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Recent Missouri Editorials

November 13, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Nov. 9

Congress soon will be more diverse. The Missouri and Kansas legislatures? Not so much

A record number of women will head to Congress in 2019. In Florida and Georgia, two emerging Democratic stars were within striking distance of becoming the nation’s first African-American governors. Other non-traditional candidates prevailed in races throughout the country.

This week’s midterm elections provided hopeful signs that the nation is inching closer to a government that truly represents its citizens.

Congress will look more like America, and that’s good news. But closer to home, there’s a lot more work to do — notably in Kansas and Missouri, where white men still dominate in politics.

The number of minority legislators won’t change substantially in either state as a result of these midterms. Women and other non-traditional politicians made only modest gains in Kansas and Missouri.

While Kansas elected a woman governor and will send a Native American woman to Congress, the lack of diversity in the Kansas and Missouri legislatures remains an issue and should be a wake-up call for leaders of both political parties. As they look ahead to the next election cycle, they should make recruiting and preparing a new generation of political leaders from varied backgrounds a priority.

“Politics are a lot like business,” said Kenya Cox, executive director for Kansas African American Affairs Commission. “When we start engaging conversations with uncommon voices like African-American or Latina women, we come out with a better product.”

Women and people of color are beginning to change the landscape of American politics. But a 2017 study by the Reflective Democracy Campaign found that despite being less than one-third of the population, white men still hold a majority of elected positions.

That is certainly true in Kansas and Missouri.

In Kansas, 47 of 165 legislators, or 28.5 percent, are women, according to the Center for Women in Politics. Four are black and one identified as mixed race.

On the Missouri side, 45 of 197, or 22.8 percent, of state lawmakers are women. Six are black.

The reality is that both Kansas and Missouri are conservative states. Neither has ever had a person of color serving in a statewide elective executive role. And the political parties’ benches in both states look awfully thin when it comes to diverse young leaders who eventually could make bids for higher office.

“I do not think we are apt to see a serious statewide race in Missouri by an African-American anytime soon,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “I would, of course, be delighted to be proven wrong.”

A culture of racism, a large white population and an aging population, along with a slowly declining percentage of young people would create challenges for any black gubernatorial candidate, said Garrett Griffin, author of “Racism in Kansas City: A Short History.”

While progress has been slow in both states, there were some glimmers of hope in Kansas this week. Voters elected Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz, the first openly LGBTQ members of the Kansas House of Representatives. And Davids will be one of the first two Native American women to serve in Congress and the first openly LGBTQ person to represent Kansas.

“It’s hard to say if this is a trend,” said Don Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas. “LGBT candidates have run for the Kansas Legislature in the past and weren’t successful. But it is remarkable that neither (Woodard, Ruiz or Davids) had significant prior political experience.”

To build on these victories and to continue to improve diversity in both statehouses, political officials in Kansas and Missouri must tackle the barriers that too often leave women, minorities and non-traditional candidates on the sidelines, including access to funding and support from the party. Voter suppression and gerrymandering are issues as well.

A lack of diversity at the state level has stifled both states when it comes to new ideas and different perspectives. And unless Kansas and Missouri political officials begin the work now of cultivating a wide range of women, minority and non-traditional candidates, the needle won’t budge much in 2020.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 10

Missourians elected Josh Hawley, but do they really know who he is?

Republican Senator-elect Josh Hawley will now represent this state on the national stage, having defeated incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill on Tuesday. But Missourians still deserve answers to some crucial questions about their new senator: Who is Josh Hawley, and for whom does he speak?

The dapper, carefully coiffed, businesslike lawyer won the state attorney general’s race after only two years ago largely by touting his elite degrees from Stanford and Yale Law School. But that person was nowhere to be found these past few months as Hawley, 38, worked to shore up his base across rural Missouri. The person those voters met was a cowboy-booted, plaid-shirted, blue jean-clad regular guy who kept Yale as far away from the conversation as possible.

