Citizens condemn politicians’ stealth gerrymandering proposal

A New House plan would gut constitutional requirements for fairness, transparency and independence in redistricting.

JEFFERSON CITY – Good government groups joined Missourians from both parties today in condemning a stealth gerrymandering proposal that would roll back redistricting reforms passed overwhelmingly by Missouri voters in 2018.

A new Committee Substitute for House Joint Resolutions 48, 46 and 47 was introduced and passed this week in the House General Laws Committee without a thorough vetting or review. It would:

  • Overturn the will of 1.4 million Missourians, who supported the Clean Missouri Amendment.
  • Allow lobbyists and partisan political appointees to gerrymander maps to advance their own interests.
  • Allow communities to be split up by political appointees in the name of ‘compact’ districts.
  • Eliminate the requirement that data used for map drafting be made open to the public.
  • Remove the nonpartisan independence added to the state’s map-drawing process.

“Legislators should respect the people of Missouri who voted overwhelmingly to clean up Missouri politics,” says Nancy Miller, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis. “This new proposal is designed by politicians to eliminate the rules voters just added to the state constitution to require fair legislative district maps.”

“Missourians just passed a new law to stop gerrymandering in November, by an almost two to one margin,” said Bob Johnson, a Lee’s Summit Republican who previously served in the General Assembly. “Their mandate from more than 1.4 million Missourians was clear: fair and competitive maps.”

“We can’t let a few politicians and lobbyists overturn the will of the people,” said Rod Chapel, president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP. “Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and Missourians from all walks of life supported Amendment 1 because it got us started cleaning up Missouri politics, and gives everyday citizens more of a voice in our state government.”

In November 2018, Missourians overwhelmingly supported a new, fair redistricting process that took away the influence of lobbyists and insiders when crafting new legislative maps. In its place, 1,469,093 voters enacted a new system with checks and balances to create districts where candidates will have to work hard to earn their votes, where lobbyists and political insiders can no longer rig the system, and to ensure that no political party gets an unfair advantage in any new maps.


Effort to scale back or eliminate Clean Missouri faces opposition

Originally posted in the Missourian on April 4, 2019.

A House committee debated three resolutions Tuesday that would repeal part — or all — of the Clean Missouri.

Critics said lawmakers should give the recently approved constitutional amendment a chance and questioned whether they were showing distrust in the will of the people.

Amendment 1, the Clean Missouri initiative passed by voters in November, was promoted as a way to strengthen transparency within Missouri government. The amendment includes rules on a “cooling off” period between when lawmaker can leave the General Assembly and become a lobbyist, restricts lobbyist expenditures to $5 or less and employs a nonpartisan demographer for redistricting to replace a previous bipartisan committee, among other measures.

House Joint Resolution 46 would strengthen certain elements — extending the lobbying cooling off period and banning all gifts from lobbyists — but it would eliminate the state demographer’s involvement in redistricting and reinstate what its sponsor described as a bipartisan process.

HJR 47 creates a list of priorities for redistricting. The bill makes equal population, compactness and contiguity the top priorities when creating new districts. In contrast, Amendment 1 also prioritized partisan fairness and competitiveness.

Multiple members of the General Laws Committee questioned the intentions behind the resolutions and said they created a sense that lawmakers know better than their constituents.

“I would say that those of us that represent districts that are 50-50ish, we’re not scared of running in a district put together by a demographer,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Jefferson City. “So I’m trying to understand why there’s such fear from those that are trying to undo the will of the voters to run in truly competitive districts?”

HJR 47’s sponsor, Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, said he wanted to give voters more choice about Clean Missouri.

“What I can tell you is the voters were faced with a binary choice in the previous election.” Trent said.

Both HJR 46 and 47 would make voters decide on multiple aspects of transparency at once, a concern many had about Amendment 1 in the first place. This issue was contentious enough that lawmakers went to the Cole County Circuit Court, where it was ruled unconstitutional. The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals reversed the decision and ruled the ballot initiative was constitutional.

The committee also discussed HJR 57, which would repeal Clean Missouri completely.

Rep. Jeff Pogue, R-Salem, said he wanted people to consider some of the “unintended consequences” of Clean Missouri. He did not elaborate.

