Rude Awakenings: Missouri lawmakers’ days of free meals are over

Originally posted by the Columbia Daily Tribune on January 5, 2019

There’s an old joke about state lawmakers that I heard for the first time when I was just a sprout covering the Missouri General Assembly as a journalism student.

It goes something like this:

“How was your session?” one lawmaker asks another as they exit the Capitol Building after the last day.

“Great!” comes the reply.

“Oh, did you get your bills passed?” the first asks.

“No, but I didn’t pay for a single meal,” the second answers.

When the legislature returns to work Wednesday, that joke will fade from memory. Lawmakers will be forced to use their $119.20 daily expense allowance provided by taxpayers instead of relying on lobbyists to keep themselves fed.

Over the past five years, lobbyists reported spending $3.4 million on entertainment, meals and gifts for members of the General Assembly. That total includes $1.1 million in 2017 alone.

The spending included sports and concert tickets, expensive meals, buffets for the entire legislature served in the Capitol Building and the soda, beer, wine and whiskey that stocked members’ offices.

Amendment 1, an initiative petition approved by voters Nov. 6, ends all that. No lawmaker will be allowed to accept anything from a lobbyist valued at more than $5, which as we all know won’t even buy a Venti Teavana Oprah Cinnamon Chai Latte at Starbucks, once you add the sales tax.

Amendment 1 didn’t turn off the spigot right away. It takes 30 days for a constitutional amendment to become effective and the University of Missouri used that time to give five incoming lawmakers, three Republican and two Democratic who had been elected but not yet sworn in, a taste of the pre-Amendment 1 lifestyle. Along with four returning lawmakers, they were treated to tickets to the Tigers’ 38-0 drubbing of the University of Arkansas on Nov. 23, 13 days before the new limits took effect.

Overall, the UM System sponsored $12,278 in meals and entertainment for lawmakers through the first 11 months of 2018, seventh highest among all lobbying principals.

Free tickets to sporting events have always been popular. Sixteen lawmakers received tickets to last year’s 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in Town and Country, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week.

The high-end restaurant trade that catered to the legislative trade Jefferson City — and to some extent Columbia as well — will feel the loss. Not that the lobbyists themselves won’t have the money to buy gourmet meals and fine wines, but they won’t have the additional guests to fatten the check.

I have to admit that the largesse available in the Capitol Building is a temptation that has, on many occasions, been hard to resist. On any day you might see entire pigs laid out for hungry staff and lawmakers or Tiger stripe ice cream for all.

To satisfy one desire, I visited the Rolling Pin restaurant in Glasgow after seeing the rush to its offerings at the annual “Pie Day.”

But it was never greater than the night that ended my first session as a student.

Lawmakers ended their sessions at midnight at that time and no rules prevented the last-minute distribution of major bills for rushed votes as time expired. Phill Brooks, who ran the Journalism School’s Jefferson City program for decades, assigned me to write a story for the Missourian about the partying that accompanied that frenzy.

House Majority Leader Tony Ribaudo, a St. Louis Democrat, used the dinner break to transform the House lounge into the best Italian restaurant in Missouri for a night, bringing food from the The Hill neighborhood restaurants in dizzying quantities. I had never been to any of the restaurants but had heard of the legendary food to be found there.

Ribaudo, a big friendly fellow, gave me a tour and sought several times to break down my will. My mother made great lasagna from a recipe I still use and I believe the only bad pizza is no pizza.

But my instructions from Phill were simple — observe but don’t take anything.

Now Missouri voters have given lawmakers essentially the same rules.

There will be no Taste of Jefferson City event hosted by the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce to showcase restaurants and help lawmakers decide their favorites for lobbyist-sponsored dining.

I have to say a word here in defense of the lobbyists. When I have interviewed the professionals who have a long-term stake in their reputations, most didn’t defend the system — they didn’t denounce it too much either, I admit.

Their job is to follow the rules. And as veteran lobbyist Bill Gamble told the Post-Dispatch, that means the limit now is about the cost of a small cup of coffee “and a cheap doughnut.”

