Recent Missouri Editorials

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Associated Press
Columbia Daily Tribune, Nov. 24

Immigration order:
Republicans and other assorted haters of President Barack Obama are in a righteous snit today as their nemesis provided them, as promised, a handy excuse for further vitriol.
The spew from the right is quite astonishing. Obama’s move to make immigration changes by way of executive order is said to be a vital assault on the U.S. Constitution and the very American system of government. This despite several facts: Obama has issued fewer executive orders than Republican predecessors. His plan is a careful compromise designed to remain within legal bounds. And the plan makes moderate enforcement tweaks that qualify as compromises by any measure.
It seems clear Obama’s act will not be successfully attacked in court. More important in the long run, how does his plan qualify as properly enforceable public policy?
Start with the fact it is less sweeping than the common-sense plan proposed by then-President George W. Bush that, despite support in this column (how could that be?), was denied by his own partisans in Congress, which then already was becoming infested with hard-liners who could focus only on border security.
Border security was and is a valid consideration but ignores the challenge posed by millions of undocumented residents who have lived peacefully and raised families and paid taxes and followed U.S. laws. As Bush & Co. knew, it made no sense to consider deporting these people. They were worthy residents of the United States. Their children had obtained citizenship by being born here. Nonetheless, the talk radio crowd would brook nothing short of the paddy wagon approach. They prostituted the word “amnesty” to describe any policy of accommodation, no matter how humanitarian or logistically sensible.
After the recent election solidified this anti-tactic, Obama decided to take a small step. The substance of his plan is so modest his supporters are disappointed. Opponents are left with only the fading argument about his use of executive privilege, laced with occasional idle hints of “impeachment” and constitutional violation of the separation of powers.
One can argue any sort of initiative taken by a president that affects public policy is illegal, but most laws require executive initiative in their enforcement. Countless administrative laws are issued to enable broad legislative policies outlined by Congress.
Sometimes administrative acts do represent new policy taken by a president because the legislative branch won’t act. President Harry Truman’s racial integration of the armed forces was more controversial than today’s pushing-and-pulling match over immigration, but Truman’s move became part of the way we enforced the founding principle that “all men are created equal.”
Deciding to make a way for certain undocumented immigrants and their families to continue living in their adopted country is not entirely analogous, but under the careful terms laid out by President Obama, it is close. As he said in his address last week, he wishes he could sign a bill rather than issue an order, but as he also said, that will not happen any time soon.
His order was eminently reasonable. He made it. Let the gnashing of teeth be heard among the righteous, but let the president’s improvements in immigration enforcement be implemented.
And let us pray that before too long a future Congress will make more comprehensive changes. Obama makes only a small dent today in the millions living in the shadows. It will be better if the entire problem is addressed.
___
The Joplin Globe, Nov. 24
Generic drug prices:
Congress is right to demand answers from drug companies given what has happened to the price of many generic drugs.
We just think they’re looking in the wrong place.
Prices for many common generics have not just climbed, they have exploded, rising in some cases by thousands of percent. The average price of albuterol sulfate, a common asthma treatment, shot from $11 per bottle in October 2013 to $434 per bottle in April — an increase of more than 4,000 percent. In all, the prices of more than 1,200 generic medications increased an average of 448 percent between July 2013 and July 2014, according to federal records.
Why?
Ultimately, for the same reason birds fly and fish swim: Because they can.
People will pay anything for health care when they or their loved ones are sick, and that skews the market pressure that ordinarily comes into play when people are spending money.
When someone’s child or spouse is deathly ill or suffering, decisions aren’t logical but emotional, and the rules that apply when people are buying a new washing machine or television don’t apply.
That’s where Congress comes in — or is supposed to. There is a role for regulation and oversight, and health care is one such area, given that the rules of the market don’t apply to it, but political decisions are not always clear-eyed either, given the amount of money given by pharmaceutical companies that skews the process.
