“Our out of balance food system is truly failing the American public, and we must elect lawmakers who will stand for better food policies that affect all Americans, not the corporations who benefit from the status quo,” said Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Food Policy Action.
Food Policy Action (FPA) is an educational platform and political organization that was established to hold legislators and elected government officials accountable on votes that have an impact on food and agriculture.
“By letting voters in these competitive districts know that these incumbents are serving them rotten food policies and that there are more and better options out there, we’re making the good food movement relevant to the voter constituency,” said Ken Cook, FPA co-founder and board chairman.
In Missouri, two contests were particularly interesting to the agricultural community – U.S. Senate and the governor’s seat, given the high stakes of either position.
Blunt vs. Kander (Senate)
One contested race that came as a surprise to many was the face-off between incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt and challenger Jason Kander in the battle to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate. According to Roll Call, officials from both parties said the race was effectively a dead heat less than two weeks before Election Day.
FPA endorsed Democrat Kander, stating that Sen. Blunt, the Republican candidate, “voted for measures that would keep families in the dark about what is in the food we eat” while in office, and should not be re-elected.
According to FPA, the Kander campaign supported federal hunger reduction and nutrition programs and increased transparency in the American food system.
Another group focused on rural America and food policy issues, Missouri Farm Bureau, held a different position. The group endorsed Sen. Blunt in February of 2016, stating that he is a critical force in stopping the Waters of the United States Rule administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sen. Blunt has received the “Friend of Farm Bureau Award” from American Farm Bureau nine times, after each Congress in which he has served.
For Elizabeth Wyss, a sophomore science and agricultural journalism student at the University of Missouri, endorsements alone demonstrated who supported the agriculture industry and for whom she should cast her vote.
“I voted for Blunt because Kander was endorsed by HSUS, while Blunt was endorsed by Farm Bureau,” Wyss said.
Jessica Hoelting, a freshman agricultural economics student at MU, held similar views. She voted for Sen. Blunt because he is a member of the GOP, and she identifies with many of his stances.
“Agriculturally, I think he is very conscientious about Missouri farm families and has voted on several bills in the past that have had farmers in mind,” Hoelting said.
On election night, the vote was called in Sen. Blunt’s favor. Sen. Blunt pulled away with 49 percent of the vote, compared to Kander’s 46 percent.
“I will never, ever, ever understand agriculture in the way that all of you do,” Eric Greitens, the Republican candidate for Missouri governor, told Missouri Farm Bureau members at an event in early 2016. “I didn’t grow up on a farm, I didn’t grow up on a ranch. We’re going to build a team of people who actually understand agriculture [if elected governor].”
Chris Koster, the Democratic candidate for the same position, highlighted that he was “the only senator between 2004 and 2008, Republican or Democrat, who had a perfect Farm Bureau voting record.” Assembled members of the Missouri Farm Bureau later endorsed Koster with well over the two-thirds vote required.
Koster was in a unique position during the 2016 election, in that he received many of the statewide agricultural endorsements traditionally reserved for Republican candidates. In addition to Missouri Farm Bureau, he received endorsements from Missouri Corn Growers Association, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and the Missouri Soybean Association.
According to his campaign website, “ensuring agriculture is a cornerstone of our state’s economic development plan will be a centerpiece of Chris Koster’s administration” if elected governor.
“Chris [Koster] has shown he understands agriculture and what it takes to grow the industry,” said Matthew McCrate, board president of the Missouri Soybean Association. “He has been a great partner for Missouri soybean growers and has been committed to prioritize agriculture as our governor.”
According to the MoSoy website, each candidate’s record, and the Association’s priorities relating to improving the bottom line for soybean farmers, were taken into consideration prior to an endorsement decision.
“He was a major supporter of the Right to Farm Amendment passed in 2014 and has worked hard in securing Missouri farmers’ interest in cases involving the Environmental Protection Agency and California regulations adversely affecting our poultry farmers,” said Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst in a statement.
He later added that Koster’s experience in state government and his knowledge of agricultural issues played a role in the historical decision by the bureau’s political action committee to support a Democratic candidate for governor.
Corn producers across the state echoed similar remarks.
“Attorney General Koster’s record of supporting agriculture is unquestionable,” said Morris Heitman, president of the Missouri Corn Growers Association. “We are confident he will continue to work in the best interest of Missouri’s farm families and are proud to support him in the race for Missouri governor.”
The membership-based organization tends to endorse candidates with proven records on agricultural policy issues. The association awarded Koster the “Public Servant Award’ while he served as Missouri’s Attorney General in 2014
Tony Messenger, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, posted on Twitter that “in rural Missouri, the fact that Missouri Farm Bureau is endorsing Koster moves a lot of GOP votes his way. Big loss for Eric Greitens.”
Greitens’ campaign website states that federal overreach from agencies like the EPA are hurting family farms across the state.
“I will fight against these crippling regulations and always side with hard working farmers and ranchers of Missouri,” Greitens said.
Greitens’ campaign promoted “the political outsider” viewpoint that he would bring to state government if elected.
The Greitens campaign did not feel threatened by the endorsements Koster received.
“If this election cycle has shown anything, it is that endorsements don’t move voters like they used to,” campaign manager Austin Chambers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
However, for MU student Hoelting, endorsements did influence some voting decisions in the 2016 election.
“I voted for Koster because he was endorsed by the NRA and Missouri Farm Bureau, which was nice because I trust both of those organizations,” Hoelting said.
While Koster hoped the endorsements would hold merit to voters who traditionally voted with candidates of the Republican party, Greitens claimed a victory to the governor’s seat. He secured 51 percent of the votes compared to Koster’s 45 percent.
Looking forward to a Greitens administration, Missouri Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce hopes to remain leading the state’s agricultural efforts.
“I stand ready to work with the new governor in this position to continue to lead agriculture,” Fordyce said.
United States President
Another heavily contested race occurred in the quest for the White House. Nationwide, there was a substantial interest in the outcome of this election as it could have a substantial impact on environmental, agricultural and food policy.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, and Republican candidate Donald Trump, real-estate mogul and political outsider, differed on their positions regarding agriculture and food policy.
Hillary Clinton vowed to “increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems.” She planned to support the food system by doubling funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program, advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and progressing federal efforts to provide crop insurance and disaster assistance programs.
Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, “understands the critical role our nation’s agricultural community plays in feeding not only our country, but the world, and how important these Americans are to powering our nation’s economy.”
His website boasted that he was the “only candidate with the best interests of the agricultural community at the heart of his policies.”
FPA pledged its support to Clinton. The coalition “believe[d] the Clinton-Kaine ticket [was] the better choice to drive forward food policy that America deserves and makes our food and agriculture system more balanced, healthy and sustainable,” according to an organization newsletter.
Ultimately, the state of Missouri selected the Trump-Pence ticket to allocate its electoral votes with a vote of 56 percent to Clinton-Kaine’s 37 percent. The country followed suite, and Trump secured 290 electoral votes to win the presidency.
“I think that he (Trump) is very driven to help the agriculture industry a lot and is genuinely concerned with the problems that our country is facing,” Hoelting said. “He is already meeting with directors of agriculture from across the country who have insight into the industry.”
Following election night, the entire statewide Missouri ticket and president-elect were members of the GOP. Some voters were unhappy with the election outcome.
“We will keep doing all that we can to elect better leaders,” Cook said. “We know that will ultimately lead to better food policy that the American public deserves.”