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The Jeff City Diet

Originally posted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 4, 2019

When Missouri legislators return to Jefferson City next week, the politics under the Capitol dome will be a little cleaner. And some legislative bellies will be a little less full.

As a result of the “Clean Missouri” ballot measure passed last year, state lawmakers will no longer be allowed to accept any gifts worth more than $5 from lobbyists.

It’s going to be a major lifestyle change for politicians who, last year, were plied with more than $1 million in lobbyist gifts that included sports tickets, golf outings, travel and a constant stream of food and drink.

As veteran lobbyist Bill Gamble told the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson this week: “The most you’d be able to do (now) is offer a cup of coffee and a cheap doughnut.”

Which is as it should be. The outsized influence of lobbyists is among the biggest problems in Missouri politics today, and much of that influence can be traced right back to what amounts to legalized bribery of lawmakers with extravagant gifts. But by all means, enjoy that free doughnut.

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Advocates to MO Legislature: Leave Amendment 1 Alone

Originally posted by the Public News Service on January 4, 2019

Hands off Amendment 1. That’s the message from supporters of the “Clean Missouri’ ballot initiative to state lawmakers, who begin the 100th General Assembly next week.

The anti-gerrymandering measure passed by 62 percent of the vote in November, but Gov. Mike Parson and several legislators are already calling for major changes.

Joan VonDras with the Sierra Club’s Missouri Chapter gathered signatures for Amendment 1 last fall. She says it has strong support on both sides of the aisle – even if it was opposed by political action committees largely funded by mega-donor Rex Sinquefield.

“They’re doing everything in their power to fight this, and making it seem like a liberal agenda, which is not,” says VonDras. “This is genuinely a bipartisan thing. None of us are happy about losing our democracy to big money.”

The Clean Missouri amendment takes the redistricting process away from legislators and gives the power to redraw the political map after the 2020 census to a nonpartisan demographer, whose work would be overseen by a citizen commission. Opponents of that idea say it might result in district boundaries that are confusing or contorted.

Sinquefield also recently gave $850,000 to a political action committee that supports Gov. Parson. Amendment 1 would limit the donation dollars that legislators can take from any individual.

John Bohney, who is also with the Sierra Club in Missouri and gathered signatures for Clean Missouri, says lawmakers should respect the will of the voters.

“So, we’ve gone from the bottom of the ethical ladder to the top of the ethical ladder by passing this,” says Bohney. “And now they want to turn it back, because big money wants to influence how the electorates vote.”

Amendment 1 also requires former state lawmakers to wait two years after leaving office if they want to become lobbyists.

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In `dramatic’ change for Jefferson City, no more free lunch for Missouri lawmakers

Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 2, 2019

The Missouri Capitol will be missing something in the coming months.

The aroma of barbecue, pancakes and other vittles wafting through the Rotunda is likely to be absent for denizens of the domed building as part of a change to the state Constitution approved by voters in November.

Although it could face a test in court, a possible repeal by frustrated lawmakers and varied legal opinions from ethics regulators, the so-called “Clean Missouri” proposition places a $5 cap on gifts lawmakers can receive from lobbyists.

That means fewer lobbying groups offering free plates of food to lawmakers and legislative staffers during the busy crush of the legislative session that begins Jan. 9 and runs through May 17.

It means no more dinners being purchased by lobbyists for lawmakers at local restaurants or free tickets to baseball games, concerts or golf tournaments.

For lobbyists, lawmakers and restaurateurs in Jefferson City, the changes are significant.

“It’s going to have a dramatic effect,” said lobbyist Bill Gamble, who has patrolled the halls of the statehouse since the 1970s.

During the legislative session, Gamble often supplies thousands of dollars worth of pizza and soda to members of the House and Senate who want to give visiting school children lunch when they tour the building. He also purchases beverages for lawmakers who are holding community events in their districts.

Now, those purchases will have to come out of a lawmaker’s pocket or, perhaps, their campaign fund if it has a political purpose.