Wes Korfe, on behalf of the Sierra Club in St. Louis, opposed all three resolutions. He said he has knocked on doors, collected signatures supporting Amendment 1 and spoke with people in the community who “resoundingly” do not want legislators drawing their own districts.

“So far none of these (resolutions) being heard in this hearing or today address that concern, and that’s a problem because no matter how strong your code of ethics there’s always going to be an incentive to draw districts that favor yourselves,” Korfe said.

Clark Brown, with the Service Employees International Union, also opposes the resolutions.

“(SEIU) thinks this legislation is unnecessary. We think it’s overriding and not listening to voters. Frankly, this is a position to say, ‘We know better than what voters made a decision on,’” Brown said.

Brown says the previous districting process had been “wild.”

“Mostly because we see your maps on the walls — this is crazy. I see salamander shaped districts, and this system is not right.”

Nimrod Chapel president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, said lawmakers shouldn’t “undo the will of the people.”

“The people read it. Okay? They picked what they wanted, and they voted for it,” he said.

Rather than relying on Clean Missouri, Pogue advocated for lawmakers to be transparent about their donors.

“I heard a commentator say ‘maybe politicians should be like NASCAR drivers, you know, they have all their sponsors on their sleeve,’” Pogue said.

All three proposals would require voter approval before taking effect.

Jacob Cavaiani of KOMU contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit,


Keep Missouri clean: Don’t tamper with Amendment 1

Originally posted in the Marshfield Mail on March 30, 2019.

A landslide. That’s the only way to describe the outcome of the Clean Missouri ballot issue in November. It won 82 of the 116 counties in the state, including a majority of heavily Republican counties. It’s clear that the people of Missouri believe our state government needs to be more transparent, and that fairness and competition should be the foundation of our elections.

Now some lawmakers, including Governor Parson, are taking steps to overturn what the voters have said they want. Keep in mind: Amendment 1 is a change to our state’s Constitution, not merely a change to state law. A Constitutional amendment has never been reversed in our state.

Politicians seem to be disregarding the will of the people not on ideological grounds, but simply because Amendment 1 requires them to put ethics first, and to support a new way of drawing district maps that ensures fair and competitive races. About 90 percent of races under the current district maps have not been competitive.

Amendment 1 came to voters as a citizen-driven initiative because lawmakers were unwilling to make these changes themselves. Again and again, they voted down proposals to limit the influence of lobbyists were voted down. Over and over, incumbents and their parties depended on closed-door meetings to draw district maps. After the 2010 census, politicians, lobbyists and judges were the ones to draw the current maps. These maps protect incumbents and their parties.

Amendment 1 changes this. It prioritizes transparency and repairs the process of drawing election maps.

For decades, the League of Women Voters has fought for fair district maps and equal voting rights for all. We studied Clean Missouri’s proposal before it was put on the ballot. We supported Amendment 1 because it strengthens Missouri’s elected government. Like President Woodrow Wilson, we believe, “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”Now we are adding our voice to the many who are asking lawmakers to remember: You are not self-employed. We sent you to Jefferson City. Please respect us.


Supreme Court again considers partisan gerrymandering, but voters are not waiting

Originally posted in the Washington Post on March 23, 2019.

Disappointed with the election results but not ready to give up on politics, Katie Fahey sent out the modern equivalent of a message-in-a-bottle on Nov. 10, 2016.

“I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan,” she typed in a Facebook post. “If you’re interested in doing this as well, please let me know.” She added a smiley face emoji and left for work.

It turned out that hundreds of people were interested.

They grew to more than 425,000 people who signed a ballot petition to amend the state constitution.

They grew to more than 2.5 million people who on Election Day 2018 took away the power of politicians to draw districts that helped themselves and their political parties, and put it in the hands of a commission of ordinary citizens.

Data is the foundation for successful AI strategies – ensure that your data integration, database and data warehouse are ready to power AI initiatives.

“Voters Not Politicians” made Michigan one of five states in 2018 — Ohio, Colorado, Missouri and Utah the others — where voters reined in partisan gerrymandering.

It is an issue that has vexed the Supreme Court, and it returns to the justices this week in cases from North Carolina and Maryland. The court has never found that a state’s redistricting plan was so skewed by politics that it violated the constitutional rights of voters, and again last term it passed up the opportunity.

