Originally posted in The Columbia Tribune on March 19, 2019.
Half of Missourians would likely vote against lawmakers who seek to repeal Amendment 1, the ethics and redistricting initiative approved by voters in November and under attack in the General Assembly, according to a new poll commissioned by backers of the amendment.
The poll conducted in late February by ALG Research asked a series of questions about the four major elements of Amendment 1. The least popular, with only 56 percent favorable, was the provision replacing a redistricting commission with a state demographer to design districts for 163 Missouri House seats and 34 state Senate seats. Gov. Mike Parson has called on lawmakers to repeal that provision.
The most popular, with 93 percent favorable, was the requirement that lawmakers’ records be subject to the state Sunshine Law.
“I think what the poll shows is that support remains very strong for the Amendment 1 package and its individual provisions,” said Sean Nicholson of the Clean Missouri coalition. “Voters sent a message. The other piece is that voters are extraordinarily skeptical and unhappy with politicians who are trying to undo what they just passed.”
Amendment 1 has resulted in more than a dozen legislative proposals to alter its rules or make it more difficult for other groups to offer initiatives through the petition process. The most advanced is a bill changing the state Open Meetings and Records Law. The bill, passed in the House, would close records that have cell numbers, home addresses or Social Security numbers of individuals; records of communication between elected officials and constituents and records of communications from any party with “advice, opinions and recommendations” about matters before the official.
The Missouri House changed its rules in January to close constituent files and records of legislative caucus deliberations.
That bill “significantly undermines the Sunshine Law,” state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia said.
“I think that people should be aware and should be concerned about ongoing attempts to undo provisions in Clean Missouri,” Kendrick said.
Amendment 1 received 62 percent of the vote in November and the poll found 61 percent of those surveyed support it. The poll also found 53 percent of those surveyed have a favorable view of President Donald Trump. The highest support for Amendment 1, 72 percent, was among Democrats, while 49 percent of Republicans viewed it favorably.
Amendment 1 put a $5 cap on lobbyist gifts and imposed a two-year wait on lawmakers becoming lobbyists after leaving office.
It changed the redistricting process by creating the position of state demographer and having the state auditor submit names of candidates for the job to legislative leaders. Districts are supposed to have partisan balance as well as be compact and cross as few political and natural boundaries as possible.
Prior to the passage of Amendment 1, correspondence and other records kept by individual lawmakers were exempt from the Sunshine Law.
In the state Senate, GOP members are most concerned about the redistricting provisions and the strongest push is to raise the bar for placing initiatives on the ballot, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said Wednesday.
“I don’t want to repeal anything and I don’t think any of my colleagues do,” he said.
Rowden said he has been working with representatives of the Missouri Press Association to make changes to the Sunshine Law that are reasonable. The redistricting provisions are generating the most concern, he said.
Legislative districts are redrawn after every census. Because the districts are used for 10 years, they should be fair, Rowden said.
“We want to make sure going into this next round of redistricting that voters are very clear,” he said.
Along with requiring more signatures for initiatives, some proposals also seek to increase the required majority, currently 50 percent, for passing constitutional amendments. That would be a good idea, Rowden said, and it should apply to amendments proposed in the General Assembly as well.
“It should be somewhat difficult to change our state constitution,” he said.
Because it is incorporated into the state constitution, any changes to the Amendment 1 provisions must also be approved by voters, Rowden said.
The poll isn’t very convincing either way, he said.
“I have got polling that says when you frame the questions differently, you can turn things upside down,” Rowden said.
The poll will make lawmakers pause before they move on other proposals, Kendrick said.
“There will be a continuing effort to undo these changes,” Kendrick said. “Getting polling data out there is important to remind them of the provisions in Clean Missouri.”
The portion of the poll that asked about how voters will react to lawmakers who support changes is the part that lawmakers should be especially concerned with, Nicholson said.
“We’ve seen some politicians hint that voters are smart enough to know what they are voting on,” he said.