“The most you’d be able to do is offer a cup of coffee and a cheap doughnut,” Gamble told the Post-Dispatch.

Rob Agee, owner of Madison’s Café, a popular Italian eatery located near the Capitol, said the gift ban will hurt his business.

“Will it affect me? Sure. It will affect every restaurant in Jefferson City to a certain extent. It will negatively affect the economy of this town,” Agee said.

He said the arrival of lawmakers, staff and lobbyists each year is a boon for the community.

“They do affect the economy. They have to eat and sleep here four days a week,” Agee said.

The new law spawned a humorous new drink at another downtown restaurant.

The Grand Cafe is offering the “Clean Mo Cocktail,” a concoction of rum and lime juice “topped with nothing, no garnish.”

The selling price is $4.63 down from the usual price of $8, in order to keep the drink under the $5 limit.

Last year, lobbyists spent more than $1 million to ply the Legislature and their staff and families with free meals, drinks, sports tickets, rounds of golf and travel.

The expenses in 2018 included nearly $8,000 in tickets to Cardinals games for lawmakers like Republican Sens. Andrew Koenig of Manchester and Dave Schatz of Sullivan and Rep. Bob Burns, D-Affton.

Sixteen lawmakers received tickets to the 100th PGA golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club in Town and Country, according to reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

And, former Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters, received $498 worth of tickets to a concert by country music artist Luke Bryan.

But it’s not just the individual gifts from a lobbyist to a lawmaker that now appear to be a no-no based on the constitutional change.

The Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce canceled its annual Taste of Jefferson City event, which is held in January to welcome state lawmakers to the capital city.

“We have consulted with numerous experts to determine if these types of receptions are compliant with Clean Missouri, and unfortunately they are not,” Missy Bonnot of the chamber said in the email to members. “As you would expect, many other communities and entities are canceling similar events held in Jefferson City.”

The Missouri Travel Council also is not planning to offer its annual pancake breakfast in the Rotunda as part of its mission to boost tourism in the Show-Me State.

Some groups are still assessing the effects of the change.

The Missouri Grocers Association, for example, holds a lobbying day each year that includes a breakfast reception for members of the House and Senate.

“Right now we have not made any changes,” said assistant state director Cindy McMillan. “But we’re watching the situation.”

Angela Schulte of the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association also is assessing whether to hold an event in the Rotunda.

“We’re still kind of on the fence about it,” Schulte said.

The Association of Missouri Electrical Cooperatives is likely to move forward with its annual fish fry because officials say the food is worth less than $5, largely because of the volume of people they serve.

Sean Nicholson, who ran the Clean Missouri campaign, said the lobbying groups could still offer their lunches or dinners as long as they sell tickets, rather than just giving the food away.

That, he said, is how the world works for everyone else.

Or, Nicholson said lawmakers could start brown-bagging it.

“They could pack a lunch for work like everyone else,” he said.

Gamble said he is cautioning his clients about hosting events, saying they should wait until there is a clear legal opinion on what’s legal and what’s not.

His advice: “If you don’t know, don’t do it.”

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Why are Missouri lawmakers messing with voters’ right to a fair petition process?

Originally printed in the Kansas City Star on January 2, 2019

Missouri’s Republican lawmakers are planning another unnecessary assault on the state’s initiative petition process this year.

Republicans already have filed measures that would make it harder to put issues on the ballot. Among other things, the bills would impose a filing fee on petitions, raise the number of signatures needed to place constitutional amendments on the ballot and restrict paid petition drives.

Last week, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said petition reform would be the most important item on his policy agenda in 2019. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Farm Bureau have called for petition reform in the next legislative session.

Many of these efforts threaten the right of every Missourian to make law outside of Jefferson City. The state’s petition process may need a few tweaks, but it is fundamentally sound.

Legislators must be extraordinarily careful to protect petition rights as this debate unfolds.

It’s obvious that many Republicans are frustrated with voters, who did in 2018 what the GOP leadership would not: Raise the minimum wage, impose ethics reform, legalize medical marijuana and protect workers’ rights.