Referendums in 2018 showed that voters are tired of waiting.

“This is another instance, like Citizens United, where the court is wildly out of step with public opinion,” said Josh Silver, co-founder of a nonprofit group called RepresentUs. He was referring to Citizens United v. FEC , the court’s 2010 decision that expanded the role of corporate and union spending in elections.

“The public does not want the game rigged in favor of either party.”

Groups such as Silver’s and organic organizations like the one started by Fahey are making democracy issues such as gerrymandering and voting rights — well, if not sexy, at least wonkishly attractive.

An anti-gerrymandering documentary, “Slay the Dragon,” will make its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival next month. A 12-minute tutorial on the subject by RepresentUs is currently “crushing” social media, Silver said.

It features one of his board members, Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, giving a tutorial on redistricting. Silver said it has been watched more than a half-million times on YouTube, viewed 5.8 million times on Facebook “and millions of more times on Instagram,” he said.

Fahey said that partisan gerrymandering just struck a nerve with voters.

“Being able to intentionally target someone based on what political party they are voting for and trying to make their vote count more, or less, should be illegal,” she said in a recent interview. “I think it goes against a lot of principles, such as one person one vote or even just the intentions behind representational democracy.

“Legally I’m no expert, but on Nov. 6, I saw millions of people saying we are sick of being targeted that way.”

But, again, the Supreme Court may stand in the way.

The court sidestepped the issue last term, finding that those challenging a Wisconsin plan drawn by Republicans did not have the legal standing to bring the case and that the Maryland plan drawn by Democrats was not yet ripe for a challenge.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. worried during arguments in those cases that having to referee such partisan fights would put the Supreme Court into an untenable position,

“We will have to decide in every case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win,” he said.

And even more troubling for those who favor independent commissions: It’s no longer clear there is a majority on the Supreme Court that believes such an idea is constitutional, when it come to drawing congressional districts.

In 2015, the court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of Arizona’s redistricting commission, one of the first in which voters took away from the legislature the sole power to draw congressional lines.

The majority was made up of the court’s liberals along with now-retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. And it came over a vehement dissent from Roberts and the court’s other conservatives.

Roberts said it violated the Constitution’s command that “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

He accused the majority of using a “magic trick” to impose its policy preferences.

“No matter how concerned we may be about partisanship in redistricting, this court has no power to gerrymander the Constitution,” Roberts wrote.

The grass-roots effort in Michigan

Fahey is only half joking when she says her motivation was dreading Thanksgiving.

She supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Her parents decided to give Donald Trump a try, and other family members split as well.

Instead of a round of “you-voted-for-this-person-you’re-evil” finger-pointing, Fahey thought she could build on the energy she saw when her usually nonpolitical family members debated the health-care and child-care policies of Clinton, Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders at a birthday party.

“I thought that Bernie Sanders’s ‘political revolution,’ and Donald Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ messages actually had a lot in common,” said Fahey, who at the time was a 27-year-old working at a recycling nonprofit.

“One of the reasons we’re so frustrated with politics is that there are a lot of systemic reasons that it’s not working for us. It’s just infuriating if you pay attention to it.”

Her Facebook posting tapped into that 2016 energy. It was shared and shared some more, and a fledgling movement was formed. To find out what everyone thought should be done about gerrymandering, the group held 33 town hall meetings in 33 days.

They realized their agreed-upon solution — a commission of ordinary citizens — would never get the legislature’s approval. So the only route was through a ballot initiative.

That would require gathering 315,000 signatures in six months. A retired math teacher who had joined the effort figured out a formula for reaching the goal, and the group eventually secured more than 425,000. Homemade clipboards for volunteers reduced the costs, and Fahey’s Trump-supporting parents joined the effort.

Kathy Wang, a University of Michigan law professor who became part of the campaign and is now the board president of Voters Not Politicians, said the publicity of the Supreme Court challenges on partisan gerrymandering had raised the issue’s profile.

And the water crisis in Flint, the state’s troubles with its education system and other issues made the state a ripe environment, said Elizabeth Battiste, the group’s communications consultant.

“Michigan is such a pure example of how government can fail so many people,” she said. “There was a sense of learned hopelessness and such a distrust of the system.”

