Letter from Langdon: Missouri Dislikes Democrats but Likes Their Policies

The Show Me State elected a Republican U.S. senator and, by roughly the same margins, turned around and approved ballot initiatives that reform elections, raise the minimum wage, and legalize medical marijuana.

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Bright red Missouri bleeds blue.  

Here in red Missouri, the wave of blue looked more like another cyclical crimson tide. But this year marked what may be a new low in Democratic representation with the loss by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill to inexperienced state Attorney General Josh Hawley.   

Hawley won soundly against Claire with President Trump’s endorsement after only fulfilling half his first term as AG.  

Claire worked hard to be a centrist. Some Democrats faulted her for it because they said she should have leaned harder to the left. But in Conservative Missouri even liberals lean right when compared to Democrats on the coasts. Claire concentrated her fire on opioid addiction, coverage of pre-existing health conditions, veterans rights, Social Security and Medicare, government spending and the deficit. She angered some Roe v Wade feminist supporters by deflecting questions on abortion, saying it should be safe, legal, and rare, and pointing out that if we had better birth control this country would have fewer unwanted pregnancies.  

So…once again, the Show-Me-State home of give ’em hell Harry Truman has denied a political party anything close to parity in our government. Only one statewide office is held by Democrat Nicole Galloway who won re-election to the office of auditor with a hair over 50% of the vote.  

Interestingly that happens to be an office once held by McCaskill. When it comes to watchdogs Missouri prefers Democrats.  

Even as Claire McCaskill was losing her Senate race, Missourians voted on seven special initiatives on the ballot that included questions on state election reform, medical marijuana, the minimum wage, a gas-tax increase, and Bingo. Yet as our most arguably prominent state Democrat lost an election for only the second time in her 40+ year career, two bright-blue progressive state constitutional amendments and one proposition were confirmed by exactly the same group of voters who denied Claire a third term. Ironically, the amendments favoring election reform (62% in favor) and medical marijuana (65.5% in favor), and a proposition setting a $12 minimum wage (62% in favor) prevailed.  

 Even a Bingo advertising amendment passed with 52% voting yes. That’s 4 out of 7.  

It’s also worth noting that in our August primary, Missouri voters handed conservatives a resounding defeat by quashing a right-to-work amendment.  

For the year, Missourians valued liberal issues of labor unions, election reform, medical marijuana, higher minimum wage—and Bingo???— over Democrats.   

Could it be Missouri’s Democrats have a problem with framing our issues?  

A map of Missouri depicted in two colors, red and blue, shows party bias in elections as stark as Election Day results depict. Until ballot initiatives are figured in, only the Kansas City, Columbia, and St. Louis metropolitan areas are blue to the bone. One newspaper editorial penned by the conservative St. Joseph News-Press called the presence of those seven ballot issues evidence of the Californiaization of Missouri.   

It seems we must keep a few Democrats around as whipping boys for occasions like this.  

But regardless of party powers that be, ballot initiatives here are nothing new.  Between 1996 and now, they’ve appeared on state ballots an average of six times each in a range from two to 10 with an average voter approval rate of about two-thirds. This year California had 16 state ballot propositions.  

California, here we come.  

Campaign reform was a long time coming. Voters took a shot at it in the election two years back when they approved measures that the Missouri Ethics Commission declared to be unenforceable. It wasn’t popular with them, but the General Assembly could have stepped up with a fix of their own. Unfortunately a newly elected Republican governor proved to be disruptive to the process when scandal and campaign fundraising violations brought potential progress to a screeching halt. The newest state attorney general who is now our newest U.S. senator declined to investigate while he joined other state AGs in suing to end Obamacare along with its pre-existing conditions clause.  

And while partisan gerrymandering has been on the minds of many here for years, this was the first successful attempt to fix it. Support for Amendment One’s campaign finance and gerrymandering reform came from both sides of the aisle in terms of elected officials both past and present, with opposition coming from moneyed interests and stalwarts on the right.  

Perhaps with such a firm hold on state government, Republicans didn’t see the point.  

So while so many of my fellow Missourians turned their backs on Democrats, they embraced what most states see as Democratic issues. Clean Missouri’s Amendment One petition was careful to portray a bipartisan proposal free of the overpowering stench of liberal politics, by gathering endorsements for campaign reform from the conservative likes of former U.S. Senator John Danforth, numerous state senators and representatives, AARP, and League of Women Voters. 

We had a proposition and two proposed constitutional amendments regarding medical marijuana on November’s ballot. The most sensible one, Amendment 2, passed with flying colors. The other amendment taxed marijuana more heavily and would have placed a St. Louis lawyer in charge. And the proposition would merely have dealt with the issue through statutes, which a politically motivated Legislature could have shaped to suit themselves regardless of the vote.  

And thanks to voters’ sympathies, the minimum wage is going up, eventually to $12.  

Detractors said it’ll make fast-food labor too expensive and burden the state’s unemployment roles with expensive un-hired workers. Not to worry. This was a proposition. It’s statutory, not constitutional, therefore our Republican General Assembly can “fix” it as they have so many others.   

It hasn’t helped that Democrats have gotten bogged down by one high profile issue, that of abortion. I’ll never forget the day at a Fourth of July parade when a young woman, upon learning I am a Democrat, accused me of wanting to kill babyies. I was so shocked it didn’t occur to me to deny it. But that’s the knee jerk reaction here. Democrats are baby killers (even Democratic dads with kids, grandkids and great grandkids?)  and Republicans uphold family values by opposing birth control and abortion, all while stalling on important issues of our day. That is evidenced by the astounding presence of so many petitions for ballot initiatives around the state.  

Color coded state voting maps on these issues look a lot more like the red and blue maps of 50 years ago when Democrats were competitive here.  

 It looks as though that as they become more seasoned, younger voters are growing impatient with politics where money is the ramrod that gets things done. Instead, they are taking it on themselves to accomplish those things our elected representatives have stalled. In Missouri that’s been wages, election reforms, marijuana, and universal healthcare.  

Don’t be surprised if that last one pops up on 2020 ballots. If Democrats are ever able to frame these issues in a way people trust, they’ll find a vast resource of untapped voters on their side. It’s possible.  

 Ask yourself this: 

 What would they do in California? 

 Richard Oswald is a fifth-generation Missouri farmer from Langdon. He is membership and policy director for the Missouri Farmers Union.

 

 

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