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Democrats promote agriculture, health insurance coverage at Friday event
Democrats promote agriculture, health insurance coverage at Friday event

Missouri Agriculture Director Jon Hagler speaks to Pulaski County Democrats.
DIXON, Mo. (June 27, 2009) — More than a hundred Pulaski County Democrats thought they were going to hear U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton speak Friday night at the Warnol Fish Farm southeast of Dixon, but his place was filled by a speeches on agriculture issues when Skelton had to remain in Washington for a close vote on President Barack Obama’s energy policy.

Jon Hagler, Missouri’s agriculture director, and State Sen. Frank Barnitz, a Dent County rancher whose senate district includes Pulaski County, both urged their audience members to support Democratic policies which they said will benefit farmers, ranchers, and Americans in general.

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall noted that Hagler — who received numerous complaints about “puppy mills” when he first became agriculture secretary — had years of experience in agriculture in the St. James area and has continued in the horse business even after entering politics, serving in the legislature and as chief of staff to a former Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives. Hagler told his audience that they should be grateful that Ransdall served Pulaski County for years in the legislature and that Barnitz continues to do so.

“You’re very fortunate in this area. I know (Ransdall) is kind of like a bad cold, and he won’t go away, but the truth of the matter is that over many years, he has provided guidance in agriculture, in the environment, in veteran’s affairs, in all kinds of ways that you see in your everyday life,” Hagler said. “I don’t care where you go, I don’t care what part of the state you are in, if you are going to talk about agriculture, if you are going to talk about veterans, I don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, an independent, if you’re mad as hell or happy as a clam or crazier than a pet coon, if you’re talking about agriculture you’re going to be talking about Frank Barnitz.”

Hagler said he’s tried to bring a very different philosophy to the Department of Agriculture.

“Over the five months that we’ve been in there, we’ve been able to start the transformation of Missouri’s Department of Agriculture to a department that cares about the everyday hard-working farmer from the grass-roots level all the way through,” Hagler said. “For years they only cared about how much money they made ... Now we’re starting to care about how much money you make, because what you make makes a difference.”

To loud “amens” from his audience, Hagler said farm policy needs to be placed on the same level as policies supporting other businesses.

“The thing about this is I have never understood why it’s an incentive if it’s economic development, but if it’s agriculture, it’s a subsidy,” Hagler said. “Now it seems to me that if it affects hometown America, if it affects places like Dixon and St. James and Salem and Waynesville and the places we all grew up and value, it ought to be an incentive just as much as if it affects the big city or some big corporation.”

Policy disputes within the agriculture community don’t help anyone, Hagler said.

“Rule number one is we’re going to row in the same direction,” Hagler said. “I don’t care if you’re doing row crops or you’re doing livestock, it doesn’t do agriculture any good if you start cussing one and he starts cussing the other,” Hagler said. “What I tell folks all the time is if the answer to your problem is to take a tool away from somebody else in agriculture and put it in your toolbox, I can’t help you. But if the answer to your problem is to go get a tool that exists out there or one that we just thought of and put it in agriculture’s toolbox — and when I say ‘agriculture,’ I mean rural Missouri’s toolbox — I am your man.”

Hagler joked that disputes within the agriculture community hurt everyone.

“Frank (Barnitz) and I grew up with a couple old boys — I’m just going to say their names were Tommy Joe and George, we’ll cut out their last names — and they were out fishing in this lake and they had been fishing for a while and they were doing pretty good. And then Tommy Joe dropped one of the lit quarter-sticks,” Hagler said. “It’s not legal, kids don’t do it, for those of you who don’t know, it’s a quarter-stick of dynamite. So he dropped one of the lit quarter-sticks and George is like, ‘You’d better find that, you’d better get on it right now.’ Tommy Joe just leaned over, and he said, ‘George, I believe we’re in this together.’ The simple fact is that day, those boys took a swim. That boat sank.”

Hagler said that if the agriculture community, rural Missourians, and Democrats don’t start to act together, “sure enough, our boat will sink, too.”

“We have got to move forward. We’ve got to row in the same direction. Democrats, do not get distracted,” Hagler said. “You’re not going to agree with (Barnitz) 100 percent of the time ... What you’ve got to know is that 110 percent of the time he is fighting for you, 110 percent of the time his heart is in the right place and he is trying to make his community and your community a much better place to live.”

Part of that means changing rules that don’t make sense, Hagler said.