Battiste added: “I think our name just kind of helped remind people every single day what we were about. We’re not the Democratic Party, we’re not the Republican Party, we’re like, the voters. We want something that works for us.”

The proposal survived a challenge in the Michigan Supreme Court that it would make too radical a change to the state constitution. Voters then approved it with 61 percent of the vote.

The group eventually raised more than $16 million, about $12 million of which came from liberal-leaning organizations outside the state. “You can’t crowdsource TV ads,” Fahey said, adding that she and the group’s founders insisted no strings be attached to the money. She remained the campaign manager for the effort.

But it has led to the perception that the recent movement against partisan gerrymandering is sparked by liberals and Democrats. Because Republicans controlled most state legislatures after the last census, they benefited from the map drawing.

But Fahey and Wang say the result of their efforts is nonpartisan. It creates a 13-member commission to draw legislative and congressional lines after the 2020 Census: four Republicans, four Democrats and five people who don’t identify with either party. It bars partisan officeholders, their employees and family members, lobbyists and others with ties to the current system. It forbids creating districts that help one party over the other, or incumbents.

A group of 200 potential commission members will be assembled, and partisan legislative leaders will be allowed to strike 10 percent they think might have ulterior motives.

“Use the legislators for what they’re good at,” said Cynthia Dai of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, who along with a colleague recently met with Wang and others implementing the plan. “Opposition research.”

Each state that approved a referendum in 2018 took a different approach. Ohio, for instance, has a greater role for state legislators but attempts to keep them from passing maps by party-line votes. Missouri will leave drawing legislative districts to a “nonpartisan state demographer.”

All the redistricting wins in 2018 were in states where citizen initiatives are an option. But in the majority of states, voters are not allowed to make changes without the legislature’s approval, which underscores the importance of the Supreme Court cases being argued this week.

Silver said the votes in 2018 have created momentum. “We’re seeing possible ballot measures in Arkansas and Oklahoma in 2020,” he said. “We’re seeing very promising activity in Virginia, the beginnings of what might be a legislative movement in Pennsylvania and Maryland. I think the map continues to grow.”

And, perhaps, that will have an impact at the Supreme Court, he said.

“Despite justices’ desire to argue the opposite, the court is swayed by public opinion,” Silver said. “And our job is showing the voice of the American people — liberal, conservative and in-between — in support of common-sense democracy reforms.”


Movement toward less partisan political maps gains momentum

Originally posted in Associated Press on March 21, 2019.

Frustrated by partisan gerrymandering, voters in a growing number of states have taken the pen and computer away from lawmakers who have traditionally drawn U.S. House and state legislative districts and instead entrusted that responsibility to others.

In the past decade, eight states have overhauled their redistricting procedures to lessen the potential of partisan manipulation, including four that adopted ballot measures last fall. More could consider redistricting changes during the 2020 elections — the last before the U.S. Census initiates another round of mapmaking for over 400 U.S. House seats and nearly 7,400 state legislative seats.

The current movement began in California for the 2010 Census, when voters approved ballot initiatives creating an independent citizens’ commission to handle redistricting. Measures touted as redistricting reforms also have passed in Florida, New York, Ohio and — most recently— in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah.

In Ohio, the effort was bipartisan. Republicans joined with Democrats to back a pair of successful ballot measures that will require minority-party support to enact new congressional and state legislative districts for the next decade.

Ohio’s congressional delegation has remained at 12 Republicans and four Democrats ever since GOP officials redrew the maps after the 2010 Census, a 75-25 percent tilt that is out of line with the statewide vote for the two major parties. In November, Republican congressional candidates in Ohio won 52 percent of that vote while Democrats won 48 percent.

The Associated Press used a so-called “efficiency gap” test to analyze the 2018 elections. It’s one of the same analytical tools cited in a North Carolina gerrymandering case for which the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Tuesday. The test showed Ohio’s pro-Republican leaning ranked just behind North Carolina’s in the 2018 congressional elections, and its state House districts also showed a GOP advantage.

“We’ve been living under that rigged system for the entire decade,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.

