Senate OKs agriculture head

Friday, May 11, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:08 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Although Democrats questioned the qualifications of Gov. Matt Blunt’s nominee to run the state Agriculture Department, a Senate committee signed off on her appointment Wednesday.

Blunt last week nominated Katie Smith, 29, of Platte City, to replace former director Fred Ferrell. Ferrell was forced to resign in February after a lawsuit made public allegations that he had sexually harassed an employee.

Smith grew up on a Platte County farm where corn, soybeans, tobacco and cattle were raised, but Democrats questioned whether she meets the state law requiring the director to be a “practical farmer.” They also questioned whether Smith was brought in to divert attention from the harassment allegations.

“You’re not a farmer,” said Senate Minority Leader Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis. “We’re never going to reach the level of equality for men and women or any other race if we make exceptions, because we’re trying to distract people from an issue or a culture of what many people believe was intimidation.”

Smith most recently was a deputy assistant secretary in the federal Energy Department. She also has worked on agriculture issues for Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent.

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