Joplin Globe, Sept. 8

Support gas tax in November

You don't have to be an economist or a civil engineer to figure out where the road we are on will lead — nowhere.

Missouri has nearly 34,000 miles of state highway and more than 10,000 state bridges (the seventh-largest state highway system in the nation), yet our gas tax — 17 cents per gallon — is the fourth lowest in the nation. It hasn't been raised in two decades.

The result is what you read about on today's front page: Missouri has the dubious honor of ranking among the worst states in the nation for structurally deficient bridges. Thirteen percent of our bridges have some problem with either the decking, the superstructure or substructure. And, Jasper County ranks as one of the worst counties in Missouri with structurally deficient state bridges.

The simple fact is that we have ignored infrastructure investment — of all kinds — for too long.

We have the chance to make matters right and vote for a 10-cent increase in the gas tax that will be phased in, starting with 2.5 cents per year in 2019, topping out at 27 cents in 2022. If approved, the tax would generate nearly $300 million more per year for roads and bridges once it is fully implemented.

Missouri's Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe was recently in Neosho making a pitch to support Proposition D, the gas tax increase that will come before voters on the November ballot.

"This is not a Democrat or Republican issue," Kehoe said. "This is an infrastructure investment issue."

We agree.

Democrats or Republicans, liberal or conservatives, it doesn't matter, we all drive the same roads, cross the same bridges, and we all reap the rewards of infrastructure investment.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements returns $5.20 in the form of lower vehicle maintenance costs, decreased delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, lower road and bridge maintenance costs, and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.

"I believe that infrastructure is the key to economic development," Kehoe said. "I hope that this goes through, not because I love taxes or because I want to tax you more, but because I think for the safety of our families and for the best of our economy it is a great step forward in that process."

We urge everyone to support Proposition D in November.

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The Kansas City Star, Sept. 10

Donald Trump is underwater in Missouri. Could he become a drag on Republicans?

Most of us can agree that President Donald Trump has had better weeks than the last one.

Anytime the leader of the free world is sending out one-word "TREASON" tweets, it's a dead giveaway that something is amiss in the Oval Office. The tweet was in response to that anonymous op-ed in The New York Times detailing an organized underground resistance in the West Wing.

But that wasn't the only blow Trump absorbed in recent days. Bob Woodward's astonishing new book about Trump's "nervous breakdown" of a presidency painted a portrait of a commander in chief unhinged. Even the administration's vehement denials and denouncements aren't doing much to calm this latest crisis of confidence.

All of that begins to explain why a new Missouri poll is so troubling. It raises serious questions about Trump's standing in a state he carried in 2016 by 19 points. What's more, the pollster was in the field in late August prior to the release of the op-ed and the news about Woodward's book.

The headline out of the NBC News/Marist survey was that Republican Josh Hawley and Democrat Claire McCaskill were knotted up in their race for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat. The poll found that the two were tied at 47 percent each.

The real jaw-dropper, though, was the revelation that likely voters in Missouri who view the president unfavorably now outnumber those who view him favorably. The split: 44 percent of likely voters had a positive view of Trump compared with 50 percent with a negative perception.

Ask the question in a slightly different way — do you approve of the president's job performance? — and the numbers stay about the same. Some 45 percent of likely voters said they approved of his work so far compared to 46 percent who disapproved.

Those findings are within the poll's 3.9 percent margin of error. And, yes, it's only one poll. But still, it presents a dramatically different portrait of the president in a region of the country where he's been hailed as a conquering hero since the 2016 election. It's the first reputable poll that political insiders have seen that had Trump upside down in Missouri.

"We're seeing the impact of his policies, and they're hurting Missouri," said Stephen Webber, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

All of this raises real questions about the fate of the Missouri GOP in this year's mid-term elections and particularly those candidates, such as Hawley, who have tied themselves so closely to Trump.

"How about the leadership of President Donald Trump?" Hawley intoned in July at the VFW National Convention in Kansas City with Trump standing beside him. "When I think about President Trump, there's one word that comes to mind, and that word is 'courage' — do you agree?"

Perhaps candidates such as Hawley are expecting Trump to boost them over the finish line like he did two years ago in bailing out Roy Blunt in a tough Senate race. Trump surely was a factor in Kris Kobach's victory in the GOP race for Kansas governor last month, tweeting his endorsement the day before the Republican primary that Kobach narrowly won.

But the way Trump is trending these days, Hawley and other Republicans might want to rethink their all-in allegiance to the president. Even in Republican-controlled Missouri, Trump appears to be transitioning from a not-so-secret weapon to a potential drag on GOP candidates.

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The St. Joseph News-Press, Sept. 8

Prison unrest, staffing linked

Nearly four months removed from the events of May 12, there still is a lot to digest about the riot that heavily damaged Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri.

Clearly, the state Department of Corrections has struggled to return the prison to normal operations.

And no doubt, these struggles have led to hardships for many imprisoned offenders who, in this instance, were innocent of wrongdoing.

It is important to understand long-running problems of understaffing led up the riot — in fact they were cited in grievances by the protesting inmates who objected to reductions in programs and recreation time.

The same problem also has contributed to the slow pace of restoring programs and privileges; it is known correctional officers have feared for their safety in light of the understaffing.

This issue goes to the highest levels of the Department of Corrections, to the General Assembly and the governor. The system persistently is understaffed — reportedly currently by 11 percent — and this is one result.

As of last week the department said it was continuing to move, in phases, to end the summer-long lockdown; was restoring some recreation time that had been cut; and had resumed hot meal service and serving meals in the dining hall. Normal visitation schedules are to resume later this week.

Should these things have happened more quickly? Could they have happened sooner if state authorities had allocated additional funding or taken other steps to more effectively recruit staff, compensate them better and improve retention?

If all of these things had been done in the months and years leading up to this spring, would that have prevented the uprising in the first place?

These thoughts should not be read to excuse the actions of a small number of inmates at Crossroads who rioted for six hours and did massive damage to the kitchen, dining areas, food storage area, offices, prison factories, tools and machinery, as well as security doors.

While just 78 of the about 1,500 inmates contributed to the destruction, all inmates have been penalized in some manner by the loss of recreation time and other privileges.

Family members and inmate advocates have complained, started a petition campaign calling for the removal of the warden and discussed bringing a lawsuit alleging inhumane conditions. They are within their rights to pursue all of these avenues.

Still, the question will linger whether the state's failures in providing adequate staffing for Crossroads should be the chief concern.