Yet one of the supporters of Ohio’s new redistricting procedures is Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who worked as a state senator to refer the measures to the ballot. LaRose said he hopes the new process leads to more competitive elections — even if that puts Republicans at risk of losing seats.

“I also see this in some ways as tough love for my party,” LaRose said. “I believe that Republican candidates are likely to win based on their ideas and based on the quality of their solutions for governing. But I think that when we rely on something other than that to win an election, it weakens us.”

Voters in Missouri went a step further last fall, becoming the first state to insert a version of the efficiency gap test into its constitution. Under the new measure, a nonpartisan state demographer will use the 2020 Census data to draw districts for the state House and Senate that achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.”

The Missouri measure will not apply to congressional districts, which will continue to be drawn by the Legislature, currently controlled by Republicans.

Republicans have maintained a 6-2 advantage over Democrats in Missouri’s congressional delegation ever since the current districts were enacted in 2011, when a few Democrats joined with Republican lawmakers to override a veto by the Democratic governor.

The AP analysis shows that Missouri Republicans won one more congressional seat than would have been expected in 2018 based on their average share of the votes. That swing district was in suburban St. Louis, where Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner withstood a close challenge from Democrat Cort VanOstran.

Though he acknowledged shortfalls in fundraising and name identification, VanOstran said: “I think that Missouri is a victim of gerrymandering.”

The AP’s efficiency gap analysis shows California Democrats won four more congressional seats than would have been expected based on their district average share of the vote in the 2018 elections. That helped boost Democrats’ overwhelming majority in California’s congressional delegation to 46-7 over Republicans. The AP’s analysis showed California had a more neutral result when Democrats won a 39-14 majority over Republicans in the 2016 elections.

“There’s no doubt that the commission produced a map that tilts a little bit Democratic,” said Eric McGhee, a researcher at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California who developed the efficiency gap model. But “looking at average results over time, it’s not consistently Democratic. It flips around; it’s variable in that sense.”

Other states that use independent or bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative or congressional districts include Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington. In Iowa, nonpartisan legislative staff create the redistricting maps, which then go to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote.


Statewide poll: Voter support for Amendment 1 as strong as ever

Voters continue to support nonpartisan redistricting reforms added to state constitution,
and are very critical of politicians’ efforts to overturn will of voters

New polling released today by the Clean Missouri coalition shows voter support for the package of legislative reforms passed in November 2018 remains as strong as ever, including for components that have been targeted by politicians for repeal this year.

More than 1.4 million Missouri voters approved Amendment 1 at the ballot box, winning in every state senate district in the state.

“We saw in November, and again in this poll, that voters from across the political spectrum and from all walks of life support Amendment 1,” said Kevin Akins, Vice President at ALG Research. “Voters remain supportive of all of the Clean Missouri amendment’s core components, from fair redistricting reforms to government transparency.”

Highlights from the poll include:

  • Amendment 1’s broad coalition of support remains strong. 61% of Missourians support the Clean Missouri amendment, which aligns with November 2018 electoral results.
  • A plurality of Republicans (49%) support Amendment 1.
  • Half of voters statewide are less likely to support a lawmaker who votes to overturn or repeal Amendment 1.
  • Every pillar of the Clean Missouri package is supported by a majority of voters statewide.
    • 62% of respondents said they support Amendment 1’s process and criteria for redrawing state legislative districts to make future maps fair and competitive
    • 93% of respondents said they support requiring legislative records and proceedings to be open to the public

“Amendment 1 passed in a landslide, but some politicians just aren’t getting the message. What part of YES do they not understand?” said Rod Chapel, president of Missouri State Conference of the NAACP. “We won’t sit idly by, and let a few politicians and lobbyists overturn the will of the people.”

The Clean Missouri Amendment created a new, fair redistricting process that took away the influence of lobbyists and insiders in crafting new maps. Missouri’s new redistricting system includes checks and balances to create districts where candidates will actually have to earn their votes, and rules that ensure no political party gets an unfair advantage in any new maps.

These findings are based on a statewide telephone poll of N=606 likely November 2020 voters in Missouri. Interviews were conducted between February 21-26, 2019 via landline and cellphone. The poll’s margin of error is ±3.98% with a 95% confidence level.


Open records need to stay open in Missouri

Originally posted in Columbia Missourian on March 18, 2019.

