Recent Missouri editorials

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Associated Press
Springfield News-Leader, July 27

Wrong way to protect farms:
Missouri is an agricultural state. We depend on farms, both small and big, to supply food to our state and the country.
So, at first blush, the idea that we would want to enshrine the “Right to Farm” in our state constitution seems to make sense. But a closer look tells us that there is more at stake and more at play than protecting the family farmer from unfair regulation.
Missouri farmers have spoken out against the amendment, and you’ve read their arguments on these pages.
There are certainly family farmers who support this effort. Their letters have also appeared.
They all defend their profession, reminding us all that it is their sweat that puts food on our tables.
We agree. Family farms — and, yes, even corporate farms — provide the resources to supply tables around the world. It is a noble profession that deserves our respect and even protection.
But Amendment 1 doesn’t really do that. The ballot language is high-minded, but the reality of the constitutional language is vague and open-ended.
The ballot asks, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri Citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”
But the actual language of the amendment leaves a lot of possibilities. “That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.”
(Article VI lays out the forms of local government and the ability of first-class counties to establish charters and constitutions. There is no specific mention of powers to restrict farming or ranching.)
While farmers are faced with some local, state and federal safety restrictions, the much more onerous restrictions come at the hands of “big ag,” the large corporations that prevent farmers from keeping their own seed or selling their livestock in an open market. It is the large corporate farms that too often put our family farms in jeopardy. And it is big ag and corporate farms — much of it foreign owned — that will benefit the most from this amendment.
The Humane Society of the United States has been an outspoken opponent of Amendment 1. HSUS was also a major force in 2010 when Proposition B, which included strict new dog-breeding regulations, passed in Missouri.
At that time, there were also concerns about the consequences of the new law, aimed at “puppy mill cruelty,” on other animal breeding entities, including large-scale operations.
The Missouri General Assembly responded quickly. One of the first things the legislature did when it next met in January 2011 was to amend the law by repealing some of its limits.
No matter how one feels about dog breeders or HSUS, the event clearly showed that our legislative system allows for corrections to be made when laws passed appear to have “unintended consequences.” The legislature worked to find a compromise that “upholds the intent of the voters, protects dogs and ensures that Missouri agriculture will continue to grow,” Gov. Jay Nixon declared when he signed it.
A constitutional amendment would not allow for such an easy and speedy fix. Once ensconced in the Missouri Constitution, it would take another public vote to change it.
Missouri law already protects the “Right to Farm” in Section 537.295 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. If that law is not sufficient, or found to be too restrictive or lenient, the legislature has recourse to fix it, just as it did in 2011.
Missouri voters should be wary of this latest effort, opposed by HSUS but supported by “big ag.” Creating a constitutional protection for all agricultural enterprises could create a haven for corporate farms that pollute our environment and put undue pressure on family farms.
Vote “No” on Amendment 1.
The Joplin Globe, July 26
‘Yes’ on transportation sales tax:
Opponents of Amendment 7 say this: “Missouri families are already hard pressed to pay their bills during this period of slow economic recovery.”
And they say: “Missourians on fixed incomes — seniors and the elderly — and those with low incomes are hardest hit.”
And this: “It’s unfair that the trucking industry will pay practically nothing, and they benefit most from it and do the most damage to our roads.”
As to their first point: Spending money on bridges and highways has both an immediate and a long-term economic benefit. A sure way to ratchet up the pace of the recovery would be to spend billions of dollars generated by the tax over the next 10 years. The immediate impact will be tens of thousands of jobs created around the state if voters pass the three-quarters of a cent sales tax on Aug. 5. The question specifically asks voters to change the constitution to enact a temporary sales tax to be used solely to fund state and local highways, roads, bridges and transportation projects for 10 years, with priority given to repairing unsafe roads and bridges.
We think the long-term economic impact will be seen when better roads make Missouri a more attractive option for doing business.
As to their second objection: Groceries, health care, medicine and more are exempt from the sales tax increase. In other words, low-income and fixed-income residents have been given some level of protection, more than they would get if Missouri were to look at other options for raising the money, such as boosting the gasoline tax. The poor and those on fixed incomes still have to drive, too.
As to the third: Rudy Farber, former chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, likes to use the analogy of the orange. If the cost of improving roads is shifted to the trucking industry, those costs will be passed along to consumers. The trucking industry is not going to eat the profits so we can eat our oranges. Low-income and fixed-income residents will pay more for that orange because there will be no exemptions when the trucking industry passes along its costs.
In short, there is no free lunch for anyone, but with the sales tax plan and its exemptions, at least the price of the lunch won’t jump.
Doing nothing is not an option, either. Two-thirds of Missouri’s roads and thousands of its bridges are in “poor” to “fair” condition. They will only get worse unless we invest in our roads and bridges. Everyone will benefit from safer roads.
And when a “yes” on Amendment 7 is coupled with a “yes” vote on Proposition A — the renewal of the three-eighths of a cent capital improvement sales tax in Joplin for local road and bridge work — it makes for a powerful one-two punch.
Joplin voters have a chance to make a real difference Aug. 5, both locally and statewide. It would be a mistake to miss our moment.
Columbia Daily Tribune, July 27
Cluttering the Missouri Constitution:
Too often Missouri lawmakers punt difficult issues to voters in the form of amendments to the state constitution, putting the onus on citizens to make the hard calls. As a general rule, voters should be wary of “cluttering” the constitution.
