There were a few questions about farm policy, but the past became the present interest in confirmation hearings of State Agriculture Director-designate Katie Smith before a Senate committee. Smith has been nominated by Governor Blunt to be the next Agriculture Director, taking the position held by Fred Ferrell until a complaint of sexual harassment forced Ferrell out.
The committee unanimously recommends that the full Senate confirm here, but not until the top Democrat in the Senate questioned her qualifications and insinuated that Governor Blunt chose Smith, based more on her gender than her qualifications. Senate Minority Leader, Maida Coleman (D-St. Louis), has asked Smith whether the governor appointed her for her qualifications or because he believed nominating a woman would distract from the sexual harassment lawsuit still pending in Cole County Circuit Court. Coleman also has questioned whether Smith meets the requirement that the Agriculture Director actually be a farmer.
Smith has maintained that the governor appointed her on her qualifications. She grew up on the family farm near Platte City and received a degree in Agriculture-Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Much of her experience has been in Washington, where Smith served both Senator Bond and former Senator Talent as well as northwest Missouri Congressman Sam Graves. As the top agricultural advisor to Senator Talent, Smith helped craft the 2002 Farm Bill. Smith says she remains engaged in the family farm, advising her father on how best to manage it and says she helps out whenever she visits there.
Coleman hasn’t been impressed and states simply, "You are not a farmer."
Senate President Pro Tem, Michael Gibbons (R-Kirkwood), acknowledges the tainted reputation of the State Agriculture Department. He tells Smith, "I think it’s pretty clear from this hearing that you are going into this position with a multitude of challenges." Gibbons adds that the proof will be in Smith’s performance.