In my various previous positions, I have filed many Sunshine requests through Chapter 610, Missouri Revised Statutes, and the Freedom of Information Act.

Since I am now mostly retired (I have a problem saying “no”), I just filed a citizen’s Sunshine Law and Clean Missouri request to Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Outdoor Resources Committee.

He has acknowledged my request and stated that I could expect the rather voluminous request to be honored on or before March 22.

No doubt that whatever records Bernskoetter has, these are public records and the good senator is a public servant. In short, everything in his office has been collected with public funds, and Bernskoetter gets his salary from public funds.

The Sunshine Law — so called because it shines the sun of openness on public records — is, in quite a few ways, superior to the federal FOIA. One of the ways is the length of time required to respond: three working days in the case of the Sunshine Law, 30 working days in the case of FOIA.

Once upon a time, when I was doing research for a book, I requested via FOIA certain records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thirty days or more passed. The request was simply ignored, until I asked a couple of Seattle lawyers to press the Department of Agriculture to respond.

With no apology or explanation for the delay, a few days later my mailbox contained what I had requested. Of course, it was heavily redacted, but I had the information from various rumors and gossip, and I wanted verification.

Even with redaction, it was clear that the rumors I had heard were correct. It is telling, however, that it was necessary to involve attorneys before my request to a federal agency was honored. I have never encountered that in Sunshine Law requests.

The state Senate acts in accordance with the mandates of Clean Missouri. To his credit, Bernskoetter responded within the period of three working days and told me when I could expect what I had requested.

That represents a change in attitude, thanks to the passage of the Clean Missouri constitutional amendment, which made legislators’ records open to the public. Before the passage of Clean Missouri, legislators had conveniently exempted themselves from compliance with the Sunshine Law.

After the overwhelming passage of Clean Missouri by voters last year, which was opposed by several legislators, they are hoping to find a way to avoid compliance and keep their records sealed. After all, they apparently reason, what they do is their business, and the public be damned.

The Missouri House of Representatives has passed HB 445, which Sandy Davidson wrote about in her Missourian column Friday. In this bill, the legislature is attempting to keep certain records from being open and accessible.

Not so fast. The Clean Missouri language requires the legislature to have the same openness as all other public entities. The Sunshine Law is only included as an example.

In short, if legislators attempt to exempt themselves from certain requirements of the Sunshine Law and Clean Missouri, they must exempt all other government entities, from state agencies to municipalities to county commissions.

Lawyers are standing by.


Poll shows support high for Clean Missouri

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.


Sandy Davidson: Any attempt to undo Clean Missouri is undemocratic

Originally posted in the Missourian on March 14, 2019.

On Monday, news reports from Anchorage, Alaska, concerning the Iditarod dog-sled race arguably gave us some surprising insight on the power of collective action.

French musher Nicolas Petit was ahead, but he apparently didn’t know what he was going to get when he scolded one of his dogs, Joey, for fighting with a teammate. Apparently, yelling at one’s dogs is a major “faux paw.”

Seemingly out of solidarity with their scolded teammate, the dogs refused to pull the sled. Petit camped out for over five hours as other teams passed him and his doggedly recalcitrant dogs.

One can just imagine what the dogs were saying in dogalese:

  • “OK, jerk, pull your own damned sled.”
  • “Let’s teach that temperamental Frenchman some manners.”
  • “You know what ‘dog’ spelled backward is, right?”
  • “All for one, and one for all.”

Although the sports story wasn’t about a typical athletic team, it illustrated teamwork at its apex. Petit ended up withdrawing from the race. The dogs’ move — or refusal to move — was just as effective as taking the car keys away from a misbehaving teenager. All punishments should be so swift and so effective!

That brings me to this question: What should be a swift and effective punishment for politicians who go astray? Or maybe the question is this: What could effectively stop erring politicians in their tracks, just like the dogs stopped Petit?

Maybe there is no such mechanism. There’s the ballot box, but an election might not be that near, so the term “swift” wouldn’t apply. Impeachment? Only in the most egregious circumstances, and that isn’t a swift process, either.

Sometimes politicians are stopped when their pet projects don’t get funded.