This year voters will face five amendments. Four deserve sound “no” votes. Only Amendment 7, which calls for a sales tax increase for state transportation needs, should be approved.
Amendment 7 is controversial. Opponents criticize use of the sales tax, and it would be nice if an increase if motor fuel taxes would provide needed funding, but for reasons explained earlier here and elsewhere, the sales tax is the only source up to the task. Transportation needs are serious, and the Missouri Department of Transportation has developed a good plan for spending the anticipated revenue. The sales tax will be widely dispersed among outside buyers of goods and services as well as state residents. Voters should say “yes.”
The other four more properly fall into the category of unnecessary clutter.
Amendment 1 is the extraneous “right to farm” amendment, which “guarantees” farmers the right they already have. The move stems from anger over the so-called “puppy mill” amendment voters approved in 2010 with strong out-of-state support from the Humane Society of the United States. The amendment was bad law, an example of the mischief that can occur through use of the initiative process, and as allowed in state law the state legislature promptly amended the language to correct the problem. Promoters say right-to-farm will not lessen the regulatory authority of local governments or the prerogatives of owners of farm property. They are trying to do something the law can’t do: preclude unknown potential actions while allowing others. With Amendment 1, they can’t remove the initiative process, but they hope to somehow manage what the process might be used to accomplish. They can’t really explain what Amendment 1 would do except sort of nudge courts to reject hitherto-undetermined threats. The amendment is likely to create some new litigation without good purpose. Everyone is for a right to farm but also for rights some might consider contrary. Amendment 1 is clutter. Vote “no.”
Amendment 5 is the ultimate foolish clutter. It would reiterate a “right to bear arms” that already is perfectly clear in state and federal law. “No” voters probably will be outnumbered at the polls, but they will be on the right side. Amending the constitution should not be an exercise in making frivolous policy statements. Amendment 5 is frivolous and deserves “no” votes from us all.
Amendment 8 would allow the state lottery to sell scratch-off tickets to fund state homes for older veterans. Even if we agree the homes deserve adequate funding, adding a constitutional requirement for patchwork lottery funding is not good policy. The money is bound to come willy-nilly from general state revenue. Veterans’ homes funding should be part of lucid appropriations policy providing state matching for federal funds, not an easy-sounding one-off shift to the lottery.
Amendment 9 would put language in the state constitution extending protection for unreasonable searches and seizures to electronic data and communications. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court decided unanimously that law officers need warrants to search for such information from arrested people, so the legal protection is expanded in the proper federal venue, making a state law redundant. More clutter. Another reason to vote “no.”
Voting against frivolous constitutional amendments with appealing-sounding language takes more electoral discipline than many of us will exert, but avoiding constitutional clutter is important.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 28
Missouri and the nation should adopt open primary system:
Missourians will go to the polls in the Aug. 5 primary. If you live in St. Louis County, most of you will ask for either a Republican or Democratic ballot. You’ll get to vote on whom your party runs for county executive in November, plus statewide ballot issues and candidates in your district’s legislative primaries.
Some of you will ask for a nonpartisan ballot. You’ll only get to vote on the five ballot issues.
This is a nonpresidential year with no serious challenges to congressional incumbents and no U.S. Senate or governor’s race on the ballot. A lot of you won’t bother to vote at all. Turnout will be abysmal. That’s the way the parties like it.
Part of the problem with the current state of the American political system is that it’s set up so that the candidates, particularly in primaries, only have to speak to a narrow sliver of the electorate.
“(P)rimaries poison the health of that system and warp its natural balance, because the vast majority of Americans don’t typically vote in primaries,” wrote U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in an op-ed in the New York Times last week. “The partisan primary system, which favors more ideologically pure candidates, has contributed to the election of more extreme officeholders and increased political polarization. It has become a menace to governing.”
Mr. Schumer called for two fixes that we have also advocated on this editorial page: fixing the partisan redistricting process and adopting a “top-two” open primary system.
Of course, one sign of the polarization of today’s political system is that as soon as some of our readers see “Schumer” with a D after his name, they’ll stop reading. Why listen to a New York Democrat?
OK, then, how about an Oklahoma Republican?
The man widely credited with helping the open primary proposal gain steam nationally is former Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-Oklahoma, who advocated for both redistricting and primary reform in his 2012 book “The Parties Versus The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.”
In an open primary system, all of the candidates, Republican, Democrat, Green Party, Constitution Party, run against each other. The idea is that with all candidates in one basket, they can’t get by speaking only to extremists on one side or another.
That’s what is broken about today’s system. Mr. Edwards put like this:
“Candidates who seek to be on the November ballot find themselves under great pressure to take hard-line positions. This tendency toward rigidity — and the party system that enables it — is at the root of today’s political dysfunction.”
Imagine the race for county executive in St. Louis, which shouldn’t be partisan anyway, with Charlie Dooley, Steve Stenger, Rick Stream and Tony Pousosa all vying for the same voters. On Aug. 5, voters would choose their top candidate, regardless of party. Independents who don’t consider themselves part of either major party would have more reason to vote. The two candidates with the most votes on primary day, regardless of party, would advance to the general election.
California adopted such a system in 2010, along with a redistricting reform process that took the process of drawing political boundaries away from the politicians who tend to draw them to protect themselves. Louisiana and Washington also have open primaries. Colorado and Oregon are considering them.
This should be Missouri’s future. Create more competitive political districts and end the partisan primary.
Neither major political party likes these ideas. Why? It takes the primaries out of their hands and puts the power where it belongs, with the people.