Statewide Editorials

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(The Associated Press)
Jefferson City News-Tribune, July 8

Revival of gas chamber an unlikely option
A vast divide may separate what is possible and what is probable.
Attorney General Chris Koster has advanced the idea of reviving use of a gas chamber to carry out Missouri executions.
The concept is possible; state statutes list death by gas as one of two execution options. The other is lethal injection.
As a practical matter, however, reintroduction of a gas chamber is not likely.
Missouri no longer has an operational gas chamber. The device used to execute 39 death row inmates between 1938 and 1965 now is a tourist attraction. The defunct gas chamber is among the most popular stops on tours of the vacated Missouri State Penitentiary.
Can the old gas chamber be retrofitted and transported? Can a new one be purchased, and at what cost?
Answers to those questions are worth exploring only after affirming that reintroduction of death by gas is feasible and desirable.
Koster raised the idea because the use of lethal injection has been stalled. The impediment is a court battle about whether lethal injection violates the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
As the protracted fight continues, available lethal injection drugs have reached their expiration dates, leaving a dwindling supply.
But any plans to revive use of a gas chamber also would raise objections that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Koster addressed those objections when he said: “The premeditated murder of an innocent Missourian is cruel and unusual punishment. The lawful implementation of the death penalty, following a fair and reasoned jury trial, is not.”
Courts judge the circumstances — including cruelty — of a murder to determine punishment.
Separately, courts must decide the cruelty of a punishment to determine constitutionality.
Bringing back the gas chamber invariably will invite more challenges in the courts.
And we will be back to where we are now — impatiently awaiting a ruling on whether executions may proceed.
The Kansas City Star, July 7
Keep voter registration accurate
The old adage that “every vote counts” played out in the worst possible way in a 2010 election for a Missouri House seat.
Two relatives of the winning candidate, John J. Rizzo, have admitted they fraudulently changed their voter registration address to cast votes in Rizzo’s August primary against a fellow Democrat, Will Royster.
Rizzo won that race by one vote. So the votes cast by John and Clara Moretina, Rizzo’s uncle and aunt, likely made the difference.
According to a statement from the Jackson County prosecutor’s office, the Moretina couple registered in advance of the primary using an address in Kansas City’s Northeast area, where they stayed temporarily with a relative to deal with a medical problem. The couple’s official address, where they were paying utilities at the time of the election, was in Clay County.
Because verifiable voter fraud is extremely rare, people who want to restrict voting for political purposes are seizing on this case as a reason to make it harder to register and vote, citing the need to produce government-issued documents, like a driver’s license or birth certificate, which many people do not have.
That’s a real stretch. The Moretina couple didn’t vote under a false identity; they used a bad address.
The consequences have been severe. Both were fined $250 and have lost their right to ever again vote in Missouri. John Moretina, 60, also pleaded guilty to voter fraud in federal court because the ballot included candidates seeking federal office. Still to be sentenced, he could face up to five years in prison.
The guilty pleas are a cautionary tale. Voters need to be scrupulous about registering and voting in the correct place. Even a move a few blocks away could place someone in a different city council or state legislative district.
Rizzo went on to win the general election in 2010 and was re-elected to the General Assembly in 2012. Understandably feeling cheated over the results of the close primary, Royster and his supporters want Rizzo to resign his seat.
We won’t go that far. The 2010 election results were reviewed by a judge, who declined to order a new election. Residency disputes can be murky and take time to straighten out.
Should Rizzo decide to run again in 2014, the voters of his district will have an opportunity to assess to what extent the conduct of his relatives should be held against him.
St. Joseph News-Press, July 5
Focus on passing laws truly helpful to public
Efforts by state legislators to nullify federal laws do little to engender confidence in their brand of governing.
You would think that effective legislators would address the most pressing problems in the state. You also would suppose these lawmakers and their constituents agree on the priorities. And most assuredly, you would expect these representatives to inspire respect from the citizens they serve.
By these measures, thousands of residents of Kansas and Missouri are poorly served by their representatives’ out-of-proportion focus on trying to thwart federal laws.
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback already has signed a measure passed this spring that threatens felony charges for federal agents enforcing certain firearms laws in the state.
In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed a measure that would have made it a crime for federal agents to enforce any federal gun regulations that “infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms.” The same bill attempted to invalidate a 1934 law that imposed on tax on transferring machine guns or silencers.
The vast majority of Missourians support the right to gun ownership. However, it’s difficult to argue that supposed federal threats to our state rights, or to our right to bear arms, are higher priorities to Missourians than the quality of our schools and universities, the condition of our roads, and the physical wellbeing of our vulnerable youngsters and senior citizens.
Not only that, but lawmakers who think this are in a small minority of all citizens. Devoting time to this topic suggests they are out of touch and takes time and focus away from priorities that voters repeatedly have expressed.
Finally, there is the respect issue. Effective and respected lawmakers get things done, move the state forward and improve the lives of its citizens. Drafting and passing nullification laws — knowing full well the courts repeatedly have struck these down as unconstitutional — accomplishes nothing for the state or its citizens.
The only bigger affront to taxpayers: Having to stand by while lawmakers once again put their focus in the wrong place and attempt to override Gov. Nixon’s entirely justifiable veto when they return to session in September.
The Joplin Globe, July 5
Cheers, jeers, cheers
The proposal to place the White River, which flows through Missouri and Arkansas, on the National Blueways recognition program was initially applauded as a win for both the environment and for the tourism industry.
But, like so many things these days, the designation of the 700-plus-mile river swiftly hit rough political waters.
On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior threw up its hands and dropped the river from the new federal program after controversy arose on whether it could lead to new government regulations and even possible land seizures.
The uproar led to a group of Republican U.S. senators and representatives from Missouri and Arkansas — including Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Billy Long — both of Springfield — to write a letter to the Interior Department asking that the designation be revoked.
Even backers of the designation said they were worried about the backlash from local and state stakeholders. They were concerned that instead of promoting outdoor recreation, wildlife refuges and other public lands, the rancor might have the opposite effect.
It’s hard to know if the program was really flawed, or if it was rejected systematically because it is part of President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
The White River would have been the second waterway to be named a National Blueway. The Connecticut River was the first.
Designation includes the entire river as well as its watershed. That was 17.9 million acres for the White River.
But, we’re being told that the story ends on an encouraging note.
The issue of protecting waterways got so much attention that supporters have renewed their intentions of protecting the environment from a local and state level.
We hope that can happen without fears — either real or unfounded — of government intrusion dampening the spirits of the true conservationists among us.