But what can voters do when they have clearly let their will be known but some politicians refuse to follow through? The situation in Missouri is worse than a failure to follow through, however. Some Missouri politicians are trying to undo what voters clearly said they want last November: Clean Missouri.

Constitutional Amendment 1, the initiative also known as “Clean Missouri,” covers several topics — lobbying, campaign finances, redistricting and public records. Cole County Judge Dan Green ruled in mid-September that the initiative violated Missouri’s constitutional provision that says a proposed amendment “shall not contain more than one subject.” But the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District overruled Green, deciding that the initiative contained one subject — namely, regulating the Missouri General Assembly. The initiative was back on the ballot.

To get the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, the Clean Missouri coalition had to collect signatures amounting to 8 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. The coalition submitted 346,956 signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State for verification.

On Nov. 6, the initiative passed by an overwhelming margin of 62 percent to 38 percent. Because this is “Sunshine Week,” the focus here is on the public records part of Clean Missouri.

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Justice Louis Brandeis famously quipped. However, some politicians apparently don’t want sunshine. Do they want a dirty Missouri instead of a clean one?

Here’s what the public records part of Clean Missouri says: “Legislative records shall be public records and subject to generally applicable state laws governing public access to public records, including the Sunshine Law.”

Clean Missouri then defines legislative records very broadly: “Legislative records include, but are not limited to, … all records that are created, stored or distributed through legislative branch facilities, equipment or mechanisms including electronic.”

But House Bill 445 would close some legislative records from public view. Here’s the language of the proposed exemption: “Any document or record, including electronic communications, received or prepared by or on behalf of a member of a public governmental body consisting of advice, opinions and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body.”

Eek! Are any records more important for sunshine’s disinfecting effect than the “advice, opinions and recommendations” connected to the “deliberative decision-making process”?

When studying philosophy, I came to believe that what separates more totalitarian governments from more democratic ones is access to government information.

Lobbyists would perhaps relish having their recommendations placed outside the reach of the Sunshine Law.

What if the “advice, opinions and recommendations” given to legislators are faulty? Maybe they’re based on misinformation — or on biases in favor of the advice-givers’ interests. How does the public counteract what the public is forbidden from seeing?

Bill 445 would be a step backward for transparency in government. Yet it passed the House on Feb. 7. That’s not just an “Eek!” That’s a “Gag!” Literally. Put a gag on the “advice, opinions and recommendations” relating to the “deliberative decision-making process.”

And if the Senate passes this anti-transparency legislation … ?

So much for representative democracy. This attempt to undo the public records part of Clean Missouri is misguided. It’s reprehensible. It’s undemocratic.

What does it mean to live in a representative democracy? It means, in part, that we elect representatives to vote for us — unless we go to the work of gathering enough signatures to get a question on the ballot and then pass the ballot measure.

A margin of 62 to 38 percent in November should have sent a message.

Meanwhile in Alaska, where Frenchman Petit’s dogs sent him a message, Peter Kaiser from that state’s Bethel won the Iditarod.

Sunshine can also bring joy. The biggest ray of local sunshine this week came from Nobel Prize winner George Smith, who is donating his nearly quarter-of-a-million dollars in prize money to the College of Arts and Science for needs-based student scholarships.

Mizzou will also contribute $300,000 for scholarships, according to Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, who said that Mizzou is starting a new tradition of donating $100,000 for scholarships any time a Mizzou faculty member wins a Nobel Prize.

Especially at this time in U.S. history, when student debt has exceeded credit card debt, George Smith’s Nobel Prize gift is noble.

Making that decision to give away the Nobel Prize money — that’s about as likely for most of us as deciding what to say when we receive our Oscars.

Way to go, George Smith! Just when it seemed you couldn’t get any higher in the esteem of your fellows here at Mizzou, you did. You really did!

Sandy Davidson, Ph.D., J.D., teaches communications law at the MU School of Journalism. She is a curators’ distinguished teaching professor and the attorney for the Columbia Missourian.


Missouri Lawmakers Seek To Shield The Emails That Voters Said Should Be Public

Originally posted in KCUR on March 14, 2019.

Any member of the public can go to the debates in Missouri House or Senate. And in November, voters said the discussions about legislation and strategy that lawmakers have in emails and other documents should be public knowledge, too.

