As the November 6th election arrives, a proposal aimed at reining in money in politics and remaking voting maps has proven to be one of the most controversial ballot measures voters will see. At seven paragraphs, it also has by far the most involved explanation on the ballot.
Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri, has the clear backing of many Democrats and some Republicans while many in the GOP have solidified opposition to the measure. Those who are against the proposal, which includes some high-profile Democrats as well, generally have issues with the changes it makes to the redistricting process.
The Missouri agricultural community is also divided over the amendment. Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst recently labeled it “a Lemon of a Deal” in a news release. He said the backers of Clean Missouri are “using the same tactics as the greasiest used car salesman” as he viewed the measure’s claim to ethics reform with major skepticism.
Among Hurst’s chief problems with the ballot measure’s redistricting plan is its use of a non-partisan “state demographer” who would determine voting districts. The demographer would replace the current system in which the legislature appoints bipartisan House and Senate redistricting commissions. He also is troubled by the central role the state auditor would play in determining who the demographer would be, noting that the main function of the secretary of state is to oversee elections.
Hurst indicated he thinks the Democratic minority in the legislature is artificially trying to gain the upper hand in the redistricting process. “If one team can’t compete, it’s clear to Amendment One backers that the rules must be the problem, not the fact that the losing team might want to get better players or a smarter strategy,” said Hurst.
He also suggested the redistricting plan would diminish the voice of rural voters. “One thing is for sure. The only way to get more competitive districts in Missouri is to dilute the impact of rural voters by extending rural districts into urban areas, making adequate representation of rural Missouri all but impossible,” Hurst said.
Susan Williams is a retired school administrator, who has rejoined her husband to manage a cattle ranch in mid-Missouri. She disagrees with Hurst’s view that Clean Missouri would impede the speech of rural residents. She points out rural Cooper County where she lives is already disenfranchised because it’s divided into four legislative districts.
“Our vote and our ideas are diluted because we are divided between four different districts,” said Williams. “The Clean Missouri puts those in more square, rectangular districts. They’re not divided and spread over such a vast area.”
In addition to changing the redistricting process, the ballot measure would set campaign finance rules and other restrictions on lawmakers.
It would require Missouri legislative records to be open and it would lower campaign contribution limits for state legislative candidates – $2,500 for Senate seats and $2,000 for House seats. It would also require Missouri lawmakers to wait two years before becoming lobbyists and would eliminate lobbyist gifts of more than $5 to lawmakers.
Rick Oswalt is a farmer in Atchison County in far northwest Missouri who is also a former President of the Missouri Farmers Union. He favors Clean Missouri because he thinks lawmakers have been swayed by the influence of big money. “What I’ve seen is that we’ve lost a lot of moderate Republicans,” said Oswalt. “We’ve lost the kind of people who really represent our rural values and are willing to work for the general population because they aren’t willing to tow the party line for some big money donors.”
Oswalt contends the impact of big money led to a poor decision by the legislature in 2013. “I’ve seen things happen like actions taken by the general assembly to allow more acres of Missouri farmland to be purchased by a foreign entity, as in particular China, which this country seems to be at odds with right now.”
The legislature loosened the restriction on foreign agricultural land ownership a week before a Chinese meat-processing giant bought Smithfield Foods, which had significant assets in Missouri. Shuanghui International Holdings, now known as WH Group, purchased Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion.
Williams, the cattle rancher, remembers attending a Missouri House hearing this year with a room full of family farmers to testify on two identical bills that would’ve reversed the 2013 foreign ownership legislation. The proposals were sponsored by Democrat Martha Stevens of Columbia and Republican Tom Hurst of Meta.
She says lawmakers at the hearing listened to 5-6 big money lobbyists and largely ignored people like her. “When an individual tried to get up there and talk it was like the hearing committee didn’t listen to the individual family farmers that were there,” Williams said. “They listened more to those lobby groups.”
Williams acknowledged that members of the farming community have differing opinions on the Clean Missouri ballot measure, stating that the Farm Bureau doesn’t necessarily represent the interests of people like herself. “We’ve got to look at what individual or regional needs are versus what the big money of what maybe the Farm Bureau is supporting. Those interests are not always the interests of the local small family farmer.”