Candidates for Missouri governor answered questions last week at a Farm Bureau gathering in Osage Beach.

While Democratic attorney general Chris Koster sought to distinguish himself from the four Republican candidates for Missouri governor during a question-and-answer session last Sunday during the Missouri Farm Bureau gubernatorial forum in Osage Beach, it became apparent he shared similar views with them on some agriculture issues.

It was the first such event Koster has attended with all the Republican candidates and featured an audience of roughly 300 who gathered to hear the candidates answer preselected questions from the Farm Bureau and random questions from members picked in advance.

Koster said he’s been an advocate for farmers during his time as an elected official, describing action he’s taken against a California regulation on the living conditions of chickens, lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency and other suits against federal regulations.

“If I have overwhelmed you with detail, it is because I want to show you the difference between candidates who come with broad statements, and one who has rolled up his sleeves for Missouri agriculture for the last 10 years,” he said.

The forum offered a glimpse into how Koster, who served as a state Senate Republican before switching parties in 2007, might try to set himself apart from candidates in the GOP field of four. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is barred from seeking re-election because of term limits. Koster is the only Democrat who has announced plans to run.

Suburban St. Louis businessman John Brunner, former Navy SEAL officer Eric Greitens, former U.S. attorney and state House speaker Catherine Hanaway and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder are running as Republicans. Kinder is the only GOP candidate to have held a statewide elected office, while Greitens and Brunner both tout their lack of political experience as favorable.

Like Koster, Kinder emphasized his experience in office, pointing out that he recently spoke out against plans to use lead settlement money to create a new state park hours from areas directly damaged by lead mining.

“I have been in the thick of that fight,” Kinder said.

Hanaway focused more on what her priorities would be if elected, including making Missouri the “No. 1 agribusiness state” by pitching state agriculture internationally and trying to woo new businesses to the state.

But on certain issues, Koster and the Republicans took similar stances. Koster sided with the GOP candidates in decrying an idea to make the Department of Agriculture director, now appointed by the governor, an elected position.

Koster and others said doing so would politicize the position.

All five also said they’d fight policies pushed by out-of-state activists that could harm farmers, although Koster shied away from the strong denunciations his GOP rivals had of animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States.

Greitens said such groups were “not just trying to make farming more difficult and more expensive. They’re trying to put you out of business.”

Brunner called for stronger legislation against such “extremist” groups. He said he’d do everything in his power to protect property rights.

Koster instead said the Humane Society “has proven that they can generate bad decisions for Missouri agriculture.” He said it’s a governor’s job to be “loud and strong at these moments” to convince urban residents in particular why agriculture is important to the state’s economy.

The Republican primary is in August 2016. The general election will be held in November.

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