But lawmakers who blame the petition process for these decisions should take a good look in the mirror. If they would simply enact what the people want, petitions would be unnecessary.

Instead, legislators have repeatedly ignored the people. Why are they upset that the voters have exercised their right, guaranteed in the state constitution, to decide issues for themselves?

Any attempt to raise the number of petition signatures needed to put laws and amendments on the ballot should be quickly rejected. Any effort to raise the threshold for approving constitutional amendments beyond a simple majority of voters should be defeated as well.

The complaints that there are too many petitions being offered do have merit. In 2018, Ashcroft says the state had to review more than 370 petition proposals, far more than the number just a few years ago.

It takes time and money to review those proposals, even though the vast majority will never make it to the ballot.

There is no clear way to prevent those petitions from being filed based on content alone. But a reasonable filing fee, refundable to petitioners who eventually gather enough valid signatures, may make sense to deter people from filing dozens of proposals without any intention of actually seeking signatures.

On the other hand, an additional per-signature filing fee, now under discussion, makes no sense. Missourians don’t pay to vote, and they shouldn’t be required to pay — even indirectly — for exercising their right to sign a petition.

Missourians also should oppose the effort to restrict out-of-state interests from conducting petition drives or charging a fee. Those proposals are constitutionally dubious and would be difficult to enforce.

They also ignore the fact that every successful petition requires a statewide public vote. In the end, Missouri voters decide, not out-of-state interests. Voters are entirely capable of making up their own minds.

As the discussion continues in 2019, remember this: It’s already difficult to gather enough valid signatures for a vote. It takes more than 100,000 signatures to put a proposed law on the ballot and 160,000 for a constitutional change. The signatures must come from diverse geographic areas as well.

Fundamentally, Missouri does it right. It’s hard to put something on the ballot, but not impossible. That means the people provide a check and balance on their representatives, an important right that lawmakers should not abridge in 2019.

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Let stand the choice of voters

Originally published by the St. Joseph News-Press on January 1, 2019

Drivers would wear out the brake pads of their vehicles without a fundamental belief … namely, that every other driver on the road understands traffic laws.

Think of the hesitancy of entering an intersection if, say, half the approaching cars have drivers confused by the meaning of a red light. Even one out of 10 motorists with a shaky comprehension would give pause.

If staying in the right lane proves a mystery, the whole system of automotive travel breaks down.

For the way Americans live their lives, this structure evolved as a societal norm, the rules codified, certainly, but inferred in a more general way.

On a more profound level, statutes spell out the grave offense of murder, though Judeo-Christian decree has largely guided humans since the stone tablets came down from Mount Sinai.

The year just passed gave great weight to the phrase “rule of law” even as Americans did not exactly become more law-abiding.

During 2018’s great battle over a Supreme Court nomination, the “rule of law” assertion got trotted out often, sometimes hailing the prospect’s qualifications and sometimes condemning his earlier choices in life.

In the United States, the Justice Department and the judiciary, those institutions established to mind the laws, have come under attack. Even the murderers of an American journalist, the killing preserved on tape no less, have been given the benefit of the doubt.

One staple of our form of government, that of a republic, is majority rule, albeit the Founding Fathers approached this with caution.

Thomas Jefferson said disregard of this principle “ends necessarily in military despotism,” yet James Madison warned against the “tyranny of the majority.”

A majority of Missourians, a sizable one, passed Constitutional Amendment 1 less than two months ago. Supporters called it “Clean Missouri” because of its insistence on restricted gifts by lobbyists to lawmakers and increased adherence to open record laws.

Nearly two-thirds of state voters thought this to be a good idea.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was not among them. He told The Associated Press recently that he favors repealing this amendment that still has its new-car smell.

A couple of strings hang off this pending conflict.

One, citizen initiatives, like the Amendment 1 effort, often arise because elected officials in Missouri decline to take action on issues of concern to the populace. In this case, folks wanted their representatives in Jefferson City to behave in a manner more beholden to them, the constituents.

That hardly seems like “tyranny of the majority.” As nudges go, this one toward responsibility appeared quite gentle.

