A quick take from a couple of key state Republicans at the Missouri State Fair revealed the party hasn’t yet organized a response after a resounding loss of a right to work ballot measure.
The proposal to make Missouri a right to work state, a top priority of the state’s GOP, lost by a landslide 67%-to-32% margin. The final vote was 937,241-to-452,075. Political experts and people on both sides of the issue were shocked at the final result.
Right to work has a tortured history for Republicans in Missouri. The party, which dominates the legislature, successfully signed a right to work bill into law in 2017 after having their efforts vetoed for years by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon.
The bill raced through the general assembly and was signed by then-Governor Eric Greitens, himself a right to work enthusiast, in February of last year.
But by rushing the legislation forward, lawmakers gave labor organizations that much more time to organize an opposition. The groups easily gathered the needed signatures to force a public vote on the new law.
Republicans then made a calculated move in the most recent legislative session to move the vote on right to work from November to the August primary.
The official reason given was that moving up the vote would give speedier closure to the issue. But numerous political experts contend the GOP deliberately changed the vote to August when turnout among Democrats, who tend to support unions, is typically lower than that of Republicans.
If that thinking is correct, the move backfired in a big way. As far as what to do next, Republican Senator Caleb Rowden of Columbia thinks a right to work bill will be filed in the next session despite the recent setback.
“It was a loud, pretty resounding vote,” said Rowden. “I think it’ll weigh-in on our decision, but I think ultimately there are a lot of folks who believe in the merits of what right to work brings to our state. So, we’ll have that conversation. We’ll take it as it comes.”
Rowden spoke with Missourinet while mingling with attendees outside the tent during the annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast at the State Fair in west-central Missouri’s Sedalia Thursday.
Labor organizations from inside and outside Missouri poured money into the right to work ballot measure. The lead group behind the opposition, We are Missouri, spent $15.3 million, according to its filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
By comparison, the organization Freedom to Work spent roughly $1.9 million to support the measure which was identified on the ballot as Proposition A while Missourians For Freedom to Work spent just over $1.3 million to back the proposal.
Republican Governor Mike Parson, while fielding questions from reporters Thursday at the fair, did not seem interested in having the legislature quickly revisit the right to work issue. “The voters have spoken pretty loud and clear on that,” said Parson. “It’s not going be a priority of mine between now and the first of the year, I’ll say that.”
There was some second-guessing among supporters of right to work over the move to place the ballot measure in the August primary. Matt Panik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, told Missourinet days prior to the election that he thought the original November date would’ve allowed proponents more time to raise money for their campaign.
There were also ominous signs from polling. A survey conducted by the Remington Research Group on behalf of The Missouri Times in July showed 56% of voters opposed right to work while 38% approved.
Senator Rowden says he’s ready to move past the disappointing loss for most Republicans. “It is what it is, we are where we are,” Rowden said. “We’ll move on and can hopefully find other ways in the interim to grow the economy and make sure folks have good jobs.”
Voters rejected right to work in a previous election 40 years ago. In 1978, a ballot measure to change the state constitution to make Missouri a right to work state failed by a substantial margin.
Right to work, as stated in the primary ballot measure’s language would have prohibited, as a condition of employment, forced membership in a labor union or forced payments of dues or fees, typically known as “fair share fees”.