Too often our legislators in Jefferson City have taken hypocritical stances on issues that have gone to a vote of the people. In essence, if they don’t like the latest initiative petition, they’ll jump in and rewrite policy. If they don’t have the gumption to address a tough issue, they can fall back on the slogan that “the voters have spoken.”
We’re already seeing it again this year. Two months ago the voters passed Clean Missouri, the measure that compels legislators to pay for their own meals, opens their records to the same rules as the rest of the state and, critically, tries to get a handle on gerrymandering electoral districts by adding an impartial demographer to the process.
Just this week, the Missouri House voted to sidestep the open-records part of Clean Missouri. And get this: The stated logic is that each representative should decide on his or her own what is confidential. That’s absurd. Rules only work if they are equitable, externally imposed and applicable to everyone. Letting someone set his own rules effectively means there is no rule. In this case it means you can expect little or no sunshine from the Missouri House.
There is also talk of finding a way around Clean Missouri more broadly, just as there is apparent movement to once again worry over the bone of “right-to-work” legislation, that is, banning closed union shops. Missouri has had closed shops for decades, and voters in the 1970s and again last year said emphatically they want to keep it that way. They don’t like the lower wages seen in states that have adopted right-to-work.
But powerful donors want right-to-work, so here we go again. Rep. Bill Kidd said during an appearance in Independence on Friday that this conversation will probably start – and maybe die – in the state Senate. Perhaps that’s as far as this goes. There are more pressing issues in need of legislators’ efforts.
Gov. Mike Parson, among others, says it’s time to look at restricting what citizens and special interests can get on the ballot via initiative petition. That might be a valid discussion, but one persistent pattern cannot be overlooked: The General Assembly, year after year, shilly-shallies on an issue or flatly refuses to act, whether it’s cracking down on animal cruelty, raising the minimum wage or getting with the times on medical marijuana. Those are three examples in which voters changed policy through the initiative petition.
There’s an aspect of this in road funding, too. Legislators put a poorly conceived sales tax for roads on the ballot in 2014. That would have meant truckers would pay far less than their fair share. The voters saw through that and said no. Last year, it was a gas tax increase. Better plan – but the ballot language was confusing. Another no.
Does anyone think the voters don’t recognize the need for better roads? What’s needed is a good plan, clearly communicated, but we still hear that “voters have spoken” language now and then. To his credit, Parson says failure is not an option here. But the 2019 session is underway, and legislative leaders haven’t offered much. More years than not, it’s been talk and inaction. Are we headed there again?