House bill proposes making ag director an elected position

The Missouri House of Representatives’ Agriculture Policy Committee introduced the HJR29 Bill on Jan. 15, 2015. It proposes a constitutional amendment establishing the elected office of the Director of Agriculture and eliminates the Department of Agriculture as an executive department operating under the governor. The bill is sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jay Houghton.

The bill would change the process of how the Director of Agriculture is chosen. Currently the director is appointed by the Missouri governor. If HJR29 passes, the director will become an elected position. Some believe that passage of Bill HJR129 would allow more freedom for the Director of Agriculture to promote agriculture’s best interests. The director would be held accountable to citizens, not the governor.

Houghton sponsored the bill to generate conversation on the topic. He said it is a good conversation to have no matter the outcome. He believes previous Directors of Agriculture could not speak freely on subjects such as Proposition B in 2010, Amendment 1 in 2014 and recently Senate Bill 9 because of a need to represent the governor’s opinions.

“HJR129 does not create a major change,” Houghton said. “It would prevent the governor from keeping his thumb on the director constantly.”

Most of the agriculture community believes the risks are too high if the bill passes compared to the small rewards the bill would reap. Missouri Farm Bureau urges members to speak against the bill. State Legislative Affairs Director Ashley McDonald said their main concern is the struggle of electing someone who will best represent farmers.

Missouri’s 73 to 27 percent split between urban and rural voters is hard to overcome in any circumstance and will be no different in this situation. McDonald said misunderstanding and confusion often drive the urban vote against agriculture.

The agriculture community would have to go out and fight for a supportive director every four years. Elections are costly, and the agriculture community has more important things to spend money on. McDonald said they should be spending that money on educational things such as Agriculture in the Classroom, a program educating elementary school children about where their food comes from. Potentially they could face the Humane Society of the United States or other anti-agriculture groups during these elections. The farm bureau believes this will start more debates than needed.

“We do not see a need to fix something that is not broken,” McDonald said.

A total of 12 states use this method of voting to elect their Director of Agriculture. Houghton said that among those 12 states, Texas has an 84 to 16 percent split between urban and rural voters and Florida has over 90 percent urban voters. Both states have elected good directors and have not experienced controversy from anti-agriculture groups. Houghton said that implementing this vote in Missouri would give citizens and people who live in rural areas a chance to know who they are electing as their director.

Houghton expressed that in no way does he think the current or past directors are doing a bad job. He supported HJR29 with the intent to get people to talk about it. His goal is for the bill to be discussed on the House floor, but he is not sure if it will get there. Houghton wants to protect agriculture and does not want to damage it in any way.

The HJR29 proposal has to be voted on by the current Agriculture Policy Committee and another committee before making it to the House floor.

A Public Committee hearing discussed HJR29 on Feb. 17, 2015. McDonald said every agriculture group at the hearing was against the bill and no one who was present spoke in favor of it. She believes the bill will not make it out of the Agriculture Policy Committee due to lack of support from the agriculture community.

Dan Engemann, Missouri Soybean Association director, has his doubts about HJR29. He believes it will be very hard for the bill to make it out of the Agriculture Policy Committee or past the next committee. He said if the constitution changes how the Director of Agriculture is elected, other departments would make the unnecessary change as well.

“If it passes, where would you stop next?” Engemann said. “Would every department’s director have to be elected?”

HJR29 Bill has already sparked conversation within the agriculture community. Time will tell where the bill will eventually end.

Robyn Eschenbrenner

About the Author Robyn Eschenbrenner

My passion for agriculture and the University of Missouri began at an early age. I was raised by two MU graduates on a row crop and livestock farm outside of Jamestown, Missouri. We raise primarily field crops, Brangus cattle and pumpkins. While my hometown, Jamestown, may not be marked on most maps, it helped shaped me into who I am today and it is a place where I am proud to call home. Growing up in the small town lifestyle allowed me to be involved in everything from sports to FFA. I fell in love with advocating for agriculture and being able to teach others about the importance of the industry.