By Grant Schulte
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman criticized the Humane Society of the United States on Monday, saying he would fight any efforts by its lobbyists to push legislation that could hinder Nebraska's agricultural industry.
The Humane Society of the United States opened an office in Omaha last year. A group spokesman has said the new office and state issues director in Nebraska were intended to help small farmers gain access to markets traditionally dominated by larger operations.
But Heineman, a Republican, said he did not trust the group's intentions.
"I don't think there's any question the Humane Society of the United States is interested in a very left-leaning political agenda," Heineman told reporters in a conference call. "We don't support it in the state."
He added: "If they want to come to Nebraska, we're going to fight them every step of the way."
Some rural lawmakers and agriculture groups have voiced concern that the Humane Society of the United States may try to push for stricter livestock regulations, or a statewide animal-welfare ballot initiative. The group has introduced 44 ballot issues nationwide since 1990, including a successful effort in Missouri last year to place limits on puppy mills. It has never submitted one in Nebraska.
The Humane Society of the United States met with the Nebraska Farmers Union over the weekend to discuss their agricultural interests. Some Farmers Union members have expressed skepticism about the Humane Society's intentions.
Joe Maxwell, the Humane Society's rural development and outreach director, said group leaders would happily to meet with Heineman to discuss their agenda. Maxwell said the group has 11 million members nationwide, including 51,000 in Nebraska.
"We're disappointed he's not willing to even discuss these issues," said Maxwell, a pig farmer and former Democratic Missouri lieutenant governor. "We're uncertain what his base for distrust is. We're working for the good of independent farmers."
Heineman made the comments in response to a question about a $100,000 state grant that Attorney General Jon Bruning awarded to a new farming coalition, "We Support Agriculture."
The coalition - founded by the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Pork Producers and Nebraska State Dairy Association - was created to highlight the positive aspects of farming. On its website, the group pledges to defend responsible farming practices "from attacks by outside animal rights extremist groups."
Some Democratic lawmakers have said they have no problems with the group, but questioned whether it was appropriate to award state money from an environmental fund. Money in the account comes from settlements with state regulators over environmental violations.
Heineman held the phone conference with reporters to announce dates for the 2012 Governor's Ag Conference.
The annual conference is set for Feb. 15 and 16 in Kearney, with a focus on challenges today and opportunities ahead. The conference will include Willow Holoubek from the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska, Dawn Caldwell from Common Ground Nebraska and Pete McClymont with We Support Agriculture.
Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach told The Associated Press that farmers are especially interested in how the upcoming U.S. farm bill will affect federally subsidized crop insurance policies.
"Crop insurance has turned into the talked-about issue as far as the farm bill," Ibach said. "There are a lot of questions about how Congress may fund that."
John Doggett, a senior research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, will also discuss Nebraska's farming role in the global economy.