But some legislators are looking to once again shield those records from public view, a move that opponents say is a step backward for government openness and transparency.

Members of the General Assembly became subject to the state’s open records law (aka the Sunshine Law) after the passage of Amendment 1, otherwise known as Clean Missouri, in December.

But a Senate bill, along with a similar bill that has already passed the House, would shield their emails relating to strategy on legislation and constituent concerns.

Supporters of the legislation said Amendment 1 made no provisions to protect the privacy of residents who seek help from their representatives or senators. But opponents believe it’s another sign of an era where government transparency is less valued — especially coming after the Greitens administration, which used secretive apps to communicate.

“I can certainly understand why legislators would want to keep communication that relates to constituents’ personal life private,” said Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri. “I do not think that communications that relate to the legislative process, communications that could have an influence on a legislator and how they vote, should be kept from the public eye.”

The House legislation also extends those exemptions to local governments, including city councils and school boards, which opponents say would take away a tool residents can use to push officials for answers and solutions.

A ‘genuine’ effort

The state’s Sunshine Law has been in the spotlight for several months now, starting with former Gov. Eric Greitens. He, members of his staff, as well as the state Highway Patrol, frequently used apps like Confide or Silent Phone, which delete messages after they’re sent.

These apps are the subject of a lawsuit over whether their use violates the state’s Sunshine Law. While Gov. Mike Parson has banned the use of the apps by state officials, the House bill would codify it into state law.

Meanwhile, St. Louis attorney Elad Gross, who is running for attorney general in 2020, separately sued Parson’s office for not releasing records from the Greitens administration. Gross has been looking into the role certain nonprofits played in Greitens’ political career; both Greitens and U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, the former attorney general, have been subpoenaed to testify in the case.

“All of these kinds of cases, although they exist now, with the changes that are being made in Missouri Sunshine Law or at least being proposed, those would go away,” Gross said. “We’d see a lot less transparency in Missouri government and I think that’s the wrong direction to be going.”

But some Republicans in the legislature pushed back at the notion that their bills — and the situations involving the apps — are linked.

“I think what we are trying to do with this is very genuine,” said GOP Sen. Ed Emery of Lamar, who is sponsoring the Senate bill. “I think there’s a genuine distrust of government … it’s a pile-on type issue: ‘Yeah, I don’t trust government either, and so I want this to published.’ “But if you talk to someone who’s communicating with my office, they might have a little different view,” he added.

Emery and other lawmakers cited a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article from December that included the subjects of emails his office had received.

“Communications between a legislator and anyone actually that contacted my office prior to Amendment 1 was very similar to the protection that you get if you talk to your attorney,” Emery said. “That has always been protected so that people could communicate with me on personal issues, on legal issues, on things that you wouldn’t necessarily just want broadcast on the front page of the paper.”

But Emery and other Senate Republicans oppose including local governments in the exemptions.

‘Some kind of change’

Cecile Leggio died days after a 2016 collision at this intersection in Raytown. Her family is seeking improvements to the intersection.

On New Year’s Eve 2016, Cecile Leggio was in an accident near the intersection of 67th Street and Ralston Avenue in Raytown. She later died at a hospital. The family wanted to know more about that intersection, so attorney Chris Dandurand tried using the Sunshine Law.

“And in particular, we requested complaints about the intersection and police reports about incidents that had occurred at any time prior to that intersection because we wanted to know what does the city of Raytown know about this intersection? Do they know that it’s dangerous,” Dandurand said.

But city officials refused to comply, citing an exemption in the law they felt allows them to hold records if someone intended to file a claim against the city, which Leggio’s family had not yet done. Dandurand asked the family for permission to file suit under the Sunshine Law.

“They didn’t necessarily know exactly what it meant other than they knew that the city was supposed to comply with the Sunshine Law and to produce documents in response to a request like this,” Dandurand said. “But when we explained to them the likelihood of something like this happening to another family … they realize that if the City of Raytown is going to obstruct and block access to public records to someone who already has an attorney, then there’s no telling what they’ll be saying to people out there who are essentially on their own.”

Last month, a Jackson County judge ruled Raytown had violated the law and fined officials $42,000. An attorney for the city declined to comment, citing a pending appeal.