Rancher Sue Selman Opposes SQ777

Sue Selman is a third-generation rancher from Harper County, Oklahoma and runs Selman Ranch. The following appeared in the Woodward News regarding State Question 777:

My name is Sue Selman and I live on a centennial ranch in Harper County. I love Oklahoma and our western lifestyle, which includes farming and ranching. At the same time I am aware that our rural way of life has been challenged by radical groups like the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and others. 

With this in mind, I want to address the issue of State Question 777, which will supposedly protect us from these groups.  I feel the need to discuss this because I am adamantly opposed to SQ777. I have farming and ranching friends and neighbors that I love and respect and I want them to understand my position on this very important state question.

First, let’s look at the wording of SQ777. It says “to protect agriculture as a vital sector of Oklahoma’s economy, which provides food, energy, health benefits and security and is the foundation and stabilizing force of Oklahoma’s economy, the rights of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

All of us who farm or ranch love such strong, emotional language. My son and I raise cattle, so obviously we want farming and ranching to flourish for years to come. This is cleverly written and definitely appealing to people of the soil.

It’s a heart-warming sentiment, and there’s nothing wrong with any of what’s been said thus far. It’s the last sentence that’s the real problem. The concluding sentence changes a positive message into something that I feel could become a long-term nightmare for rural Oklahomans.

The conclusion says “the Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.” This grants protection to not only small farming and ranching interests, but also to huge international corporations that rarely play fair when it comes to protecting Oklahoma’s soil, air and water. Essentially, why should we give any industry freedom from the laws needed to regulate it?

There is a great deal of controversy concerning who actually wrote SQ777, because there is similar language in bills introduced in other states. Many suspect all these similar bills were authored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded by big corporations including Monsanto. At this point, what’s most important is the consequences our state could suffer if 777 should pass.

It’s my belief that SQ777 is cleverly written, and that only lawyers will be able to ascertain the potential consequences. Among the most controversial language in 777 is the phrase “compelling state interest.” Gary Buckner, senior vice-president at the Oklahoma Farm Bureau has said publicly that he wishes that language was not in the legislation. To quote Ron Suttles, formerly of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and now board chair of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma, “777 would prohibit the people of Oklahoma from regulating a single industry: corporate agriculture. No other industry has a constitutional exemption from legislative oversight.“

I’ve seen the power of international corporations and felt the wrath of lawyers with seemingly limitless budgets. We’re a rural state, a place where blue-collar folks still work the land much like their parents and grandparents did. In the eyes of corporate agriculture, that makes us naive, susceptible to gimmicky language and open to self-serving laws — or the lack thereof — a vacuum that allow corporations to operate with impunity.

Remember: SQ777 isn’t just a new law! This is an amendment to our state constitution, another maneuver that displays the deviousness of the authors. Once embedded in the constitution, it will be almost impossible to change. The “compelling state interest” clause would give the agricultural industry the constitutional freedom to operate as they please, regulated only if they are found in violations of someone’s constitutional rights. If an individual has an issue with a problematic agriculture operation, they would be forced to plead their case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, most likely at great expense. In addition, if the defendant is a big corporation with millions of dollars to spend, then an average citizen of this state would not stand a chance.

If you follow the money to determine who stands to benefit the most from SQ777, the answer is always big corporate agriculture. International corporate interests have the funds to lobby both locally and in Washington, D.C., so just because a state senator promotes 777 doesn’t mean it is actually good for small ranchers and farmers.

I personally want family agricultural operations protected from radical legislation introduced by groups that can’t comprehend what we do or why we do it. And I deplore the fact that ranching and farming comes under attack from simple-minded radicals who can’t understand that sound agricultural practices result in a stronger nation; therefore, please give me better, more specific legislation and I will fight for it.

In Oklahoma, our rural areas still maintain a quality of life that other states have lost forever. We have beautiful sunsets and breathable air, creeks with clean water and fish for grandkids to catch. Our cows eat good grass and our ponds can double as old-fashioned swimming holes. We can drink coffee on the back porch and listen to quail whistle or watch deer make their way through the dew.

If somebody tries to destroy that quality of life, we can still fight to block their efforts, either legislatively or in court. But if 777 passes, all we’ll be able to do is watch. Watch the creeks turn to poison. Watch the birds die off. That’s not the Oklahoma I want to leave to my grandchildren.

Let’s continue to farm and ranch with a conscience, be good neighbors and leave something sustainable for the future. Farming and ranching tends to look a lot different from a corporate boardroom than it does from a pickup truck or a tractor. Those folks live for their quarterly dividends. Those of us with roots in Oklahoma still live for the land and the blessings it bestows.

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