Last week, a senate panel began meeting to find out what’s driving this sticker shock. It’s led by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
They sent letters to the makers of 10 generic drugs that have seen price increases of over 300 percent or more in recent months.
The price for one of those, doxycycline hyclate, an antibiotic, rose more than 8,280 percent during a six-month period — from $20 per bottle to $1,849 per bottle.
The Generic Pharmaceutical Association said some of the examples being cited in Congress are the exception rather than the rule and do not reflect the broader U.S. market, which includes 12,000 generic medications that have reduced drug costs by billions. However, experts testifying at hearings last week in Congress said generic price increases are not limited to a few isolated cases.
“The markets are broken, and we need to do something to fix it,” one expert said. “I think the government needs to step in and develop and monitor solutions.”
We’ll see what they come up in the end, but it’s increasingly hard to believe we’ll get any genuine reform — on health care or any other important issue, including taxes, energy, the environment and more — until we have genuine campaign finance reform.
If Congress wants to help us, it’s going to have to get and stay healthy. That’s where health care reform needs to begin.
___
The Kansas City Star, Nov. 22
Downtown baseball park:
Building a baseball park in downtown Kansas City is a wonderfully provocative idea.
But the project is not going to happen anytime soon given the facts that Kauffman Stadium was only recently remodeled and the Royals have a lease to play there 17 more years.
That’s the realistic and sobering assessment of the state of things when it comes to recent talk by some Royals fans and downtown’s champions about the potential to plop a ballpark somewhere inside the heart of the city.
It’s understandable that the topic leaped to life after the Royals came ever so close to winning the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
The excitement surrounding the team drew sellout crowds dressed in blue to Kauffman Stadium, which opened in 1973 at the Truman Sports Complex in eastern Kansas City.
Now, imagine if all those people had been downtown.
They could have packed the streets, restaurants and bars before and after games, as happens in many other cities with downtown ballparks. A new stadium in Kansas City could help spur urban core redevelopment through new housing, offices and retail stores.
So with all that going for it, why is building such a ballpark likely not a realistic possibility for many years?
One big reason is that Jackson County taxpayers still are paying off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds issued to renovate Kauffman Stadium. The three-eighths-cent sales tax approved for the bonds in 2006 lasts 25 years; it’s also helping to pay for Arrowhead Stadium upgrades.
The new Kauffman debuted in 2009, just five years ago, mostly to a big thumbs-up from fans. Concourses were widened, concession stands were added and more restrooms were built. The cost was around $250 million, with a paltry $25 million contribution from the Royals.
The Royals signed a lease to use Kauffman into the 2031 season.
Advocates of a downtown ballpark tried but failed a decade ago to get owner David Glass interested in abandoning the sports complex.
All of these facts have not deterred boosters of a new ballpark from drawing up plans and working behind the scenes to turn their vision into reality.
Discussions are being held about where a stadium might go, where vehicles could be parked without creating nightly traffic nightmares after games, and how transit lines and highway interchanges might be reconfigured.
Other concerns remain. Will the Royals’ ownership still resist a downtown stadium? Will a new owner come along who might actually push for a move downtown?
It could take years to develop a realistic plan for a new ballpark, including a campaign to put together the necessary private and public funds. And, of course, it would take more years to build it.
Yet, sitting around and waiting to get busy only a few years before the lease runs out at Kauffman Stadium isn’t a sensible option. Downtown’s backers have good reasons now to step up to the plate and explore all the options.
___
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 24
Ethics reform:
Call us cockeyed optimists, but 2016 might finally be the year the Missouri political establishment decides to seriously tackle its rampant corruption problems tied to loose ethics rules.
Why?
Two likely candidates for governor that year, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, are shining the spotlight on the urgent need for ethics reform.
This week, Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, announced changes to the ethical boundaries that will guide his own campaign finance decisions. Following damning allegations of a too-cozy relationship with lobbyists representing corporations Mr. Koster’s office was suing (or thinking about suing) in a New York Times story, Mr. Koster said he will no longer accept campaign donations from the corporations — or representatives of them — that are involved in litigation with his office. Further, he said he would no longer accept gifts from lobbyists.