Another is that Parson, in office since June, came to the governorship after his predecessor exhibited an uncomfortable relationship with the rule of law. The sheen on his administration, earned and by comparison, has yet to dull.

Now Parson must do the dirty work of partisanship.

It does not escape notice that the state demographer position called for in the amendment to sculpt new House and Senate districts after the 2020 census necessarily diminishes the thumb-on-the-scale influence of Parson’s Republican Party in this essential task.

Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but Clean Missouri had some unholy aspects for the party in power.

More fruitful labors for Parson might arrive from finding a method of funding Missouri road improvements after a fuel tax he backed got defeated by state voters in the November balloting.

The governor will abide by that outcome. He should abide, too, by the Clean Missouri result.

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The Joplin Globe: Tread lightly on petition process

Originally published in the Joplin Globe on December 30, 2018

In 1994, Missourians used their initiative petition right to impose on lawmakers — by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent — campaign contribution limits.

And for a little more than a decade the state maintained those limits. They were ultimately undone by Missouri politicians, and the result was a foreseeable flood of mega donations swamping Jefferson City, warping the political process.

Despite the obvious need for contribution limits, and despite it being the overwhelming will of the people of Missouri, lawmakers year after year refused to revisit the issue. Campaign contribution limits, as well as lobbying restrictions and other ethics reforms, are just a preoccupation of the media, lawmakers would tell us, and not something the people of Missouri really wanted.

But in 2016 limits were once again proposed, this time via a petition calling for a constitutional amendment, and the result was equally lopsided — supported by a vote of 70 percent to 30 percent. Last fall, voters tightened some of those screws even further with another petition amending the state constitution.

In other words, Missourians unambiguously supported campaign contribution limits and lobbying reforms, and they needed a tool to impose their will on recalcitrant lawmakers. The initiative petition was that tool.

We bring this up to remind lawmakers of the importance of the initiative petition — something there is a lot of talk about reforming this year. Gov. Mike Parson says reforms are needed; the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry also has identified reforms as a priority. We support efforts to streamline the process and cut costs, but let’s go slow — real slow.

Qualifying a proposed statute for the ballot is already a high bar — supporters must gather signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election in two-thirds of the state’s eight congressional districts. For proposed constitutional amendments, that threshold is 8 percent.

Hundreds of petitions get launched each year — 371 were filed for the 2018 ballot. Many are withdrawn or rejected because they don’t meet the requirements, and ultimately only a handful survive to make it to the polls. Already, though, more than two dozen petitions have been filed since the November 2018 election.

The fact that the secretary of state also has to summarize in 100 words legal documents that run into dozens and dozens of pages also makes lawsuits inevitable. We also have no doubt that some of these petitions are frivolous, and the result can be a time consuming and expensive task. We can surely come up with a more efficient and effective process.

We worry, however, that some reforms could make it harder — unintentionally or otherwise — for what is supposed to be a grassroots tool for Missourians to petition their government for change. We also fear that in reforming the process, lawmakers will work to give themselves some sort of final say, or final check, and perhaps even the ability to repeal the very thing voters want.

We urge lawmakers and elected leaders to tread carefully.

Our right to petition our government for change — to bypass the General Assembly and the signature of the governor — is a basic and fundamental right of Missourians, and it must be guaranteed.

 

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Respect the will of voters

Originally published in the Jefferson City News Tribune on December 30, 2018

Each time the Missouri Legislature repeals something directly enacted by voters, it loses credibility, understandably frustrating and angering voters.

So what should lawmakers do in instances when they believe voter-enacted laws or amendments are unconstitutional or just plan wrong?

Gov. Mike Parson believes the so-called Clean Missouri amendment approved by voters through the initiative petition process last month is one of those.

Parson, in an interview with the Associated Press, said he wants lawmakers in 2019 to change the part of the amendment that revises the way Missouri’s legislative districts are drawn.

“Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote,” Parson told the AP. “But the reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”

We generally agree lawmakers should respect the will of voters, and resist the urge to repeal anything they directly enact.

