By DAVID A. COOK
By the time you’re reading this the Missouri legislative session for 2022 will be nearly complete. This year will go down as one of the least productive years in the legislature’s history, but considering the priorities of some of our elected officials, perhaps that’s a good thing.
After a small number of Republicans brought the Missouri Senate to a standstill for more than a month in an effort to pass an absurdly gerrymandered congressional map, the politicians in Jefferson City struggled to accomplish much of anything that would actually help their constituents. Here are a few examples:
NOT FUNDING MEDICARE
They haven’t properly funded Medicare despite voters clearly choosing to expand the program by a ballot vote a few short years ago. This means more of Missouri’s poorest families continue to struggle to afford basic healthcare.
SHORTCHANGING OUR CHILDREN
They’ve sought to send more public funds to private charter schools, continuing to undermine our best tool for lifting up a community: education. In fact, Missouri continues to rank dead last in starting pay for public school teachers. That’s right, every other state in the country pays their teachers more than we do.
Our public schools are so underfunded that 25 percent of all public school districts in Missouri have transitioned to a four-day school week because of a lack of funds.
We are literally shortchanging our children and risking the future of this state. Meanwhile, Missouri is choosing to leave roughly $2 billion in federal dollars on the table, debating how and where to spend the massive pile of cash doled out during the COVID pandemic.
While our schools remain underfunded, our roads remain in disrepair, and our state continues to abandon our poorest citizens, what have politicians in Jefferson City spent their time on this year?
RACE, GENDER IDENTITY, CULTURAL GRIEVANCE
Well, they spent a whole lot of time discussing something called “critical race theory” (CRT) and banning books and materials from schools. You might have heard of the dreaded “CRT” on television or social media. Whatever your thoughts are on the matter, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around spending such a long amount of time on the issue while we can’t even keep our schools open all week.
Our elected officials managed to spend a lot of time on looking to marginalize trans children, keeping bigoted rhetoric in the halls of our state capitol at the expense of the safety and wellness of children already at risk of self-harm. In other words, they’ve spent much of their time feeding moral panic and chewing on red meat for their base. These officials have constructed their entire political identity on waging culture grievances instead of actually governing.
Instead of using federal funds that could have protected frontline workers during the pandemic, they let the money sit around doing nothing it all. Instead of passing a law to protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination at work, Missouri politicians are currently trying to pass a law to protect anti-vaxxers from discrimination.
In a state where workers remain chronically underpaid, where too many of our fellow citizens cannot afford healthcare, where our children reside in underfunded schools, many of our politicians seem unwilling or unable to make even the smallest improvements to our state.
GRATEFUL THEY CAN’T SEEM TO GET MUCH DONE
Perhaps if this is the case we should be grateful that they can’t seem to get much done. Imagine the kind of damage they would do if they were able to pass the things they wanted. These are the same folks who want to literally lower wages by eliminating the minimum wage and pass the phony “Right-to-Work” to gut unions and leave workers in poverty. If left unchallenged, they would let discrimination run rampant in the workplace and they’d give tax breaks to only the richest Missourians.
If you need any further proof that some of the politicians in Jefferson City truly do not care for the most vulnerable, just consider this: last week a group of them tried to kill a bill that would allow elderly or disabled people to use their food stamps to purchase hot food.
With billions of extra dollars that they can’t even decide how to use, politicians are still trying to keep the elderly or disabled people from having a speck of dignity and eat hot prepared foods like the kind we often find in our own grocery stores. In what world is it acceptable to deny those basic necessities and still be able to show your face in public?
When people with “values” like this are in power the best we can hope for is incompetence, and we’ve seen that in spades. Even Gov. Mike Parson can’t keep his fellow Republicans in line. While Parson proposed higher wages for state employees — ours are some of the lowest paid in the nation — his own party cut down on his proposal, limiting the raise to only a select few and leaving the rest in poverty.
This legislative session has certainly had a bright spot or two, but very little in the form of actual accomplishments. Given what so many in the majority party would like to accomplish, perhaps that’s a good thing.