McKee Attempts to Distract Hemp Movement with a Song and Dance

McKee favors cops over Kentucky hempGive ‘Em the Old Razzle Dazzle

Wednesday was a day full of excitement on the Kentucky hemp front. It was also a day of learning, where hemp enthusiasts got a first hand look at the theatrics which often go unnoticed in Frankfort. For full effect, you may want to play this while you consider the following

The main player in the drama? Rep Tom McKee, Chairman of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, who attempted to single-handedly derail the push for licensing hemp farmers. However, his shenanigans and blatant disregard for the people of Kentucky has turned out to be a big mistake on his part. The hearing was dedicated entirely to Senate Bill 50, which had already flown through the Senate with much celebration and an overwhelming 31-6 bipartisan vote in favor.

The day started out wonderfully well. The committee hearing was held bright and early at 8AM, a difficult time for most average citizens and hemp supporters to attend. Even so, pro-hemp, pro-jobs supporters gathered in such numbers that they spilled out in the hallway and had to be removed to an overflow room. The atmosphere was buzzing with energy, media and bloggers turned out in droves to cover the hearing, and even the legislators seemed enthusiastic about the big day ahead of them.

Give ‘Em the Old Hocus Pocus

As the hearing began, Chairman McKee read the “Order of the Day,” or the specific agenda which would be under consideration. Much to the surprise of hemp activists, who watched as Senate Bill 50 sailed unanimously through the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chairman McKee announced that the House Ag Committee would only hear a “discussion” of the bill, but would not be voting on Senate Bill 50 at all! Instead of voting on this bill, which has enormous public support, Chairman McKee announced that he would be presenting a last minute committee substitute in place of Senate Bill 50. The substitute was to be voted on, but not the original! (I will get into the committee substitute and why it is wrong on so many levels–in a later post. It will take an entire post to discuss the sub and how we’re already miles beyond what the committee substitute would have us do.)

How Can They Hear the Truth Above the Roar?

Nevertheless, the meeting began and the first testimony came from Major Anthony Terry of the Kentucky State Police. Major Terry represents the Kentucky State Police on the Industrial Hemp Commission. His statements mirrored those of KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer, including his claim that hemp growers could somehow ingest enough industrial hemp to get high, and also that distinguishing hemp from marijuana would be “too hard” for KSP. His testimony was met with several tough questions from several legislators on the panel. Chairman McKee, skipping over hemp-supporting legislators, entertained questioning from legislators who he had pegged as “nays.” As it turned out, all of the legislators who were given a chance to speak were strongly in favor of hemp, as was clear by their pointed questions and passionate statements regarding hemp.

McKee was as surprised as we were to learn that many legislators who were pegged as being on the fence were already well educated and enthusiastic about the possibility of opening up a new market for farmers. Representatives Heath, DeCesare, Riner, Bechler, and Bell all questioned the State Police’s intentions and were very intent on proving that Senate Bill 50 would cover all of law enforcement’s concerns. Representative Jonathan Shell gave an impassioned dialogue about supporting this bill, stating that he was “baffled” by the State Police’s refusal to support Senate Bill 50 and this crop. Representative Ryan Quarles even related a story of his grandfather, who grew hemp to support his sons in World War II. Representative Richard Henderson, who represents Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo on the Industrial Hemp Commission and who sponsored hemp legislation last year, asked very direct and uncomfortable questions regarding the use of taxpayer money to fund the State Police’s eradication efforts. His questions were clearly intended to dig into how that money was really spent, and especially whether that eradication money was used to fund anyone’s salary. Very uncomfortable questions indeed.

All of these legislators made fantastic arguments in favor of Senate Bill 50, and the pro-hemp testimonies hadn’t even been heard yet! State Police and their allies were making our case for us, and blowing holes into their own arguments right before our eyes! And the legislators seemed to smell blood because the comments and questions that had arisen spontaneously from these lawmakers couldn’t have been scripted any better. They made the case for hemp because their eyes have been opened to the truth! It was as though they had channeled Kentucky farmers into their tough interrogation! Once Major Terry and his associates were finished, the hemp lobby moved in for the kill. At least that’s how it looked to the casual observer….

Give ‘Em the Old Three Ring Circus

As the pro-hemp players moved into position, the tension in the room was quite palpable. It was obvious that most of the audience in attendance were in favor of Senate Bill 50, and everyone waited, hardly breathing, to hear what would be said. Senator Paul Hornback stated his case as a farmer and businessman, and explained the importance of diversifying for Kentucky farmers. He encouraged competition between farmers and was very clear that any improvements in the realm of agriculture had far reaching values that could not be quantified in terms of just dollars and cents. Each and every opportunity for one farmer opens up doors for other farmers to fill in the gaps. And every time a farmer makes a progressive move, it allows other farmers to follow suit!

Next up to bat for the pro-jobs team was Senator Robin Webb. Her testimony was extremely powerful and inspiring, quoting Galatians 6:9, which just so happened to be the testimonial which popped up that morning on her daily testimonial iPhone app; “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” How appropriate, when the next speaker was to be Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, yet another lifelong farmer who wants to see hemp grown in Kentucky. Comer continued to make the same reasoned arguments about Senate Bill 50. The bill does nothing to actually legalize hemp, it only sets up a regulatory framework to license and grow hemp once the federal government gets out of the way.

