Both sides in the debate over State Question 777 — the so-called Right to Farm proposal — have been guilty of excesses in their arguments.
The proponents have suggested that only a state constitutional measure could shield cherished rural values of decent working farmers from the meddling hands of bureaucrats and lunatic eco-extremists.
The opponents have claimed that, were the measure to pass, almost any imaginable cruelty — up to and including ramming a steel rod down a puppy’s throat to “debark” it — would become legal and have the same protection as free speech in Oklahoma.
We don’t think either nightmare scenario is likely, and chalk up the exaggerated rhetoric to the need to get voters excited ... and the desire to raise money.
A rational review of SQ 777 comes to these conclusions: It solves no pressing problem in the state, and it could create some.
The measure would prevent future state and local regulation on farming and livestock activities unless the state has a compelling state interest, a very high legal standard shared by basic civil rights. Rules that were on the books before Dec. 31, 2014, and regulations in several areas — trespassing laws, for example — are exempt.
It wouldn’t wipe animal cruelty laws off the books. Neither would it effectively protect the lifestyles of grandpa’s farm. In fact, the measure would give enormous legal protections to big-time corporate agriculture, which is a greater threat to the iconic homestead than the Legislature.
Agriculture remains an amazingly powerful interest group at the state Capitol, and Exhibit A is the legislative vote to put SQ 777 on the ballot in the first place. Frankly, farmers have little to fear from state lawmakers messing with their business.
And when that’s not true, shouldn’t the people through their elected representatives, be able to regulate an industry that affects land, water and food? You say the state shouldn’t regulate those things. Why not?
The first rule of constitutional amendments should be: First, do no harm, and in its potential for unintended consequences — especially in the state’s ability to protect its own environment — we fear harm in SQ 777.
Farming is very important, but SQ 777 doesn’t solve any real Oklahoma problems, and its potential to create new problems in the future makes it bad policy.