The Missouri Legislature hasn’t always heeded that advice in the past. Eight years ago, when then-Missouri state Rep. Mike Parson didn’t agree with a voter-approved law imposing tough regulations on dog breeders, he led a legislative effort to repeal the measure and replace it with a tamer version, the AP reported.

That’s one example of lawmakers replacing voter-approved laws. The practice isn’t unique to Missouri; other state legislatures have done the same thing with various voter-approved laws.

We weren’t fans of the medical marijuana initiative petition amendment approved by voters last month, but we aren’t asking lawmakers to undo what voters did.

In the case of Clean Missouri, voters changed the Missouri Constitution, not just a law.

Republicans argue the redistricting change gives Democrats an unfair advantage and the voter-passed amendment is unconstitutional.

There’s evidence to suggest the Republicans might be right about the unfair advantage. An AP analysis found the new redistricting formula is likely to increase Democrats’ chances of winning elections and cut into Republicans’ super-majorities in the state House and Senate.

If the measure is indeed unconstitutional, challenging it in court — rather than simply repealing it — would be a better way to respect voters’ will.

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Lawmakers should heed voters’ wishes on reforms

Originally published by the Quincy Herald-Whig on December 26, 2018

Mike Parson has provided a calming influence to Missouri state government since ascending to the governorship June 1 with the resignation of Eric Greitens, who was facing potential impeachment proceedings over allegations of personal and political misconduct.

Parson, a former state senator, has, as promised, elevated the tone of political discourse and has conducted government business with respect and integrity. The approach has been a refreshing change from the near-constant conflict that engulfed Jefferson City during Greitens’ chaotic 17-month tenure.

So it seemed out of character earlier this week when Parson publicly called for repealing and replacing a constitutional amendment approved by 62 percent of voters last month to revise the way Missouri’s legislative districts are drawn,.

It is an ill-advised decision the governor should reconsider and state lawmakers should reject.

We supported Amendment 1, describing it as a bold, voter-driven effort to root corruption out of the capital and return Missouri’s political process to a system that benefits voters, not donors.

The so-called “Clean Missouri” amendment limited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, subjected lawmakers to the state open-records law and replaced the process for redrawing state legislative districts after the 2020 census with a model designed to have the number of seats won by each party more closely reflect its statewide vote.

Specifically, Amendment 1 would create a new position of nonpartisan state demographer who would propose maps to commissioners that reflect the parties’ share of the statewide vote in previous elections for president, governor and U.S. senator.

Further, the criteria of “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” would outrank more traditional benchmarks such as geographically compact districts. An Associated Press analysis found the formula is likely to increase Democrats’ chances of winning elections and cut into Republicans’ supermajorities in the state House and Senate, a primary reason why Parson and some GOP leaders appear to oppose it.

Heading into the next legislative session next month, Republicans hold a 23-9 edge in the Senate, with two vacancies, and a 107-44 advantage in the House, with 12 vacancies. The GOP has controlled both chambers since 2003, although Democrats occupied all but one statewide office as recently as 2016.

However, 44 of 163 House races last month (including two in Northeast Missouri) featured only one candidate, making it among the least competitive states in the country. Amendment 1 seeks, among other things, to give voters more choices when selecting those representing them in Jefferson City.

Granted, constitutional amendments are not the best way to establish policy. However, Missourians have repeatedly taken that route when legislators have failed to act on important issues, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

For instance, Missouri voters overwhelmingly backed campaign contribution limits in 1994, only to see legislators repeal them in 2006 and 2008. Voters once again instituted limits with constitutional amendments in both 2016 and 2018.

In arguing for passage of Amendment 1, we said it would send a strong, clear message to Jefferson City that voters are taking back their state government, that they will no longer stand by and let lobbyists run their state and that they want all their neighbors to be counted.

Now that voters have overwhelmingly agreed, they should let lawmakers know it would be a mistake to ignore their decision and arbitrarily attempt to cast the provisions of Amendment 1 aside before they have been put in place.

