What to believe?
The question is one Missouri voters will face when they prepare to go to the polls Nov. 6, especially when it comes to how to vote on Amendment 1 [known as Clean Missouri].
According to proponents of the measure, the proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution will bring needed ethics reforms in the state legislature and a change in how legislative districts are drawn after every U.S. census.
On the other hand, those opposing the proposal say, among other things, that it’s “a Trojan horse” with measures that sound good but really are meant to disguise an attempt to hijack the legislative redistricting process.
So, what is Amendment 1 all about? Here is a review of provisions that will become part of the state constitution if the proposal receives a majority of “yes” votes:
• A change will be made in the process and criteria for redrawing state legislative district boundaries during reapportionment [redistricting]. More on that later.
• The limits on campaign contributions that candidates for state senator or state representative can accept from individuals or entities will be reduced by $100 per election for a Senate candidate and $500 for a house candidate.
• A $5 limit will be placed on gifts that state legislators and their employees can accept from paid lobbyists or the lobbyists’ clients.
• State legislators and their employees will be prohibited from serving as paid lobbyists for a period of two years after the end of their last legislative session.
• Political fundraising by candidates for the state legislature will be prohibited on state property.
• All legislative records and proceedings will be subject to the state open meetings and records law [Missouri Sunshine Law].
Amendment 1 proponents earlier this year collected more than enough voter signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot.
Opponents then challenged the proposal in court, saying it violated the state constitution by dealing with more than one issue. A Cole County circuit judge agreed the measure dealt with “two different and extremely broad purposes,” namely ethics and the state legislature’s organization, and adjudicated the case accordingly. However, a subsequent ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned that decision, thereby keeping the proposal on the ballot.
The appeals court’s conclusion was that the measure’s “multiple provisions all relate to a single central purpose: regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests.”
The Missouri Supreme Court refused to accept the case when the appeals court ruling was challenged. As a result, two primary groups now are battling for the hearts and minds of Missouri voters.
Ethics reform or Trojan horse?
Clean Missouri is the name originally attached to the initiative petition effort and now is linked to individuals and organizations supporting Amendment 1. Among those supporters are former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, a number of current and former Republican state legislators and other officials. Clean Missouri also lists editorial endorsements from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star and the Columbia Daily Tribune. In its Sept. 26 editorial, West Newsmagazine opposed Amendment 1.
The diverse consortium of organizations backing the amendment proposal includes the League of Women Voters of Missouri, the state’s AARP chapter, Jews United for Justice, the American Association of University Women, Missouri Faith Voices and a number of labor unions, among others.
According to Danforth, “Amendment 1 will ensure fair and competitive elections so elected officials cannot take their voters for granted and must earn their support.”
In announcing the League of Women Voters’ support, the organization’s state president, Kathleen Boswell, observed, “Year after year, politicians are re-elected with big money, in districts drawn by politicians and party insiders. Amendment 1 limits the influence of special interests in the legislature and ensures no party is given an unfair advantage when redistricting occurs after the next census.”
There are pros and cons regarding the amendment’s ethics reforms. For example, Missouri Sen. Bob Onder [R-Lake Saint Louis] is concerned the provision about opening legislative records to Sunshine Law requests means letters and emails from constituents no longer will be withheld from public scrutiny.
Nonetheless, there’s little dispute that most of the attention is on the redistricting provision.
Onder describes that portion of Amendment 1 as “gerrymandering on steroids.”
“Amendment 1 is an outright attempt to deceive by using measures voters are known to favor, such as banning gifts from lobbyists, to put in place a bizarre, unfair and deceptive method of drawing the lines for legislative districts,” he asserted. “Clean Missouri is financed by a group of left-wing, out-of-state liberals determined to regain for Democrats the seats and legislative power lost to Republicans in recent years.”
Rep. Shamed Dogan [R-Ballwin] agrees, labeling Amendment 1 as a Trojan horse whose real purpose is obtaining “radical redistricting change.”
“We will wind up in a situation where everyone loses,” he predicted.
Politics or science?
Current law mandates that redistricting be done by two commissions – one for the House and another for the Senate.
For the Senate, state committees of the major political parties each name 10 nominees to handle the redistricting task. From this pool of 20, the governor then selects five members per party, or a total of 10, for that commission.
