By DAVID A. COOK
Missouri politicians returned to Jefferson City a few short weeks ago for the 2022 legislative session. Two weeks ago, Gov. Mike Parson gave his State of the State address, laying out his priorities for the coming year. As the session begins to move forward there are clear issues beginning to take shape.
As usual, a handful of politicians working on behalf of their corporate masters have filed their usual round of anti-worker legislation. These bills would gut public-sector unions like the school teachers, and make it harder for private-sector unions to provide the wages and benefits that their members deserve.
Most of you probably remember that former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens — who resigned in disgrace as his own party prepared to impeach him for sexual assault and campaign finance violations — signed “right-to-work-for-Less” (RTW) into law in 2018.
You probably remember what happened next: after a massive grassroot campaign Missouri voters overwhelmingly voted against RTW and had it overturned. Voters in every corner of the state, in red counties and blue counties, crushed this bill by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
While Greitens may be gone — although he does currently lead the field in the Missouri primary for the U.S. Senate seat that is up in November, something that should trouble Republican voters who don’t want to see an abuser and a criminal representing their party in Washington D.C. — the anti-worker faction of politicians still exists.
HOPEFUL BAD BILLS WILL NOT PROGRESS
I am hopeful that those bills will not progress too far this year for numerous reasons:
First, after a crushing defeat just a few years ago, I’m not sure that Republicans want to engage in another expensive and bloody fight on an issue that even their own voters do not support.
Second, the Republican-controlled House and Senate chambers in Jefferson City have numerous priorities this year that they deem more important, and there is dysfunction even within their own party on those issues.
Third, a new electoral map must be drawn for Missouri following the completion of the 2020 census, and Republicans are currently deeply divided on just how much they should gerrymander the state in order to disenfranchise voters.
On top of that, Missouri is sitting on a surplus of funds, billions of which are coming to the state thanks to the efforts of President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats who passed the sweeping infrastructure bill last year. Those dollars are headed to Missouri, and Parson seems eager to make sure they are spent on improving our infrastructure and enhancing rural broadband access.
This is actually pretty ironic since Parson and nearly everyone in his party opposed passing the infrastructure bill. He didn’t want us to invest in our state, but he’s happy to take the money and the credit for the projects it will create.
Here is my hope, and my plea to politicians in Jefferson City: workers need help now more than ever, and rather than pleasing your biggest corporate donors by attacking teachers, firemen, electricians, welders, and frontline workers in our grocery stores, focus on supporting and lifting up the working class in this state.
ROADS AND BRIDGES
Just last week a bridge in Pennsylvania collapsed. It was a shocking sight and a brutal reminder of how much we need to invest in the things we all need.
Missouri has a massive transportation system but it’s been critically underfunded for more than a decade. We have bridges in disrepair, roads that are becoming unsafe, and millions of Missourians who rely on those very roads and bridges to get to work or see their families. Farmers and truckers need their roads to be safe and accessible to get goods to market, working parents need to know that they are safe to drive with their children, and we all need to know that we can move freely and safely around our beautiful state.
Roads and bridges aren’t the only things we can invest in with billions from Biden and the Democrats. We can make huge investments in rural internet so that children even in the smallest towns in Missouri can use reliable internet for their schoolwork, and so that farmers and business owners in our countless farming towns have the same online resources as those of us living in the city.
There’s more, too. Voters expanded Medicaid in Missouri, but Republicans in Jefferson City failed to fund it, effectively leaving hundreds of thousands of eligible Missourians without healthcare, including tens of thousands of children. It’s time to invest in Medicaid expansion so that all of our citizens can afford to go to the doctor or take medication. This should be a no-brainer: the health and safety of Missourians must come first.
When our leaders gather together to do the job we elected them to do, they often fall short of what we want.
While it may be impossible to please everyone, there are clear priorities for the safety and prosperity of Missouri that must be addressed now. Investing in our future, keeping our friends and families healthy and safe, and finding common ground to fund the services we all expect from our government should be paramount for our leaders this year.
This is not the time for bitter partisan fights between wealthy special interests. This is a time to focus on all of our citizens.