CHILLICOTHE, Mo. – State Rep. Rusty Black is running to represent Missouri Senate District 12 in northwest Missouri on a platform of bolstering agriculture and pursuing education reform.
As a lifelong northwest Missourian, Black grew up on family farms in Andrew and Gentry counties and understood the importance of agriculture in the area at a young age. Devoting nearly his entire professional life to farming and cultivation, Black now runs his own family farm in Livingston County, has a master’s degree in Agriculture Education, and taught the subject for over 30 years at Nodaway-Holt R-7 and Chillicothe R-2 school districts.
“A lot of people don’t think that there’s a constant threat on [agriculture] and there’s all kinds of ways to point your finger and say, ‘Ag did this wrong’ or ‘Ag did that wrong,’” Black said about the increased scrutiny on farmers in the name of environmentalism.
“But the fact is, there’s not many of those producers out here, and they’re feeding a hell of a lot of people. And then they get targeted because somebody takes a picture somewhere and tells us how bad we are.”
Black also emphasized the issues that come with the wide population disparity in northern Missouri compared to the rest of the state. Out of 34 total state senators in Missouri, only two represent the northern portion of the state, due to its dispersed population.
The widely scattered population is one of the main reasons Black has pledged his support for an open-enrollment bill proposed by state Rep. Brad Pollitt. Open enrollment would allow students in failing public schools to attend better schools in their area without having to live in the school’s district.
Certain procedures must be followed and qualifications met in order for students to do so, but open enrollment has been a universally supported policy among school choice advocates for some time.
“Here’s the part about open enrollment nobody talks about,” Black says. “We co-opt sports all over northern Missouri ‘cause we’ve lost kids. Even just putting together an eight-man football team, [schools] have to join together to do that. Why can’t we do that with some career tech education classes? Maybe every school has the bare minimum in math ‘cause they can’t afford more. And maybe three or four schools come together and figure out some system where they can do that.
“At the same time, I’m not saying I think every school is doing [badly]. But I do think there’s a difference between providing opportunities for kids, compared to providing them the minimum the state requires.”
Not only does the lack of population density in northwestern Missouri cause schools to lose students and resources, but Black says it also restricts the ability to provide solutions to the actual issues brought on by the scattered population.
“There’s 58 schools in the district and my goal is to not close any of them. My goal is to try to provide opportunities to as many kids as we can and work with our current public school system. But in all reality, we’re probably not going to have other options because there aren’t enough people out here for kids to have many options.
“We need to think a little different. We do need to get better in these ways. I hope this bill will help get [schools] to think about cooperating and doing stuff in collaboration to improve opportunities for kids and provide those things so the kids don’t want to go somewhere else.”
Black also assures voters he considers policy and legislation independently of peer pressure or external incentives, and said he’ll do the same if he’s elected to the state Senate.
“I’m not really worried about being on anybody’s team,” Black said with a chuckle. “The first guy that walks through my door and pats me on the back, they’re not going to get my undying attention and loyalty.
“If somebody says, ‘Rusty Black, you either support me, or this happens.’ I’m probably going to choose ‘or this.’ I’ve always been that way.”
When asked why he decided to run for state Senate after being term-limited in the House, Black cited his lifelong ties to the area.
“I’m from here. My dad was born in Holt County, my wife’s dad was born in Holt County. My grandparents both ended up in Andrew County, and that’s where our farms were at. I taught Ag here and graduated high school in Gentry County. So it’s another chance to serve here.
“I’ve been in all these places that this area represents, so my wife and I made the decision. I’ll hopefully represent [constituents] in a way that will make them proud. But if it happens, it happens. And if not, God has decided that’s not what he wants me to do.”
Black is the outgoing chairman of the House Rural Development Committee and serves on the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. He is running to replace term-limited state Sen. Dan Hegeman, and will face off against Delus Johnson and fellow state Rep. J. Eggleston in the Aug. 2 primary.