The will of voters clearly should not be so casually dismissed.

 

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Missouri GOP gov seeks to overturn will of the people, admits that doesn’t look great

Originally published by NBC News on December 24, 2018

When then-Missouri state Sen. Mike Parson didn’t agree with a voter-approved law imposing tough regulations on dog breeders, he led a legislative effort to repeal the measure and replace it with a tamer version.

Now eight years later as governor, Parson believes a similar repeal-and-replace effort is necessary for a new voter-approved constitutional amendment revising the way Missouri’s legislative districts are drawn. Beyond that, Parson said in an interview with The Associated Press, it may also be time to raise the bar for initiative petitions to appear on the ballot.

The Republican governor acknowledges that neither of those things may sound good to voters.

“Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote,” Parson told the AP. “But the reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”

Parson, who ascended to chief executive after Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned in June, will be participating in his first legislative session as governor in 2019. It’s a position that gives him a more powerful voice in shaping state policy, even though he no longer is directly involved in drafting details as he was during his tenure in Legislature, from 2005 to 2017.

Voters last month overwhelimingly approved Constitutional Amendment 1. Dubbed “Clean Missouri” by supporters, the measure limited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, subjected lawmakers to the state open-records law and changed the process for redrawing legislative districts after the 2020 census.

It created a new position of “nonpartisan state demographer” who will draw state House and Senate maps that achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” by basing them on the votes cast for Republicans and Democrats in previous statewide elections.

An AP analysis found the formula is likely to increase Democrats’ chances of winning elections and cut into Republicans’ supermajorities in the state House and Senate. The measure doesn’t change congressional redistricting, which is handled by state lawmakers. Repealing it would require a new measure to be placed before voters.

Parson said politics still will creep into the redistricting process. He notes that politicians — the state auditor and majority and minority leaders of the Senate— will be involved in selecting the demographer. He also criticized the criteria for partisan fairness.

“When you start talking about what they proposed in the redistricting, of how do you make districts even, I think that’s so questionable,” Parson said.

Republican legislative leaders also have said they may consider changes to Amendment 1 during the session that starts Jan. 9.

“I think the initiative petition itself, there’s a lot more to it than what the standard person can understand,” said state Sen. Dave Schatz, whom colleagues nominated as the next Senate president pro tem. “I think we’re going to have to get some legal opinions on truly the effects of what Clean Missouri really does.”

Democratic consultant Sean Nicholson, who directed the Clean Missouri campaign, opposes any efforts to change the measure.

“We’ll fight tooth and nail to protect the win and to stand up for voters,” Nicholson said.

Officials in other states also have sought to undo voter initiatives.

South Dakota is a prime example. Lawmakers in 2017 repealed voter-approved ethics regulations. House Speaker Mark Mickelson then spearheaded successful measures for the 2018 ballot requiring initiatives to stick to a single subject and banning out-of-state funding for initiatives. Voters rejected a third proposal that would have required a 55 percent threshold for voters to approve future constitutional amendments.

Missouri voters in 2010 approved Proposition B, which capped breeding businesses at 50 dogs and required larger living spaces. Parson warned at the time that the law was “shutting down an entire industry in this state.” He led the charge for legislation in 2011 that repealed the 50-dog limit and pared back some other requirements.

Parson told the AP this past week that broader changes may be needed to slow the proliferation of citizen ballot initiatives, which he said are used by individuals and groups “with deep pockets” who “have their own agendas that they’re wanting to push.”

To qualify a proposed statute for the ballot, supporters must gather signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election in six of the state’s eight congressional districts. For proposed constitutional amendments, that threshold is 8 percent. Initiative supporters write their own measures; the secretary of state prepares a summary that appears on petitions and ballots.

“The bar should be a little higher for how you do one, and I think there definitely should be streamlining in how the language is wrote,” Parson said without going into specifics.

Nicholson said he would oppose any attempt to make it harder on initiative sponsors.

“Getting on the ballot was pretty darn hard,” he said, “and then you have to go make your case and win anyway.”

 

 

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