For the House, the congressional district committees from the major parties both nominate two members from each of the state’s eight congressional districts. From this pool of 32, the governor appoints one member from each party in each district, yielding an evenly divided 16-member commission.
If a redistricting plan fails to get approval from at least 70 percent of either commission’s members, the state Supreme Court then appoints a panel of six appellate court judges to draw the district lines.
Under the Amendment 1 proposal, the state auditor would select at least three persons judged by their applications to be qualified to serve as a non-partisan state demographer. The Senate majority and minority leaders then would choose someone from that list. If they can’t agree, they each would eliminate one-third of the applicants. Should more than one name remain, the state auditor would conduct a random lottery of those still on the list to select the non-partisan demographer charged with preparing the maps.
In short, the state auditor would be involved in the process but would not personally select the demographer.
The demographer would develop district maps and present them to the House and Senate commissions described earlier. Changes in those maps could be made only if 70 percent of the commissioners agreed to do so.
While naming a demographer as the person with the primary responsibility for developing district maps is a substantial change, the requirements the maps must meet have led to even greater controversy. Specifically, districts would need to achieve “both partisan fairness and, secondarily, competitiveness,” goals that could prove difficult to achieve in some areas.
Locations that are either strongly Republican or Democrat now would need to be joined with other areas to form districts with a reasonable balance of the other party’s voters.
Proponents argue that current map-drawing procedures have led to districts where election races are not competitive, and uncompetitive elections create a lack of accountability by officeholders to voters. But opponents counter with comments that maps meeting the amendment’s requirements will lead to even more heinous examples of gerrymandering, the “gerrymandering on steroids” that Onder cited.
“It’s simply not beneficial to live in a district where your elected state senator and representative may wind up being a long way from you and many other constituents,” Dogan said. “And I really can’t see the rationale for having the state auditor involved in the process, except for the fact it’s now the only statewide office held by a Democrat.”
Clean Missouri or Missourians First?
Missourians First has cranked up its efforts to challenge Amendment 1 at the ballot box, with former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, also a Republican, serving as its chairman. Joining Talent in an advisory role are legislative leaders from both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly, including Onder and Dogan. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry also has climbed on the Missourians First bandwagon.
Talent has blasted Clean Missouri for accepting large cash donations from groups that don’t disclose contributors and from other outsiders, including George Soros, a business magnate well known for his support of progressive and liberal political causes.
Clean Missouri spokesman Benjamin Singer said the $250,000 received from Soros is less than 10 percent of the more than $3 million the organization has raised to finance its efforts. Campaign financial reports also show that the National Education Association and its Missouri affiliate have contributed a combined total of $1 million to Clean Missouri.
Overall, Singer noted Clean Missouri has received some 27,000 donations.
There’s also the question about whether a constitutional amendment is the way to achieve the changes Clean Missouri is advocating. Views on that aspect vary as well.
Both Clean Missouri and Missourians First have websites with a wealth of information supporting their respective points of view that, along with other pronouncements on the issue, may leave many voters facing a flood of information difficult to navigate.
Dr. Alden Craddock, a professor of political science and education at Maryville University, views the situation this way: “One of the challenges now confronting a modern democracy is too much information, along with the attendant problem of separating fact from opinion. We also are seeing what I’d call ‘the weaponizing of information.’ That’s not new, but it is coming at us in so many ways and from so many different directions today.”
Craddock said the answer doesn’t mean shutting out the welter of messages and communications clamoring for our attention and support. Rather, what’s needed is a conscious effort to get as much information as possible from different sources, not just those with which we may, at first, agree.
Craddock recommends Ballotpedia.org as a source of unbiased information on a host of issues. Missouri’s Amendment 1 is explored in depth on the website.
The Maryville professor, who also is its associate vice president for institutional values, considers the League of Women Voters to be another source of reliable information. “If the organization has an opinion on an issue, it will tell you what it is and why,” Craddock said.
Another informational tool Craddock likes is the SmartNews app that delivers information from various sources on topics you want to know about.
“Today’s reality is that it’s risky to take anything at face value,” Craddock observed. “It takes a large amount of critical thinking to sort through everything, especially when you consider the length of our political seasons and when there is so much money involved in efforts to influence.
“That’s not always the case elsewhere in the world, but it is here, so we need to respond accordingly.”