October 31, 2014

Missouri House races headline next week’s election

With no contested statewide races up next week, the key question in the general election is whether Republicans can maintain their state legislative supermajorities.

Majority Floor Leader John Diehl (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The likely next Speaker of the Missouri House, John Diehl, hopes to lead a Supermajority of Republicans in that chamber for the next two years.  (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans hold enough seats in each chamber to overturn a governor’s veto without any help from Democrats, but losing just two seats could make a big difference according to University of Missouri Political Science Professor Peverill Squire.

“If they lose that leverage then it puts them in a position where they have to deal more with the governor and take his preferences into some account,” Squire explains.

So, says Squire, holding that supermajority means wielding a great deal of political power.

“We saw in this last session of the General Assembly that when the Republicans have a supermajority and they have cohesion among their members, they can achieve most of their policy goals and that’s a fairly dramatic change from sort of the normal course of events,” says Squire.

Whether that supermajority will last could come down to races in as few as two districts.

“It could tip one way or the other based a turnout of relatively a few voters,” says Squire.

The professor says Missouri Democrats are focusing campaign dollars on select races hoping to break that supermajority. That includes Governor Jay Nixon, who has contributed $75,000.

Squire says the outcome of the House races has particular significance for Nixon.

“A governor who is a lame duck – he can’t run for re-election – is already in a weak position,” says Squire. “The prospect for Jay Nixon is if he’s facing a supermajority once again for his final two years, it really makes him less relevant than he would normally be.”

Squire believes Republicans are unlikely to lose their supermajority in the state Senate, and the GOP is focused not just on holding legislative supermajorities, but growing them.

Missouri’s new Right to Farm challenged in court (AUDIO)

Opponents of the Right to Farm amendment passed by voters in August hope the courts agree the legislature misled voters.

Three Missouri farm groups say the legislature intentionally misled voters by telling them one thing in the summary that was on the ballot, but saying something else in Amendment One.   They also argue that the misleading language opens the door for extensive foreign ownership of farmland.

The ballot title read, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”

But Missouri’s Food for America, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and the Missouri Farmers Union want the courts to set aside the results of the election because the amendment does not mention rights for “citizens.”

President Wes Shoemyer with Missouri’s Food for America says the amendment actually refers to “farmers and ranchers,” and that means “non-citizens” such as the Chinese company that bought Smithfield Foods. “We have 50,000 acres of our farmland owned by the Chinese. We have 27% of pork produced in this country owned by the Chinese. So now they are a ‘farmer and rancher’ but they are not a ‘citizen’ of Missouri. There’s a clear difference there.”

The amendment passed by less than 2,400 votes out of almost one-million votes cast.

AUDIO: Shoemyer interview 10;00

Abortion rights backers, opponents hope 72-wait spurs MO voters

Supporters and opponents of abortion rights both hope that their side will be prompted to head to the polls next month by the votes this year to triple the waiting period for an abortion in Missouri.

The state legislature voted to overturn Governor Jay Nixon’s (D) veto of a bill that tripled the time a woman in Missouri must wait for an abortion from 24-hours to 72. Abortion rights supporters and opponents both hope that will spur their side to head to the polls to vote on legislative seats.

St. Louis regional president of Planned Parenthood, Paula Gianino, says it’s up to Missouri voters to stop what she calls a relentless attack on women’s health.

“We’ve done our best, frankly, to try to change legislators’ heads and hearts, and really what’s left is that we have to change who goes to the legislature,” says Gianino. “We have to change the faces.”

Missouri Right to Life President Pam Fichter says Missourians have consistently supported candidates who don’t support abortion.

“When the voters have the evidence on the facts of abortion, when they know the position of the candidate and their voting records, that they are more likely to choose pro-life candidates,” says Fichter. “We are hoping that they will maintain that priority and even add to the bipartisan majority that we have for life in both houses of the Missouri legislature.”

Gianino, in saying she hopes to “change the faces” of the legislature, says the results of such change wouldn’t be limited just to those two chambers.

“Changing the faces will also have an impact on who gets appointed to courts,” says Gianino. “Judges and people who sit on state and federal courts are appointed, and these are the remedies that really are within our control.”

The Senate vote for that veto override was along party lines, but nine Democrats sided with the majority of Republicans in the House to vote for the longer waiting period.

Ferguson, St. Louis same-sex marriages illustrate need to vote local

Two stories that have drawn national attention to Missouri this year could serve as reminders to Missourians, no matter how they feel about those stories, of the importance to vote in local government races.

Those with passionate feelings about police procedures stirred by the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the unrest that followed, or about same-sex marriage after the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples by the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds office, could act on those feelings at the polls. Both are tied directly to locally elected decision makers.

“Local elected officials really have quite a bit of say in how the policies of Jefferson City are implemented,” says Drew Kurlowski, a visiting assistant professor of political science in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri. “More so, all of the ways that we generally interact with government, whether that’s fire, police, our local roads, our schools; this is all administered at the local level yet we rarely pay attention to these elections.”

Kurlowski says vote counts in local races could be particularly low in November this year.

The only statewide race on the ballot, that for Auditor, doesn’t feature a matchup between the two major parties, and being a mid-term election means there are no key national races that generally bring out more voters.

“We have a lot of constitutional amendments, we have some judge retention on the ballot this year and the further you go down the ballot, the less likely that a voter will actually complete that,” says Kurlowski, describing it as a sort of fatigue. “Even in years when we do have these marquee races, local election turnout is generally low across the board and across the nation.”

During protests that followed the Michael Brown shooting, some set up voter registration tables and encouraged protesters to sign up.  Civil Rights Leader Rev. Al Sharpton encouraged voter registration, saying the region’s 12-percent voter turnout was an “insult to your children.”

The last day to register for the November election is October 8. Find out more about registering to vote here.

New words will cost Missouri counties thousands (AUDIO)

Twenty-one words are going to cost Missouri Counties tens of thousands of dollars.

They’re the words the legislature left out of its ballot title for the early voting proposal that will be on the November ballot.  A state appeals court says early voting will happen “but only if the legislature and the governor appropriate and disburse funds to pay for the increased costs of such voting.”

Election authorities in every county who already had ballots printed, now have to reprint them and include those 21 words.

Atchison County Clerk Suzette Taylor, the president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities, has checked the printers who produce ballots throughout the state and has found two-thirds of the November ballots will have to be reprinted–a hard blow to county budgets this late in the year.

Her costs might be as low as $500-$1,000.  But she says the big counties such as Jackson, St. Louis, and Greene could be facing $75,000 to $100,000 in unexpected costs. The state does not reimburse counties for costs of statewide elections.

Taylor calls the situation “terrible” because of the cost and because military ballots start going out today and absentee voting starts Tuesday.

The issue is expected to become the primary topic when her association meets next week.

AUDIO: Taylor interview 4:35