- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island Farm Bureau said Tuesday it won’t send a delegation to an agricultural conference in Albany next month because of “disturbing and insensitive” comments by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said “extreme conservatives” weren’t welcome in the state.

The non-governmental group’s board voted last month against sending any members to a conference for Northeast farm bureaus after Cuomo in a radio interview described “extreme conservatives” as pro-assault weapons, against abortion and anti-gay and said they “have no place” in New York.

The Rhode Island bureau, which has around 500 members, indicated it feels the comments fly in the face of policies adopted by the American Farm Bureau that it has also embraced, including on guns, abortion and gay marriage.

“Most, if not all, of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau members would fit the definition of ‘extreme conservatives’ as defined by the governor,” President Bill Stamp Jr. said in a letter Tuesday to the New York Farm Bureau relaying the board’s decision. “And, since Gov. Cuomo was so explicit in his desire to rid the state of New York of anyone who does not share his liberal views, we feel compelled to accommodate his wishes.”

A message left with Cuomo’s office was not immediately returned.

The New York Farm Bureau said in a statement it respected the Rhode Island affiliate’s right to express its opinion but wished it hadn’t chosen attendance at the national group’s own regional conference as the avenue for doing so in this case.

The Democratic governor made the remarks in discussing the Republican Party and its candidates, saying it was divided between moderates and “extreme conservatives.” Cuomo’s attorney wrote in a subsequent letter to The New York Post that the governor believes in diversity of opinion and was making the point that New York is a politically moderate state where “an extremist agenda” isn’t viable statewide.

Stamp said in an interview the American Farm Bureau has long championed freedom and what he called family values. Delegates to the national group’s annual meeting adopt resolutions on a range of issues, most of them agricultural. But the group also takes stances on social issues.

The 2014 policy book cites opposition to “more stringent gun control laws” and limiting the rights of citizens to purchase or possess guns, as well as to “funding for abortion.” In a section titled “Family and Moral Responsibility,” it also says, “A family should be defined as persons who are related by blood, marriage between male and female or legal adoption.”

Spokesman Mace Thornton called the American Farm Bureau a “big tent organization” and said it considers its diversity, including on thoughts about public policies, a strength. He declined to comment specifically on the Rhode Island group’s decision.

Rhode Island Bureau Executive Director Al Bettencourt said six to eight people from the state likely would have attended the conference in Albany. It’s a leadership gathering for all state farm bureaus in the Northeast region, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, among others.

Bettencourt said of Cuomo’s comments, “It kind of flies in the face of free speech. I would think the governor would want to have people from all walks of life come to New York and support his economy.”

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