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Recent Missouri editorials

March 20, 2018

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18

Lt. Gov. Parson isn’t flash and pizzazz. Which is why he should be governor.

Mike Parson is hardly a household name. Most Missourians probably wouldn’t know the lieutenant governor if he stood behind them in the supermarket checkout line. But his political star is rising rapidly, almost entirely because Gov. Eric Greitens’ star is so rapidly crashing. Worse things could happen to Missouri than for Parson to assume the governorship.

Greitens is immersed in scandals entirely of his own making. He’s under indictment in St. Louis for allegedly taking a non-consensual photo of his partially nude lover during a 2015 extramarital affair. Additional investigations are underway regarding the alleged use of Greitens’ charities to help his 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

Had Republican voters known about Greitens’ extramarital affair before the election, it’s doubtful he would have gotten out of the primary. His image as a dedicated husband and father would’ve been seen as what it is — bogus. The embarrassment he continues to bring upon himself, his family and the state warrants his resignation.

Parson might not be the boldest personality to grace Missouri politics, but Missourians historically have preferred steadiness to flash in their governors. Parson is a man of conviction who draws a firm line when his principles differ from those of his fellow Republicans.

In a Post-Dispatch op-ed March 11, Parson didn’t hesitate to oppose President Donald Trump’s efforts to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement, citing free trade as the source of 85,000 export-related jobs in Missouri and warning that “without ready access to international markets via agreements like NAFTA, our ability to export goods would be seriously compromised and our economy would suffer.”

Trump has threatened repeatedly to cancel the accord entirely if Mexico and Canada don’t renegotiate its terms. As we’ve argued editorially, NAFTA is a boon for Missouri agriculture, and Trump is flirting with disaster if he thinks no NAFTA is better than the currently beneficial terms. Parson echoed those concerns.

He also publicly challenged Greitens’ effort to halt state matching funds attached to $140 million in federal low-income housing tax credits. Parson said the move would hurt low-income rural Missourians.

While Greitens spent much of last year on the road, burnishing his national profile, Parson, a longtime state legislator, former farmer and Polk County sheriff, was driving around the state, tending to the needs of farmers and veterans. His biggest ask of taxpayers was a $50,000 increase in his budget to hire an aide who could double as a driver. To damn with faint praise, he’s far less self-aggrandizing than Greitens.

Parson wasn’t our first choice when he ran for lieutenant governor, but we were hard-pressed to identify anything serious to steer voters away from him. Missourians have seen enough flash and pizzazz. The time is right for Parson to restore dignity to the state’s highest office.

St. Joseph News-Press, March 14

Victory is sweet for flood plaintiffs

There should be no mistaking what just transpired in a federal court in Washington, D.C.: The little guys won.

In the process, hundreds of regional plaintiffs in an important case against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have helped sharpen the legal interpretation of what amounts to “illegal taking” of property and livelihoods, and made clear the Constitution still provides protections for average citizens.

They also have brought hope that the Corps will be compelled in coming years to change its management practices and do much more to limit flooding along the Missouri River.

This victory announced Wednesday is cause for celebration on both sides of the river in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. This is the region that suffered damages estimated at more than $300 million from Corps river-management decisions dating to 2004.

The plaintiffs — farmers, landowners, business owners — won on claims involving devastating flooding in five separate years. They successfully argued the Corps, to their detriment, had de-emphasized flood control while giving greater priority to restoring and creating habitat and ecosystems to support threatened or endangered species.

We join with the plaintiffs, led by R. Dan Boulware, lead counsel with the Polsinelli law firm, in marking this moment as a potential turning point in how the Missouri River will be managed in the future. At the same time, we are disappointed the flood claims from one year, 2011, were disallowed and are hopeful the judge will reconsider that ruling.

This fits with what people in this region have experienced. After all, in 2011, as well as each flood year that it was determined the Corps contributed to our heartache and financial loss, the flooding damaged land, homes and other property across our region while those living farther north were spared.

This wave of flooding followed a period of more than 60 years when longstanding flood control practices had made life along the river much more predictable.

“For decades, these Missouri River residents invested their fortunes and futures in developing farms, businesses and communities on this land in reliance on the Corps managing the river in a way that would deter flooding,” Boulware argued heading into the trial. “Valuable farm ground is being permanently destroyed and a way of life is now threatened.”

