Legislature, Defend Yourself

A crowd of more than 100 supporters of family farms gathered at the steps of the state Capitol in Bismarck, North Dakota 3-27-2015 for a rally supporting North Dakota small farms and protesting the recent loosening of the state's anti-corporate farming law by the legislature. The rally was organized by the North Dakota Farmers Union. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

During the 2013 legislative session state lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment reforming the manner in which the North Dakota University System is governed.

The amendment was placed on the November ballot in 2014 because state law requires that all constitutional amendments be ratified by a popular vote. It failed with an almost 75 percent “no” vote after lawmakers did almost nothing to campaign for the amendment. Apologists for the status quo in higher education organized a campaign in opposition, but for the most part state lawmakers were silent.

Beyond a missed opportunity for sound reform for higher education, lawmakers didn’t do themselves any favors by putting on the ballot the question of a constitutional amendment they couldn’t be bothered to defend.

…it would crack open the door to doing some aspects of agriculture in North Dakota as if we weren’t still living under the Hoover administration.

Now, in the 2016 cycle, the lawmakers are doing it again. In addition to a hotly contested  race for the NDGOP’s gubernatorial nomination there is also another law passed by the Legislature, this one put on the ballot by referendum.

It’s called Measure 1 (read it here) and it would allow the ownership or leasing of up to 640 acres of land for the operation of a dairy farm or swine production facility by a domestic corporation or limited liability company. Or, in other words, it would crack open the door to doing some aspects of agriculture in North Dakota as if we weren’t still living under the Hoover administration.

Referring the measure is the North Dakota Farmer’s Union which paid to gather signatures to put the issue on the ballot and has now raised over $1 million to convince North Dakota voters to veto the law.

Because nothing says family farm populism like deep-pocketed political interests throwing their weight around.

What’s frustrating is that proponents of the referred law are nowhere in evidence. The law passed with a majority in the Legislature. It was signed by Governor Jack Dalrymple. Now these people can’t be bothered to make an affirmative case for the law now that it’s being referred? Why should voters defend a law when its creators will not?

The North Dakota Farm Bureau has been making a token effort in defense, but given that a) the group harbors lingering resentment against Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring after the backed a primary challenger against him in 2014 and b) Goehring is a big proponent of the referred law they’re not doing a whole lot.

Word in political circles is that the Farm Bureau is planning on challenging North Dakota’s corporate farming law in court should the referendum succeed. Given that similar lawsuits in other states have been successful they stand a pretty good chance. And that’s as it should be.

I cannot fathom a good reason why American citizens cannot organize themselves into non-familial business models to farm and ranch.

It would be nice if our lawmakers who passed this law could be stirred from their between-session apathy to make that case.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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