Batting cleanup for the pro-hemp, pro-jobs Senate Bill 50 was John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva, a company which imports and sells hemp seeds and oil for human consumption. His products are now sold in several major box stores, as well as online, making it one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. Nutiva actually broke $38 million in sales last year, and expects to beat that by $15-20 million in 2013. Yet the number one expense for him when importing these products from Canada are logistics and transportation! Just imagine how much money he could save by getting his hemp from American farmers! Money that could be spent on hiring new employees, adding benefits to existing employees, or opening up facilities right here in Kentucky! Armed with shelled hemp seed and hemp oil, John Roulac made his case for the rapidly expanding markets for hemp. He is now the second major industry CEO to fly all the way from California to show support in Kentucky for a movement that would provide their company with organic, high quality hemp seeds and oil. The first was Dr David Bronner, CEO of Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps, who not only came to show support, but who also donated $50,000 to jump start the hemp movement in Kentucky.

Throw ‘Em A Fake And A Finagle

McKee finally pulled what seemed to be the final ace from his sleeve, calling upon Representative Rita Smart from Madison County to ask redundant questions and run out the clock. Rep Smart certainly did her job well, although it was confusing to the members in the audience because Madison County is highly rural. We all expected that Representatives from rural counties would want to do what is best for the people of their district rather than follow the political motives of a few high ranking politicians. Nevertheless, Rep Smart succeeded in running out the clock….and as chairman McKee attempted to end the meeting, Rep Jim DeCesare from Bowling Green swooped into action!

Rep DeCesare, whose expertise in parliamentary procedure has not gone unnoticed among the grassroots, quickly made a motion to vote on Senate Bill 50 as it was originally written. Numerous “seconds” to his motion erupted from the legislative panel, and it seemed that the hemp bill was going to come up for an honest vote! However, Chairman McKee tap danced his way to the top, calling out Rep DeCesare for supposedly being out of order, while in fact, McKee himself was out of order. Typically in parliamentary procedure, if there is a motion and a second, the motion must get a vote. But not in the political theater that is Frankfort, and certainly not on McKee’s watch! Chairman McKee insisted that he would not allow for a vote on SB50, and although Reps Jim DeCesare and Steven Rudy tried valiantly to overcome the “prerogative of the chair,” they were unsuccessful.

When You’re in Trouble, Go Into Your Dance

Much to the dismay of the crowd, Chairman McKee made his final attempt to call the meeting to a close. When he tried to adjourn the meeting, boos erupted from the audience, and McKee made a grand pirouette, calling for a recess of the hearing, rather than adjourning without a vote. He asked the rest of the legislators to come back at the end of the day to continue the discussion, and to then vote on HIS committee substitute, although it was clear that his sub would be voted down. Because nobody was interested in his committee sub, several of the legislators tried to get a straight answer from McKee. They asked him if they did return for a later hearing, and the committee sub WAS voted down, would they then be allowed to vote on Senate Bill 50 as it was originally written? McKee stammered with a great “divertissement” and said that he simply did not know. How could he? His handlers had not yet told him what to do, so for the moment, the hemp bill was pushed off and the hearing was to be reconvened at a later time that afternoon.

Show ‘Em the First Rate Sorcerer You Are

After the hearing, several lawmakers from the Agriculture Committee, as well as James Comer, Senators Robin Webb and Paul Hornback, and several members of the KY Industrial Hemp Commission descended on another room to address the media and answer questions about the fiasco that had just occurred. Many legislators felt that politics was clearly the issue at hand, not so much the law enforcement concerns or lack of research or markets. As it seemed to all in attendance, Chairman Tom McKee would be retiring to his office to await further instructions on how to continue to hoodwink the population.

CN2, the Courier Journal, and the Herald Leader covered the hearing and press conference very well, and links to there coverage can be found here, here, and here.

After the hearing and press conference were over, many Hemp Commission members as well as Agriculture Department staff and legislators all waited patiently for 4:30 to come along. This was the time that Chairman McKee had slated for the hearing to be continued. However, in an act of complete defiance, Chairman McKee, adjourned the meeting on the floor of the House of Representatives. This was a rude and inconsiderate way to appease Greg Stumbo, and McKee’s final attempt of the day to stall the hemp movement. However, as Chairman McKee will soon learn, a tidal wave cannot be stopped by a few well-placed sand bags. No matter how deeply rooted those sand bags are, it will take a lot more than political song and dance to stop this movement, which is fast approaching it’s crescendo. At that point, when the tide of grassroots supporters, political activists, and the horde of good legislators have reached their full-blown proportions, Tom McKee, Greg Stumbo, and Rodney Brewer will learn what can happen when a few tiny dancers stand in the way of an avalanche.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The hearing and day’s events of Wednesday, February 27th were just one small battle in the war to save our family farms. However, even that battle is not over yet. There is still a chance that we can get an honest vote on Senate Bill 50, amid the dishonest games being played on the backs of the people. Hemp activists and supporters should continue to call the Legislative Hotline and continue to leave messages in support of Senate Bill 50 as it was originally written. The number is 800-372-7181 and the message should be “please support Senate Bill 50 in its original form.” If you are a farmer, tell them you want to grow hemp. If you are a teacher, tell them you want to educate your children about agriculture. If you are an entrepreneur, tell them you want to start a hemp business. Whatever your angle, let Tom McKee and the Ag Committee know that you are in favor of industrial hemp.

Sheriffs must continue to be educated by their constituents. City councils and fiscal courts should continue to be asked to pass resolutions in favor of industrial hemp. And as always, hemp enthusiasts should continue the education process of speaking with farmers, friends, and family and telling them the truth behind all the lies. The tide is most definitely turning in our favor. It won’t be long before those few politicians will lose footing in the sandy quagmire on which they have built their political careers. And I can assure you that the Kentucky Hemp Commission will continue to move forward, bringing innovation, markets, and education to the Bluegrass, so that we can once again be the leaders in a crop which is our heritage and was once our lifeblood.

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