“Let common sense be our guide ... If it doesn’t make common sense, if I can’t explain it, if my staff can’t explain it, if there’s no rationale for it, unless the governor told me to do it, I will absolutely work on it to change it so it works better for you,” Hagler said. “You pay my salary. I work for you. If I’m not listening, you need a new ag director. If someone else is not listening, you need to elect someone else.”

Hagler said it’s important to keep Barnitz as state senator because he’s listening to rural Missouri, but said it’s also good that voters elected a replacement for former Gov. Matt Blunt, who chose not to run for re-election and was replaced by long-time Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon.

“It has only been a few months since this governor has been in office, but I will guarantee you that Missouri knows the difference. Isn’t it time we had some positive adult leadership? Isn’t it time that in an unprecedented financial meltdown, we had a leader that doesn’t spend time pointing fingers, doesn’t spend time wringing his hands, rolls up his shirtsleeves and goes to work?” Hagler said. “It is past time that we had a governor who does not care whether you gave him a large check, he does not care whether or not you came to his last event, he does not care whether you came to the rally or not, he cares what is good for Missouri, he’s going to do what is good for Missouri every time.”

Hagler said hometown values are an important part of Democratic policy, and he has a calendar showing the hands of farmers, working people, and other laborers.

“It’s that connection to the earth; it’s that reason that you and I choose to live where we live,” Hagler said. “It’s the reason why every year, you think this year is going to be a little bit better than the next. Every year you think you’re going to get a little bit better price for those cattle, that the horse market might actually turn around … it’s the reason that you plant that next crop.”

Hagler said it’s also important not to pit agriculture against other working communities.

“That’s why we value the Democratic Party because it doesn’t matter if you are black or white, urban or rural, if you make your hands like my parents made on a good union job or whether you made your living on a farm like my grandparents did or like Frank (Barnitz) does or many of you do, it does not matter,” Hagler said. “What matters is those core values that we all hold dear; that is what you want your government to reflect, those hands, those working hands. That’s what’s going to change lives, that’s what’s going to change this state, and that’s what’s going to move Missouri forward.”

In his own speech, Barnitz said the Democratic Party is doing well in Missouri because it’s effectively explaining and defending its core principles, winning all statewide races except the lieutenant governor position.

“What that kind of meant was the people in the public were listening to those issues that were really out there, what had happened to the economy, what was occurring with health care and what people desired for health care, rights for workers, all the different things that the Democrats have stood for and were out there talking about,” Barnitz said. “A lot of times the Republicans would use little short verbiage to try to run us down on different things. Luckily the public understood what that was.”

While noting that Missouri’s governor recently vetoed $105 million worth of spending projects and placed $325 million in restricted funds, Barnitz said that’s better than might have been expected based on national trends.

“Missouri is in a lot better shape than most of the other states around us. So while we are bemoaning the fact that we’re going to lose some programs and projects and there’s going to be future layoffs of state employees, we’re in a lot better shape than we have been,” Barnitz said.

Barnitz said state senators worked hard to try to restore some of the 2005 cuts to Medicaid and insure about 36,000 more people.

“But what occurred is we sent that to the House of Representatives, again, controlled by the Republicans, they killed it. We did that three different times, working with the governor to get that done,” Barnitz said. “At the end they wouldn’t even bring it up for a hearing. We know what the issues are out there. Democrats know what the public is saying and wants to be talked about … We have a few Republicans that are starting to listen to that, but for the most part in Missouri they still haven’t heard.”

Barnitz said it’s especially important to get Democrats elected to the state legislature in 2010 since those elected that year will vote on redistricting the state following the 2010 federal census, and also noted that Missouri’s Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, has a strong chance to be elected as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

“I will be running again in 2010; that will be my last term to be able to run in the legislature,” Barnitz said. “I’m proud to be a Democrat and I certainly hope that you all can get your neighbors to get involved with it too.”

Barnitz took questions but received only one, a question from Richland resident Brock Wommack who wanted to know what type of health care issues will be on Missouri’s agenda.

Getting insurance coverage for more Missourians is important, Barnitz replied.

“We’re going to go back to the same drawing board that we are right now. In 2005 with those massive Medicaid cuts, it threw everybody off,” Barnitz said. “The state has worked with the hospitals. The hospitals were willing to tax themselves, send it to the federal government and send it back ... They were willing to go ahead and do that for themselves because the uncompensated care that Missourians are getting right now that are going to the hospitals and the emergency rooms are costing the hospitals, are costing the taxpayers, are costing anyone who is self-insured or a self-payer.”

“We are going to go back, we are going to deal with that again, and we are going to try to get that coverage for at least 36,000 people that have been kicked off the Medicaid rolls,” Barnitz said.

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