Legislators have better things to do than overturn Clean Missouri

Originally published in The Kansas City Star

Get the facts The Clean Missouri Initiative

Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved the Clean Missouri initiative in November 2018. The measure creates new rules for lawmakers in Jefferson City, including limits on contributions from lobbyists.

Republican leadership in the Missouri legislature is preparing to demonstrate its contempt for the state’s voters, and also for basic fairness in elections.

A ballot measure overturning parts of the Clean Missouri initiative is a top priority for GOP lawmakers next year. Clean Missouri, passed in 2018 with 62% of the vote, established important ethics reforms, including a cap on lobbyist gifts to legislators.

But the most important part of Clean Missouri set up a new method for drawing state legislative districts. It established a neutral state demographer to oversee a process designed to protect the interests of every Missourian.

“Districts shall be designed in a manner that achieves both partisan fairness and, secondarily, competitiveness,” the Missouri Constitution now says, with a mathematical formula for approaching that goal.

Fairness and competitiveness are anathema to many Missouri Republicans, who want to maintain an iron grip on power through gerrymandered state legislative districts. So they plan to debate measures to repeal and replace parts of Clean Missouri before the results of the 2020 census are in.

The state’s voters would have to approve any changes.

“We will move on it very quickly,” Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr told The Star. State Rep. Curtis Trent, a Springfield Republican, has pre-filed a resolution that would put partial repeal of the amendment on the 2020 ballot. State Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Weldon Spring, has filed a similar proposal.

These efforts, and others, must be resisted at every opportunity.

Despite GOP claims to the contrary, voters knew what they wanted in 2018. Clean Missouri was placed on the ballot through initiative petition — more than 300,000 of the state’s residents said they wanted a vote on the proposal. More than 1.4 million voters endorsed it that November.

Since its passage, state Republicans — including Gov. Mike Parson — have hinted that voters were confused by the proposal. They were not. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a greater insult to voters than to suggest they didn’t know what Clean Missouri would do.

“The voters had one option on the ballot in 2018, and they picked it,” Haahr told The Star. He’s just wrong. Voters had two options: yes or no. They voted yes, in overwhelming numbers. Rejecting their judgment would be an assault on their intelligence and the petition process itself.

And for what? Clean Missouri doesn’t force anyone to vote for a specific candidate or party. It merely establishes a mechanism to make state legislative races more competitive and fair in the 2022 elections.

By most analyses, Republicans would maintain control of the General Assembly even after redistricting. But a fairer system would likely mean smaller majorities: In 2018, the Associated Press found, Missouri Republicans won 57% of votes in state House races, but 71% of the seats.

That’s how gerrymandering works.

State lawmakers have a long agenda of issues that demand attention in 2020. Gun violence plagues the state’s big cities, roads and bridges continue to crumble, and the public defender system is unconstitutional. Tackling those issues, and others, should be a top priority next year.

Telling voters their 2018 ballots didn’t matter should not be on lawmakers’ to-do list. Clean Missouri is working as intended, and the state’s leadership should turn its attention to other issues.