The (stock) show must go on

By Michael Avery

For nearly a century, Oklahoma City has hosted a junior livestock show each spring where youth from across the state display the best farm animals their generation has to offer in hopes of winning college scholarships and other prizes. Presently, this show, which is commonly referred to as the “Youth Expo” and billed as the World’s Largest Junior Livestock Show, is operated by Oklahoma Youth Exposition, Inc. (OYE), an Oklahoma City-based not-for-profit corporation.

OYE and its predecessors have historically received a portion of the funding necessary to operate the Youth Expo and pay for the scholarships awarded there pursuant to contracts with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF). This January, however, State Representative Mike Reynolds filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate OYE’s contracts with ODAFF and require OYE to pay back some of the money it has received from the state. This request was premised on Rep. Reynolds’ assertion that ODAFF’s contracts with OYE did not assist the state in achieving a properly recognized public purpose.

Oklahoma County District Court Judge Bryan Dixon recently declined Representative Reynolds’ request for relief, awarding summary judgment to OYE and the State of Oklahoma. Judge Dixon concluded that the contracts at issue “clearly” assist the State in achieving the public purpose of “encourage[ing]… the youth of this State to participate in agriculture-related activities.” In so ruling, Judge Dixon allowed the State’s long-standing tradition of supporting stock shows to persevere.

As Attorney General Scott Pruitt recently explained in response to an inquiry from State Senator Patrick Anderson, in recognition of “the importance of agriculture to Oklahoma’s economy, the Legislature has historically supported agricultural education and outreach provided by local fairs.” This support has materialized, most notably, through the enactment of a series of statutes that, among other things, permit counties to create free fair associations to operate stock shows at which premiums are awarded, permit the State Board of Agriculture to utilize funds to support county fairs, and permit county commissioners across the state to pay premiums to participants in certain livestock shows operated by private companies.

On behalf of McAfee & Taft’s Ag & Equine Industry Group, Jeff Todd and I thank the Oklahoma Youth Exposition for allowing us to assist them in ensuring that the state’s support for the stock show will continue.