McCaskill was the elitist, Hawley insisted. He was the kind of guy who preferred debates on flatbed trailers, or trucks, or whatever you call those things. He portrayed himself as someone you might shuck peanuts with around the cracker barrel at the country store. Kind of like Andy Griffith’s homespun character in the classic 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd.”

But it turned out folks didn’t know Griffith’s character as well as they thought. And since Hawley had no public-service history before 2016, Missourians can’t really claim to know him either. Is Hawley the take-no-prisoners attorney general who joined 19 others in a federal lawsuit to destroy Obamacare and its cherished coverage of pre-existing conditions? Or is he the guy who smiled sincerely into the camera, insisting he was the foremost defender of that coverage?

These questions go to the heart of what Hawley claims he’ll be fighting for when he goes to Washington. On election night, he declared, “Tonight, the people of Missouri have said that our way of life and our values are going to renew this country, and that is what we are about, and that is what we are for.”

Whose way of life? Missourians are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Hispanic and Native American. We are rich, poor, middle class, white collar, blue collar, urban, suburban and rural. Yes, 1.25 million of us voted for Hawley. But 1.1 million, including big majorities in the urban areas that are Missouri’s economic engine, backed McCaskill.

“Our way of life” is all of the above, not just Hawley’s mainly white, non-urban base.

If you sift out the partisan rhetoric and look closely at Tuesday’s results, Missourians proved themselves actually to be quite moderate politically. Dwarfing the support for Hawley were the 1.57 million votes favoring legalized medical marijuana, or the 1.49 million who supported raising the state’s minimum wage. That’s hardly the profile of a hardline conservative electorate.

Hawley knows his way around a plaid shirt and a lawyerly suit. But before he heads to Washington, Missourians still need to know: Who is Josh Hawley, and whose way of life is he defending?

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The St. Joseph News-Press, Nov. 6

The Californiaization of Missouri

Missouri voters could be forgiven for needing a clothespin while voting on the myriad of statewide ballot issues in last Tuesday’s general election.

Do you think the working poor need a higher wage? Sure. But what about a 50 percent increase to $12 an hour, with an exemption conveniently built in for government employers?

At candidate forums this fall, few Democrats or Republicans spoke against limiting lobbyist gifts and their potentially corrupting influence on state lawmakers. But the proposed constitutional amendment gives an unelected state demographer the clout to redraw election districts into shapes that would give a Freudian psychologist something to ponder.

Medical marijuana? Of course you don’t want grandma to get nauseous from chemotherapy, so you weigh that with the complexities of three competing measures to legalize cannabis for medical purposes.

In case you’re wondering, the clothespin is to pinch your nose while filling in the oval for “yes” during Tuesday’s election. Plenty of Missourians were all in, but surely other support came from those who liked certain aspects of this or that but needed the nasal blockage because, let’s face it, each proposal stinks a little.

Missouri’s lawmakers are to blame for this.

For all the campaign ads attacking Democrats and their “California” values, Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature did its best to give us an election ballot resembling something you’d see in the Golden State.

California had 11 voter initiatives on its ballot, covering issues as diverse as hospital bonds, daylight saving time, rent controls and standards for confined farm animals.

In Missouri, we’re not that wacky yet. Our seven ballot measures included three on medical marijuana and single issues on ethics reform, the minimum wage, a gasoline tax and bingo regulations.

The problem with handling so many measures outside the legislative process is that voters are left with a take-it-or-leave-it approach that gets harder to accept when you see the fine print. The other problem is that interest groups use them not to adopt good public policy but to generate wedge issues that drive voters to the polls on behalf of a particular party.

So reasonable people had to decide whether a major change in legislative redistricting was worth the price of limits on other ethics reform. When a Northwest Missouri lawmaker failed to gain approval for a reasonable step toward medical marijuana, voters were presented a complex array of options that were considerably broader in scope.

Even the gas tax drew criticism for having Highway Patrol funding tucked into the ballot language, although the state’s Hancock Amendment made it necessary to take this tax hike to the voters.

For the rest, many of these issues were crying out for the kinds of things legislators are supposed to do: engage in debate and find a compromise.

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