Herald-Whig View

Lawmakers should heed voters' wishes on reforms

Posted: Dec. 26, 2018 10:35 am

MIKE Parson has provided a calming influence to Missouri state government since ascending to the governorship June 1 with the resignation of Eric Greitens, who was facing potential impeachment proceedings over allegations of personal and political misconduct.

Parson, a former state senator, has, as promised, elevated the tone of political discourse and has conducted government business with respect and integrity. The approach has been a refreshing change from the near-constant conflict that engulfed Jefferson City during Greitens' chaotic 17-month tenure.

So it seemed out of character earlier this week when Parson publicly called for repealing and replacing a constitutional amendment approved by 62 percent of voters last month to revise the way Missouri's legislative districts are drawn,.

It is an ill-advised decision the governor should reconsider and state lawmakers should reject.

We supported Amendment 1, describing it as a bold, voter-driven effort to root corruption out of the capital and return Missouri's political process to a system that benefits voters, not donors.

The so-called "Clean Missouri" amendment limited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, subjected lawmakers to the state open-records law and replaced the process for redrawing state legislative districts after the 2020 census with a model designed to have the number of seats won by each party more closely reflect its statewide vote.

Specifically, Amendment 1 would create a new position of nonpartisan state demographer who would propose maps to commissioners that reflect the parties' share of the statewide vote in previous elections for president, governor and U.S. senator.

Further, the criteria of "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" would outrank more traditional benchmarks such as geographically compact districts. An Associated Press analysis found the formula is likely to increase Democrats' chances of winning elections and cut into Republicans' supermajorities in the state House and Senate, a primary reason why Parson and some GOP leaders appear to oppose it.

Heading into the next legislative session next month, Republicans hold a 23-9 edge in the Senate, with two vacancies, and a 107-44 advantage in the House, with 12 vacancies. The GOP has controlled both chambers since 2003, although Democrats occupied all but one statewide office as recently as 2016.

However, 44 of 163 House races last month (including two in Northeast Missouri) featured only one candidate, making it among the least competitive states in the country. Amendment 1 seeks, among other things, to give voters more choices when selecting those representing them in Jefferson City.

Granted, constitutional amendments are not the best way to establish policy. However, Missourians have repeatedly taken that route when legislators have failed to act on important issues, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

For instance, Missouri voters overwhelmingly backed campaign contribution limits in 1994, only to see legislators repeal them in 2006 and 2008. Voters once again instituted limits with constitutional amendments in both 2016 and 2018.

In arguing for passage of Amendment 1, we said it would send a strong, clear message to Jefferson City that voters are taking back their state government, that they will no longer stand by and let lobbyists run their state and that they want all their neighbors to be counted.

Now that voters have overwhelmingly agreed, they should let lawmakers know it would be a mistake to ignore their decision and arbitrarily attempt to cast the provisions of Amendment 1 aside before they have been put in place.

The will of voters clearly should not be so casually dismissed.