These are potentially excellent, though overdue, decisions made by a politician whose record on this subject has been a bit of an anchor on his career. We add the modifier “potentially” because one of the elements of the Times story that was most troubling was how attorneys general throughout the country depend on large contributions from national political action committees. If corporations move to merely funnel all of their donations there, Mr. Koster’s changes could end up being mostly window dressing.
But it’s a start.
Then there is state Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican considering a run for governor in 2016, who on election night unleashed a screed targeting the culture of corruption in Jefferson City. Because Republicans dominate the Legislature, they benefit heavily from this culture.
“We have people in this state who brag about having political armies of lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and PACs, groups who manipulate politicians like pawns on a chess board,” Mr. Schweich said. “If you do as they say, you are rewarded by an endless spigot of cash. But if you don’t, they find primary opponents for you, they file lawsuits against you, they threaten you and they try to intimidate you.”
Like Mr. Koster, Mr. Schweich has had at least some issues related to campaign finance that make it difficult to firmly place the white hat atop his head. He accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Republican uber-donor Rex Sinquefield.
Mr. Sinquefield has since found a new gubernatorial favorite, former GOP House Speaker Catherine Hanaway. Mr. Schweich has charged that she has been “bought and paid for by one donor.”
Two years before the election, Mr. Sinquefield already has given her campaign, directly or indirectly, about $1 million. That’s 70 percent of what she’s raised. For the past month, he’s been writing her $10,000 checks every week, as if she’s on the payroll.
In his first term as auditor, Mr. Schweich had to recuse himself from an audit of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s misguided use of state travel expenses because he had received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from his fellow Republican.
But recuse himself he did. And now Mr. Koster, after initially refusing to accept responsibility for the charges raised in the Times story, is trying to remove the attorney general’s office from the taint of impropriety.
Imagine a spirited governor’s race in 2016 in which the two men atop the state’s ticket are seriously discussing the need for ethics reform in Missouri.
Better yet, why wait until 2016?
Speaker of the House Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican, already appointed a legislative committee to investigate Mr. Koster’s ethical difficulties. Because he is ethically challenged himself, Mr. Jones didn’t have the courage to ask the committee to do what it should have, and engage in an investigation of the entire state political system.
But Mr. Koster’s action might have forced the hand of committee chairman Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City. The attorney general’s actions turn the tables on Mr. Jones, who fed himself well in his two sessions as speaker on the tab of lobbyists whose bidding he did. He will leave office in January with a $900,000 campaign war chest that, if he follows the example of the past two speakers, he will use to underwrite his next business venture.
Here’s what Mr. Barnes should do on the first day of his committee’s hearings: Invite Mr. Koster and Mr. Schweich. Let the two attorneys sit together and engage in a discussion of ethics and the need for reform in Missouri. Let them ask each of the members of the special investigative committee the worth of lobbyists’ gifts they have received. (Spoiler alert: According to a report by St. Louis Public Radio, it’s $64,000).
Ask them their opinions on Missouri’s status as the only state in the nation that has limits on neither lobbyists’ gifts nor campaign donations. Ask them to be specific about the legislative misdeeds they have seen related to such gifts and donations. Ask them about the impact that gifts and donations have had on the passage or blockage of laws. If they’re honest, the total will show significantly greater impact on most Missourians than any of the consumer frauds Mr. Koster’s office has pursued or not pursued.
Missouri needs a serious discussion of the lack of ethical boundaries and transparency in its political system, not a sideshow coordinated by a court jester. Mr. Koster and Mr. Schweich are both smart enough, and serious enough, to lead such a discussion. Here’s hoping the 2016 gubernatorial debate will have the ethics focus it so richly needs.
Who will clean up the mess that is Missouri politics? Let the debate begin.