The Missouri Farm Bureau endorsed Attorney General Josh Hawley for the United States Senate Friday.
In a statement, the organization said the Columbia Republican understands the threat that increased regulation poses for Missouri farmers.
Both Hawley and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill addressed Farm Bureau members at a gathering in Jefferson City prior to the announcement.
Hawley won the endorsement of the state’s largest agricultural organization by an overwhelming 82-4 margin in a vote of its trustees. Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said Hawley had worked in the best interests of farmers against potent outside opposition.
“Josh Hawley has continuously proven his leadership and dedication to the people of Missouri by taking on ‘the big and the powerful,’ but even better, he has proven he is dedicated to protecting our farms and family businesses,” said Hurst. “He is a proven leader and will be a tremendous addition to the U.S. Senate.”
Hawley may have sealed his endorsement in the first few minutes of his speech. In its statement, the Bureau praised him for bringing litigation against the Waters of the United States rule and a California law restricting egg sales. Hawley mentioned both lawsuits as being among his accomplishments in Missouri state government.
President Trump’s administration discontinued the Waters of the U.S. rule under former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt in January.
Hawley led a dozen states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the California law which requires any eggs sold there to come from hens that have space to stretch out in cages. California voters approved a ballot measure in 2008 requiring the specific treatment of chickens, which gave farmers until 2015 to comply. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The Farm Bureau’s overwhelming embrace of Hawley also may have to do with a strained association between Senator McCaskill and the organization. Bureau President Hurst told Missourinet Friday that McCaskill never returns his calls and that he and the organization don’t have a good relationship with her.
Strains in their association may have been reflected in McCaskill’s opening remarks before the group where she stated she had been repeatedly asked why she was bothering to speak to them. She also said she had been told by advisors to bypass the event.
The two-term Senator noted that six years ago she ran against a candidate that had never voted for a farm bill, yet he still got the endorsement of the Farm Bureau, referring to former Republican Congressman Todd Aikin.
Before taking questions from the audience, McCaskill told the farm bureau members that President Trump is hurting farmers through his tariffs and rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
“The damage that is being done to Missouri agriculture is inexcusable,” said McCaskill. “This is not temporary pain. This is permanent damage to markets.”
Hawley mentioned that President Trump had encouraged him to run for the Senate seat and often aligned himself with the administration’s priority of deregulation. At one point, he promised to break apart federal agencies such as the EPA.
“We need to completely and fundamentally rewrite the administrative state’s ability to put rules on you and on our farmers all across the state,” Hawley said. “Dismantling this unelected bureaucracy will be one of my top priorities if I’m elected.”
Hawley made several other bold pronouncements to the gathered group of farmers. He said he would attempt to abolish the Senate practice of allowing filibusters while criticizing McCaskill and her Democratic colleagues for blocking President Trump’s nominees for government posts.
He also criticized McCaskill for failing to endorse a plan from the Trump administration to add a citizenship question on the 2020 census. “If we don’t ask who is a citizen and who’s not, we’re going to lose electoral votes and political clout in this state to California, and to these other states,” said Hawley. “I don’t know how a Senator from Missouri can support that position.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is currently suing the Trump administration, arguing that the question would make noncitizens reluctant to participate in the census.
Hawley also defended President Trump’s tariffs as he has while campaigning across the state recently. The Audience of Missouri farmers did not respond negatively to that support as have other farmers, including at some McCaskill campaign stops.
Farm Bureau members chose to quiz McCaskill about her opposition to the tariffs. McCaskill defended the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in response to one member’s claim that nothing has worked to make China trade fairly with the U.S.
“TPP was close, because do you know what TPP was going to do? It was going to cut China out and it was going to give us a dominant standing in Asia,” said McCaskill. “And guess what China is doing now? Trying to get into TPP because we got out.”
McCaskill defended herself when criticized over her vote against Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch and said she would ask the current nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, about dark money, health care protections and corporate consolidation.
She said $50-$70 million of dark money would be spent on the Senate race, acknowledging that a portion of it would be directed to help her campaign.
Hawley stressed the importance of building the border wall President Trump has demanded. He fielded one critical question about the need for migrant farm workers, which he said could be addressed through the country’s visa program.
Both Hawley and McCaskill were given a half hour to speak to and interact with Missouri Farm Bureau members. Trustees who were selected by their county farm bureau associations then voted resoundingly to endorse Hawley.