Two highly controversial comments by two Missouri state lawmakers from different parties have led to calls for both to resign.
Republicans and Democrats alike harshly condemned Democratic Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City after one of her Facebook postings included the phrase “I hope Trump is assassinated!”
Most Republicans called for her to be expelled if she didn’t leave office voluntarily. Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson called a news conference to announce, that as President of the Senate, he would seek to have her expelled if she declined to resign. GOP Governor Eric Greitens issued a statement supporting such a move.
Democrats were less full throated, but still quick to criticize Chappelle-Nadal, with some members going as far as to call for her expulsion. House Democrat Joshua Peters of St. Louis issued a statement late last week following contentious remarks on Facebook by Republican Representative Warren Love of Osceola.
“I join United State Senator Claire McCaskill and our State Party Chairman Stephen Webber in calling for the expulsion of Senator Chappelle-Nadal and I am calling for the resignation of Representative Love as well” said Peters.
He went further in calling on fellow Democrats to be consistent in their treatment of both lawmakers “Without Senator Chappelle-Nadal’s removal we have no moral standing to call for Representative Love’s removal.”
Last Wednesday, Love reacted to vandals who threw paint on a Confederate monument in the Springfield National Cemetery. His Facebook post read “I hope they are found & hung from a tall tree with a long rope”.
Representative Peters told Missourinet there’s a difference between the two comments in that what Love said could be considered freedom of speech, while Chappelle-Nadal’s remarks could be a federal crime.
“We have one lawmaker who came out and threatened the life of a United States President. We’ve had another lawmaker who’s come out and said something completely inappropriate and offensive to the general public. There is a difference.”
Some political observers say the controversial comments from the two lawmakers are likely the result of them holding safe seats. A “safe seat” is an electoral district which is considered fully secure for one party or the other.
Professor Greg Magarian of Washington University in St. Louis teaches the law of politics. He thinks the both lawmakers’ pronouncements are the consequence of safe districts.
“In a safe district, there really are not swing voters,” said Magarian. “More than that, as we know in safe districts, generally the biggest threat is a primary from the more ideologically extreme challenger. So there’s actually an incentive to do stuff that’s going to really stoke the base.”
Representative Love’s District 125 is in a rural area of southwest Missouri which is regarded as heavily Republican and conservative. It encompasses the counties of Cedar, Benton, St. Clair and Hickory. Chappelle-Nadal’s Senate District 14 in St. Louis County has long been a Democratic stronghold.
Political Science Professor Terry Smith of mid-Missouri’s Columbia College doesn’t think either legislator will be punished by their constituents. “They don’t run the risk of someone challenging them for this cause,” said Smith.
Magarian contends safe districts are increasingly being created by gerrymandering, the practice in which the political party in control redraws voting districts to its favor. He says outrageous behavior is a not new phenomenon in politics, but does think gerrymandering contributes to its growth in recent years.
“I absolutely think that the partisanship of district drawing, partisan gerrymandering, has played a role, at the margins but at a pretty important margin, in making it safer for people to be behave in extreme ways.”
Smith thinks technology and social media have allowed incendiary comments by office holders to become much more widely circulated. “In the old days when communication was mediated through an audio file, or certainly through a newspaper, people had a chance to think about stuff. But it’s just that it’s so instantaneous and so tempting to just, kind of, let it hang out. And obviously not even experienced politicians are immune.”
Magarain thinks the current arrangement with so many safe districts may not promote healthy discourse in politics. “Whether it’s a good calculation about the Republican base to say ‘We should lynch that guy’, or if it’s a good calculation for a Democratic, urban base to say ‘Somebody should kill Trump’, I don’t know. I hope those are bad calculations.”
Magarian wants to see laws changed to eliminate the partisan gerrymandering. He thinks doing so could reduce the number of toxic comments by politicians and would better serve the democratic process.
“The only realistic number of choices that people are going to have in most elections in this country are two or one on general election day. One isn’t really good for a functioning democracy, I don’t think.”
The state legislature will be back in Jefferson City for its annual Veto Session next Wednesday, when it’ll consider whether to override Governor Greitens’ decisions to block some laws from taking effect. It’s thought that action to discipline Love or Chappelle-Nadal for their comments could be further discussed at that time.
Smith is not optimistic the issue will have the staying power to occupy lawmakers’ time however. “Sadly, I guess I would say. Because it’s a shame that it won’t be a big deal and that it hasn’t been a bigger deal in the sense there haven’t been consequences. But I just don’t think this story has a lot of longevity.”