Opinion

Jaco: Tired yet of Missouri stealing your vote?

The Missouri Home for the Criminally Insane — you know, the one in Jefferson City with a dome where the General Assembly meets — has a lie carved in the granite above the entrance. 

Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto, the state’s motto, greets the extremist ideologues and dark money skeeves as they trudge up the stairs. Missouri stonemasons could easily fix it by chiseling “Stulti Non Realiter” at the end. That way, the motto translates into reality: “The Welfare of the People is the Supreme Law. Not Really, Sucker.”

Missouri lawmakers decided a long time ago that only voter initiatives that cater to fat cat big business, fundamentalist snake handlers, gun nut ammosexuals, or bigots in general will become law. 

Missouri voters in 2020 approved expanding Medicaid, opening up insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of poor Missourians and restoring coverage to the estimated 100,000 kicked off Medicaid by the state’s governing GOP super-majority.

But the General Assembly decided to ignore the vote, the law, the state Constitution, and the 14th Amendment by nullifying the ballots of a majority who decided to amend the Constitution to expand Medicaid, and refused to pay for Medicaid expansion. Never mind that the federal government would have covered 90 percent of the cost, and that Missouri’s share for providing medical coverage to its most needy — $130 million — would have been more than offset by the state’s $1.8 billion budget surplus.

But driven by a poisonous political philosophy that concludes that the poor — especially the Black poor — are poor because they’re lazy, the “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” majority refused to pay for it (and these are actual arguments made on the floor of the Legislature) because:

A — It’s socialism

B — Rural Missouri counties voted against it

C — People didn’t know what they were voting for

D — It was a plot by St. Louis liberals

Anticipating a tsunami of lawsuits and court rulings to force them to obey the results of the Medicaid vote, the David Duke/Scrooge McDuck Caucus has decided to pre-emptively stop anything like this from happening again by working on future legislation that will practically eliminate any statewide votes on any ballot propositions. They also want to eliminate “liberal, activist” judges by gutting the Missouri Plan.

For those late to the party, the Missouri Plan of merit selection of judges began in Missouri in 1940, and became the model for selecting judges in 34 other states. After a merit process, including bar association ratings, a bi-partisan commission selects judicial candidates, and the governor appoints judges from that list.

Under the GOP plan, the governor would select judges, and the state Senate would approve or reject them, because with populist conservative ideologues running state government from top to bottom, who doesn’t need more Roger Taneys to write more Dred Scott decisions?

But then, the law has never stood in the way of Missouri lawmakers’ deciding which voter initiatives become law and which ones are simply ignored. Travel with me back to the halcyon days of 2004 when Missouri was still a “bellwether” state, meaning the Democrats hadn’t yet elected a Black man president and the hair gel on every racist goober from St. Charles to Sedalia hadn’t yet spontaneously ignited.

Just like with Medicaid, Missourians that year amended the state Constitution, only this time to define marriage as between one man and one woman. As I argued at the time in articles and speeches (one video of my speech to a Methodist men’s group shows a few people applauding and most looking like they were sucking on persimmons), the anti-same sex marriage law was blatantly unconstitutional because it violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Nevertheless, state lawmakers let it stand until a state court overturned it in 2014 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same sex marriage was legal.

Contrast that with what state lawmakers did to more-or-less progressive voter initiatives. In 2011, voters put limits on the operation of “puppy mills,” dog breeding operations that were largely unregulated. In 2009, voters approved a ballot proposition to channel casino taxes into school funding. In 2003, voters made the concealed carrying of firearms illegal. In 1994, voters okayed strict campaign finance limits.

The General Assembly overturned each one of those. Dog breeders operate more freely than ever, casino taxes going to schools have been completely offset by cuts in education funding, now even houseplants in Missouri carry concealed weapons, and Missouri campaign finance laws are some of the most opaque and unlimited in the entire country.

In that sense, Missouri politicians paved the way for the authoritarian “stop the steal” opportunistic lunatics who now make up most of the Republican Party nationally: Elections count only when right-wing extremists win. Their models for governance aren’t the Founders, but nullification enslavers like John C. Calhoun, and authoritarians like Nicolas Maduro. Their philosophy isn’t “the welfare of the people” but “the welfare of the unhinged GOP base voters and millionaire donors.”

So if there are any stonemasons you know who need work, drop me a line. I have a job for them in Jeff City.                        

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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