Recent Missouri Editorials

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Associated Press
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 31

Needed: A serious ethics reform movement in Missouri:
Following the welcome resignation 10 days ago of state Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, over allegations of sexually harassing a college intern who worked in his office, Gov. Jay Nixon turned the discussion over the capital city’s culture of corruption in the proper direction.
A culture that leads to two high-level resignations over disturbing behavior from elected officials directed at young women is a symptom of a larger problem. Mr. LeVota’s resignation followed that of the former speaker of the House, Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, in the last week of the session.
Both middle-aged married men stand accused of similar despicable behavior, using the power of their office to feed their libido at the expense of college students trying to prepare for a career in public service. Both denied their behavior until the evidence was too strong and they stepped down.
Mr. Nixon, a Democrat like Mr. LeVota, told a group of educators last week that the two incidents should spur action on Missouri’s weak ethics laws. Those laws — or lack thereof — encourage the sort of behavior in which elected officials believe they are entitled to whatever they want.
Missouri is the only state in the nation with no limit on campaign contributions, no limit on lobbyists gifts, and no cooling-off period to prevent lawmakers or most other state public officials from immediately cashing in on their public service with lobbying jobs or other careers obtained because of their political connections.
There has long been a level of frat-boy sexist behavior in politics, with Missouri being no exception. But with Jefferson City operating as an ethics-free zone, with too many elected officials being taught from their first day in office that everything is free — meals, Cardinals tickets, luxurious travel accommodations, six-figure campaign donations — those who are predisposed to boorish behavior are further energized.
The Legislature can, and should, fix this. But we have little hope.
This year, Republicans who control both the House and the Senate passed different versions of ethics legislation, but couldn’t bother to work out a compromise to pass something, no matter how weak. One of the key sticking points was putting an end to the revolving door, in which lawmakers cash in on their public service by becoming lobbyists, without a waiting period as Congress has. A few key legislative leaders in the past few years — former Speaker Steve Tilley most prominently — have even resigned early to get the jump on their future earnings.
The Senate, led by its president pro tem, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, refused to add that measure to its version of an ethics bill, which Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said was needed to keep the FBI at bay.
No surprisingly, on Friday, the Associated Press’s David Lieb reported that Mr. Dempsey is resigning his seat to begin a new private-sector career. Ka-ching.
Frankly, neither ethics bill went far enough. And neither bill would have any direct effect on stopping amoral men from leering at interns, but they would have been a small step toward fixing the broken culture of Jefferson City. Not even small attempts at change, such as reducing the amount of money lobbyists can spend on freebies for lawmakers, can make it across the finish line. That shows how deeply ingrained the culture of irresponsibility has become.
So Mr. Nixon’s attempt to change the conversation is welcome, even though he is part of the problem. Two years ago, remember, it was Mr. Nixon who told lawmakers that if they didn’t do anything about Missouri’s weak ethics laws, he would. They have done nothing, and neither has he.
Perhaps that’s because he’s not yet finished rewarding loyalists with well-paying state jobs. Just last week he appointed former state Sen. Maida Coleman, a St. Louis Democrat, to a six-figure job as a Public Service Commission member. A couple of weeks ago, his longtime chief of staff, John Watson, was named the new executive director of the Missouri State Employee Retirement System. The last director was paid more than $225,000 in salary as well as generous benefits and bonuses.
Mr. Nixon is not doing anything other governors before him haven’t done, but that’s the point. It’s why lawmakers won’t change rules that have benefited their buddies. The assumption is that cashing in is — to use the word Republicans like to apply only to poor people — an entitlement. This is the way things have been done. They got theirs. We’re going to get ours.
So, instead of appointing a committee to truly get to the bottom of this year’s intern fiasco, or to create a model ethics law with bipartisan support, Missouri’s legislative leaders waste away their time on frivolous, politically motivated nonsense. Case in point: the investigation tasked last week by Mr. Dempsey and new House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, to determine if any state agencies are working with the federal government to implement new regulations that might run afoul of the Tenth Amendment.
This is nothing but a dog-whistle to the right wing of the GOP, allowing lawmakers an opportunity during an election year to blather about how much they hate the federal government. This will help stave off a primary election opponent and earn campaign donations from extremists.
It’s a waste of time, and Mssrs. Dempsey and Richardson are smart enough to know it. But they’ll spend time and bandwidth on this while ignoring bipartisan calls for ethics reform in a building in which college interns aren’t safe because some elected officials see them as yet another entitlement.
This is a pathetic state of affairs. It’s going to take a true revolution of the people, in the form of a ballot initiative or two, to bring order to the people’s Capitol.
Who will lead the charge?
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The Kansas City Star, July 29
Minimum wage debate a fight worth having in Kansas City:
Evidence is mounting that the worthwhile battle to increase the minimum wage in Kansas City is going to be extremely messy.
The stakes are high. The goal is to require businesses to more fairly reward employees in low-paying jobs.
After weeks of contentious meetings, the City Council took the first needed step earlier this month. It approved a measure that would boost minimum pay to $8.50 an hour on Aug. 24, up from the current $7.65 required by state law. The council properly embraced the position that the increase plus later ones would reduce poverty and improve the standard of living for many low-income residents.
But hold everything.
The ordinance probably won’t take effect as scheduled. A business group likely will have until at least Aug. 25 to gather signatures on a petition drive to overturn what they contend is a job-killing local law.
The new petition drive by restaurant, hotel and other businesses isn’t surprising. It had surfaced as a possibility during negotiations with the council.
Still, it’s disappointing that some business owners want to kill the council’s new law. It called for mostly reasonable, stepped annual increases in the wage, up to $13 an hour by 2020. That’s shy of the $15-an-hour demand from many groups working for higher wages in Kansas City and elsewhere in the nation.
