We might even be able to scrape up a couple hundred dollars to help out her campaign.

But I’m sure of one thing. When Claire McCaskill votes the way we hope she will, it’s not because of the modest donation we give her, and it sure isn’t for the walnut plaque. She’s just honoring a commitment to serve all of us the best way she knows how. 

Overheated rhetoric about abortion, taxes, or gun control is a political tool for dressing up unattractive candidates. Those issues come up in every election, and go away just as fast once the vote over. They never change. Candidates who cling to them are actually hiding behind them. Regardless of party, it’s the person and the real issues we need to look at when casting our votes. 

It’s just the right thing to do. And in that voting booth on Election Day, “right” should have nothing to do with politics.

Richard Oswald is a fifth generation Missouri farmer, president of the Missouri Farmers Union and a regular Daily Yonder columnist.

 

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