OPINION: Legislators’ contempt for voters is on display once again


From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board

– Lynn Alpert/Labor Tribune illustration

And here we go again. GOP state legislators, having already moved to undo the clearly expressed will of Missouri voters on the minimum wage, government transparency and other issues, now are trying to protect their power to gerrymander their districts — even after almost two-thirds of voters approved a constitutional amendment in November specifically taking that power away.

In this case, making the change legislators want will require another constitutional amendment. In other instances, though, voters have approved ballot measures that the Legislature has later undone, or attempted to, by legislation.

It’s all indicative of a mindset that shows pure contempt for the voters’ will. These lawmakers are barely even bothering anymore to pretend they care what the voters think.

Voters overwhelmingly decided to alter the Missouri Constitution by imposing new ethics restrictions on legislators. Among other things, the Clean Missouri initiative changed the way legislative districts are drawn, eliminating lawmakers’ ability to gerrymander districts to protect their own jobs and strengthen their party’s grasp on power.

This skewed practice of drawing legislative boundaries is unfair because it deliberately tips the demographic balance toward incumbent parties, making it easier to win elections. It effectively prevents districts from becoming politically competitive, which is the way politicians like it.

The Clean Missouri amendment takes redistricting power away from the politicians and gives it to a nonpartisan state demographer. And it changes the criteria for drawing district lines to introduce more partisan fairness and competitiveness into elections.

Increased competitiveness is good for democracy — but perhaps less so for a Republican Party that has a solid lock on political power in Missouri and wants to keep it that way.

As the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson reported last week, a measure by Rep. Dean Plocher (R-Des Peres) seeks to change the redistricting process again, reasserting politicians’ control over it. Instead of a nonpartisan demographer, the boundaries would be drawn by a panel of residents appointed by — you guessed it — legislative leaders.

It’s galling that practically before the ink is dry on Clean Missouri, legislators are already working to reverse it, but it’s not surprising.
State lawmakers have a history of blithely dismissing the will of the voters — or trying to — on issues as varied as gun control, campaign finance limits, puppy mills, the minimum wage and anti-labor right-to-work rules.

In this case, fortunately, overruling the voters will be difficult. Clean Missouri was a constitutional amendment, so it will take another constitutional amendment, approved by another referendum, to unwind it.

If there’s a lesson there, it may be that any future ballot initiatives activists push should always be constitutional amendments instead of mere statutory changes, thus thwarting post-election legislative meddling.

Government-by-referendum is not the best way to move the state forward. But that doesn’t excuse this infuriating disregard when voters have spoken so clearly.

(Reprinted St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial April 23, 2019)


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