Originally published in The St. Louis Post Dispatch
Republican state lawmakers should think twice before they consider new efforts to overturn Amendment 1, the Clean Missouri measure that voters statewide approved overwhelmingly in 2018. Supporters of a new effort to scuttle it either think voters are stupid and don’t know what they want, or that lawmakers know better than voters do about what’s best for democracy. Either way, Missourians from both parties have ample reason to feel insulted that their will is being disrespected.
The amendment forced changes to state ethics laws that lawmakers had repeatedly thwarted when such measures came up in bills. Clean Missouri limits lobbyist gifts to $5 and forces lawmakers to abide by the state’s Sunshine Law.
The measure won support among 62% of voters, meaning its popularity transcended the usual partisan boundaries. The reason Republican and Democratic voters agreed on this measure is that it just made good sense. Who wouldn’t want their lawmakers to be more publicly accountable? Who wouldn’t want to limit the financial influence of lobbyists?
Well, some GOP lawmakers, apparently. Des Peres Republican state Rep. Dean Plocher led the charge in this year’s session to roll back Clean Missouri. Luckily he failed in the final days of the session. According to the logic behind his bill, voters didn’t really know what they were doing and thus needed a chance to reconsider.
“We’re not trying to repeal anything with Amendment 1. … We’re not overturning the will of the voters. The voters are going to have their day,” Plocher stated last April as he pressed for approval of a new ballot measure on the House floor.
The ballot language was crystal clear about the goals of this amendment. Voters already had their day, and their decision is now etched in the state constitution. What lawmakers like Plocher are particularly irked by is the amendment’s provision placing future redistricting decisions in the hands of a non-partisan state demographer. The system restricts Republicans’ ability to gerrymander districts and continue heavily skewing representation to their party’s benefit. It’s the inherent fairness of the new system that drives some GOP lawmakers crazy.
The party hates this amendment so much, its former chairman, Todd Graves, transferred $200,000 out of the GOP account to help fund an effort to fight it ahead of last year’s vote. Think about that for a moment: The state GOP diverted campaign funds to fight a measure designed to improve transparency, strengthen ethical guidelines and create fairer elections. Why would any party do that?
These aren’t the actions of a party committed to honoring the will of the people. Respect for democracy and clean government are furthest from their minds. Theirs is a quest to retain overwhelming domination of the Legislature, and if voter wishes have to be trampled to make that happen, well, so be it.