Meanwhile, faith-based and social justice organizations still have the potential to pursue their own local election to boost the wage floor even higher than the council has established.
Ultimately, it’s possible the new City Council that takes office on Saturday could weigh in and try to find common ground for proponents and opponents. That may be too optimistic to hope for, given the gulf between the parties.
It’s thus possible that Kansas City voters eventually could weigh in on two widely different ways to resolve the minimum wage debate.
Ultimately, it would be best for Missouri voters to pass a law that would set a baseline for a higher minimum wage across the state. The law should allow cities in urban areas — especially the Kansas City and St. Louis regions — to establish even higher pay scales if they are reasonable ways to deal with the cost of living.
Right now, Kansas City is in danger of spinning its wheels for months on an issue crucial to thousands of residents and many businesses.
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Joplin Globe, Aug. 3
Priority is energy independence:
Arguments for and against the Keystone pipeline are all over the map.
Proponents say it will be an economic boost; critics say it won’t have a significant impact.
Critics also worry about environmental consequences, but proponents note that with 2.5 million miles of pipeline in the United States already, Keystone will probably be low on the list of worries.
Let’s set aside for now those very real issues to ask a more fundamental question: What is this nation’s long-term energy strategy, and how does that strategy play into national security goals?
America’s priority has to be energy independence, by which we mean independence from OPEC, many members of which use money we pay at the pump to fund ways to destroy us. Do we really want to continue buying oil from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and others?
Last year, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones (retired), said Keystone was of strategic importance to the United States. He also noted that America’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, primarily to secure free passage of crude oil through the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz to the rest of the world.
“Why would the United States spend billions of dollars and place our military personnel at risk to ensure the flow of energy half a world away but neglect an opportunity to enable the flow of energy in our very own backyard — creating jobs, tax revenue and greater security?” Jones asked.
Critics of Keystone say most of the oil produced in Canada and shipped through the Midwest will be refined on the Gulf Coast and sold overseas. They call Keystone an “export pipeline.” If that’s the case — meaning big oil companies win but little else changes — we’re not interested. Under that scenario, Keystone is not compatible with America’s long-term interests or strategic goals.
Proponents, however, say only between a third and half of the oil will be shipped overseas, while the rest will be used by American consumers.
Who is right? A number of independent analyses also determined that 30 to 50 percent of the oil refined on the Gulf Coast today goes overseas as diesel fuel, gasoline, etc.
That is not acceptable.
Another analysis concluded that 70 percent of what is pumped through Keystone will remain in the United States.
That’s moving in the right direction.
Congress and President Barack Obama need to require that a certain percentage — at a minimum, we’d recommend 75 percent — of the refined oil from Keystone remain in the United States, serving American consumers and American interests.
Like we said, if this moves us closer to energy independence, we’ll support it, even though it may not bring all the promised jobs or even if it comes with environmental risks. If not, forget it.
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Springfield News-Leader, July 29
Outcry valid that lyric in tequila ad perpetuated ‘rape culture’:
Promoting rape culture? Or just a song?
Such was the outcry over (and corresponding defense of) the way a downtown business advertised $2.50 tequila shots.
The hand-drawn window sign at Bistro Market used the phrase “Make her clothes fall off,” accompanied by illustrations of women’s underwear.
Many complained, saying the sign perpetuated “rape culture” in which women are objectified and which trivializes, in some cases even encourages, sexual aggression. It’s a culture in which intoxication may become a means for taking advantage of women incapable of consenting.
Others defended the sign as nothing more than a lighthearted reference to the 2005 hit country song “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” Why are people so offended, some wondered, when it’s “just a song?”
Because it’s not just about the song, and the lyric was a poor choice.
In “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” the singer expresses concern for a woman who sheds clothing items when she drinks, nothing more. (The exact nature of his concern remains a mystery. Modesty? Safety? Wardrobe costs?)
But the sign promoting discount Sauza shots had another meaning: YOU can buy her this drink, and YOU can make her clothes fall off. And at this price, you can buy more than enough to make sure it happens.
Did the employee who conceived the sign have any of that in mind? We’ll give him or her benefit of the doubt and say “unlikely.” And we appreciate that company executives at Pyramid Foods, Bistro Market’s parent company, issued an apology about the sign and told employees that similar marketing ideas won’t fly.
Let’s be clear: If you need alcohol to force someone to make a decision, chances are that it’s a bad decision. And in many cases involving alcohol, women aren’t given the chance to consent.
One positive result of the social media fallout: Talking about the sign brings awareness to the issue of date rape, which is particularly timely as colleges gear up for the 2015 fall session. According to a study released earlier this year, the incidence of rape and assault among college freshman women is what some reports have called epidemic. The study, conducted in New York and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that nearly one in five women said they had been the victim of rape, or the attempt, during their freshman year.
Those incidents weren’t only by force. Many victims reported assaults occurred while they were incapacitated from alcohol or drugs, so they could neither resist nor give consent.
Making light of the connection between alcohol consumption and the potential for unwanted sexual advances or rape — “make her clothes fall off” — does a disservice to victims. And for some who have been sexually assaulted, seeing a sign like that could be triggering, said Lisa Ellsworth, clinical director at the Victim Center.
That this trigger was related to alcohol could have other negative consequences. “Sometimes victims unintentionally blame themselves anyway,” she said. “Coming from that angle, it could be, OK wait a minute, I was drinking when this happened. It’s my fault.”
Rape in our culture is a serious issue, she said, and even unintentionally, a sign like the one at Bistro Market undermines efforts to promote better awareness, Ellsworth said, “about what consent means and what consent doesn’t mean.”
That kind of culture has no place in Springfield.