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Farm Bureau rejects Skelton, endorses Republican for first time in 14 years
Farm Bureau rejects Skelton, endorses Republican for first time in 14 years

Republican Vicky Hartzler, a former state representative from Harrisonville, received the Farm Bureau endorsement over incumbent U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton.

SEDALIA, Mo. (Aug. 20, 2010) — For the first time since the mid-1990s, U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton has lost the endorsement of the Missouri Farm Bureau’s political action committee.

The trustees of Missouri’s 4th Congressional District FARM-PAC announced Friday morning that they’ll be endorsing Vicky Hartzler, a former state representative from Harrisonville, over Skelton.

“It has been a long, long time since we didn’t endorse Skelton, and for a long time before that, we made no endorsements,” said Charles Bassett, a rural Dixon resident who chairs the 4th Congressional District FARM-PAC.

The Farm Bureau endorsement could reflect an important shift in voter sentiments in Skelton’s congressional race. As of the longest-serving members of Congress, Skelton has served since the mid-1970s and hasn’t had a seriously competitive race for three decades even though he’s a conservative Democrat in an increasingly Republican district. As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Skelton has worked hard to support Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base, but Bassett noted that agriculture is just as important to many 4th District voters as national defense—and perhaps more so.

“Outside of the two military bases, agriculture is the number one industry in Congressman Skelton’s district, and it is one of the biggest in Missouri. Farming is big here,” Bassett said. “He does have the two military installations, Whiteman and Fort Leonard Wood, but that’s pretty much Johnson County and Pulaski County.”

So what changed to cause the Farm Bureau to endorse Skelton’s opponent?

According to Bassett, Farm Bureau members believe Skelton’s voting record is no longer what it had been in the past.

“He had a favorable record on voting with ag issues of importance to Farm Bureau. The questions that came up again and again in the discussion was how over the past four years Congressman Skelton has voted like 95 percent of the time with (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi,” Bassett said.

Energy policy was also a major issue for the Farm Bureau, Bassett said, including the Democrat-led “cap and trade” policy that seeks to stop global warming by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. In Missouri, that would have a major effect on electricity prices since most electricity in Missouri is generated by coal-fired power plants rather than nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind, or other power sources.

“What also came up again and again was the cap and trade issue,” Bassett said. “Cap and trade, as it was passed in the House, should it become law, would be devastating to agriculture in fuel and fertilizer, which would drive up feed costs. Electric bills would go up. It would affect every area of our lives … If I had to put my finger on one issue, that I heard more than any other issue in that meeting, that was it.”

Hartzler’s campaign issued a statement Friday afternoon thanking FARM-PAC for its endorsement. Hartzler, who grew up on a Cass County farm, owns a diversified farming operation with her husband and also own Hartzler Equipment Company with stores in Harrisonville, Nevada, and Lamar, said she believed her background in farming and stances of energy-related issues were what prompted the Farm Bureau to support her rather than Skelton.

“It has determined that my vision for family farms and the agriculture community is what is needed for the 4th District. Unlike my opponent, who voted for cap-and-tax legislation that would do irreparable harm to small farms and small businesses, I oppose this job-killing proposal that is championed by the Nancy Pelosi liberals in the US House of Representatives,” Hartzler said in a prepared statement.

Bassett said that’s probably a correct evaluation of the Farm Bureau’s views.

“Her overall comments are a fair assessment,” Bassett said. “Farmers are pretty independent thinkers and I didn’t know have a feel for what was going to happen with the Skelton decision … We met, we listened to both candidates, and we went into discussion afterwards.”

FARM-PAC is divided by congressional district with trustees from each of Missouri’s counties, according to the organization’s endorsement announcement. The trustees are currently attending the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and both Hartzler and Skelton sought their endorsement during an in-person meeting on Wednesday, answering questions from FARM-PAC trustees and filling out questionnaires.

Earlier this month, FARM-PAC trustees statewide voted to endorse U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Springfield who is seeking to succeed U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and is running against Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan from Rolla. Blunt attended a FARM-PAC meeting but according to an Aug. 6 announcement by FARM-PAC, Carnahan did not choose to attend even though she was invited.

Bassett said FARM-PAC trustees from the organization’s counties in the 16th State Senate District will meet next week Tuesday in Rolla to decide whether to endorse current State Sen. Frank Barnitz, a Democrat and cattle rancher from Lake Spring in Dent County, or his Republican challenger Dr. Dan Brown, a veterinarian from Rolla.

After the Wednesday meeting in Sedalia with FARM-PAC trustees but before the Friday announcement of the Farm Bureau endorsement, Skelton’s campaign announced on Thursday that another agriculture organization, the Missouri Corn Growers Association, had endorsed Skelton.

According to Skelton’s campaign, Missouri Corn Growers Association CEO Gary Marshall praised Skelton’s commitment to Missouri agriculture.

"We are very pleased that you have consistently supported agriculture, corn and ethanol issues,” Marshall said.

Skelton said he has a solid track record on both agricultural and military issues.

"I am honored to receive this endorsement from Missouri farmers, the lifeblood of our rural economy," Skelton said in a prepared statement. "Whether I am bringing new missions and construction projects to Whiteman and Fort Leonard Wood, or doing my part to strengthen the farm safety net, I work hard every day to stand up for rural Missouri."

Skelton has emphasized his efforts to pass laws which would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

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