That way of life is fundamental to the Midland Empire. Without this successful defense of our interests, life as we experience it today indeed would be imperiled for future generations.

Southeast Missourian, March 16

Sunshine Week: Shining light on transparency in government

Transparency in government is garnering more attention these days.

More and more people are demanding transparency from their leaders, whether it be President Donald Trump’s tax forms, whether it be Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of an app that deletes messages instantly or the sources of his campaign funds.

Much of the public doesn’t think much about transparency, but rather the politics embroiled within concealment. That’s one reason that every year in March, media organizations recognize Sunshine Week.

Here at the Southeast Missourian, the Sunshine Law helps us keep track of what is happening in local governments. It’s the Sunshine Law that requires public entities to post agendas and meeting times. It’s what requires boards and commissions to keep minutes. It’s what requires councils to discuss things openly, with certain exceptions.

It also helps us review old court cases and examine potential wrongful conviction cases. It is why we know that evidence has been lost by the Attorney General’s office in the David Robinson case.

It allows us to check the record and see when old ordinances were passed and what they required. It makes our daily crime report possible. It also lets us bring you news about businesses that are opening.

So as you read through your paper today, it’s a time to reflect on how much information you read and consume on a daily basis is made possible because of laws that require transparency. When we think about whom we elect and why we elect them, one of the things we should consider is how transparent they are or willing to be.

Here’s to the laws that require transparency in public affairs.

The Kansas City Star, March 15

Why does a Missouri lawmaker want to install porn-blocking software on your computer?

The Missouri legislature is considering a measure aimed at addressing two problems: human trafficking and ubiquitous digital pornography.

Both concerns are real, and deserve the state’s attention. Unfortunately, the bill under consideration represents a government overreach that could threaten First Amendment rights for everyone.

State Rep. Jim Neely, a Republican from Cameron, introduced the measure. It would require sellers of devices with internet access, including computers and phones, to install “blocking software” that would make obscene words and images inaccessible.

Consumers 18 years old and older could disable the blocking software but would have to pay a one-time fee of at least $20 to get it done. Consumers would also get a written warning about obscene material.

The $20 would go into a state fund, to be used for the administration of the software-blocking law.

Supporters say the proposal would protect children from exploitation and would keep them from viewing inappropriate material online. Opponents have connected the measure to an out-of-state, anti-porn crusader with a controversial past.

Other states are considering similar legislation.

The Star has written extensively on the scourge of human trafficking. Limiting the practice has long been a major objective here.

Pornography is a public health issue. We’ve applauded lawmakers who have focused on the damage porn does to children and women. We’ve said reasonable regulation of the obscenity industry is warranted.

But Neely’s proposal goes too far. It would allow the government to decide what you can and can’t see on your phone or computer, unless you pay a fee.

That’s a serious violation of the right to free speech.

The First Amendment, like all rights guaranteed by the Constitution, isn’t absolute. You can’t shout “fire!” in a crowded theater unless there really is a fire. You can’t falsely and purposely defame someone. Possessing or distributing child pornography is illegal, as it should be.

But any limitation on First Amendment rights must be judged by its breadth and unintended consequences. On both scores, Neely’s bill overreaches.

Today, the Missouri legislature may want to block messages and images that lawmakers consider “obscene.” Tomorrow, legislators may require a fee to view political and social messages they consider improper. That isn’t the government’s role.

There is an alternative. The state could offer a tax credit — say, $20 — to computer and phone purchasers who voluntarily install blocking software on their devices. That would provide an incentive to parents and owners to install the software instead of a punishment if they don’t.

A tax credit would cost the state treasury, of course. But if the goal of limiting pornography is worthwhile, which it is, offering public incentives would be justified.

If the state believes more must be done to prevent human trafficking and child exploitation, it should allocate more money to investigating and prosecuting those crimes.

Missouri might also think about raising the age for child marriages.

Neely’s legislation does not appear close to passage. There are practical concerns about how the measure would work. The bill’s similarity to those offered in other states is worrisome.

The legislature is thinking about the right problems, but the blocking software bill is the wrong answer.

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