KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly this week is expected to make changes to a constitutional amendment approved by nearly two-thirds of voters last November.
The government reforms known as ‘Clean Missouri’ are under attack in Jefferson City.
“Lawmakers are just going to propose this to the people again,” Kansas City attorney Ed Greim said.
Voters in the Show-Me State overwhelmingly approved restrictions on lobbying, limits on campaign contributions and opening legislative records when they enacted Amendment 1 last year.
But as soon as lawmakers returned to Jefferson City, many began working on going back to voters seeking changes.
“This has happened before in Missouri where voters pass something drafted by outsiders and flaws are found,” Greim said. “Ways to perfect that are found. That`s really what`s going on in the General Assembly right now. There were many flaws with Clean Missouri, despite the good intent behind it.”
Greim has been involved in many statewide ballot measures. He says Republicans are most concerned about changes to the way legislative districts are drawn. A so-called neutral demographer nominated by the state auditor, currently a Democrat, would determine district boundaries, instead of a bi-partisan citizens commission.
“Nationwide nobody sees Missouri as a problem with gerrymandering,” Greim said. “It`s other states. Yet somehow these same groups pushed a radical Frankenstein version of their measure. Missouri unwittingly became an experiment.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones who don`t like the redistricting. African-American lawmakers say Clean Missouri will reduce their numbers in the state capitol and make it harder for black candidates to win. That`s why Kansas City Democrat
Brandon Ellington opposed Clean Missouri last November.
“I feel as an elected official, we have to articulate the problems in here and hopefully galvanize the community to draft another amendment that would preserve our way of minority representation so it will not be diluted,” Ellington explained.
Other proposals would eliminate Sunshine Law sections in Clean Missouri by keeping secret virtually any message between a voter and an elected or government official. Gov. Mike Parson already redacts identifying information of those contacting him, citing so-called privacy concerns.
“I’ve never seen the First Amendment used in quite this way, as a defense of basically hiding things from people who frankly you work for,” said Allan Katz, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Initiative petitions have been used in recent years to reject right to work legislation, raise the minimum wage and legalize medical marijuana. Democrats claim following each referendum result, Republicans lawmakers try to counter the will of the people.
“From campaign contribution limits to puppy mills, to renewable energy, to the minimum wage, Clean Missouri and redistricting reform, the Sunshine Law; unfortunately it`s a growing list in which the legislature has said, “I guess we know better than the people of Missouri,'” said Rep. Jon Carpenter, a Democrat from Kansas City.
Democrats claim that may explain why another bill at the state capitol would make it harder to put citizen referendums on the ballot by imposing new fees and regulations.
“It probably makes sense to ensure that petition circulators don`t just go the same areas every time to get signatures,” Greim said. “They go to the big cities where voters are clustered together. But parts of rural Missouri never see an initiative petition circulator. Why is that?”
Democrats claim voters will reject changing the reforms they approved in Clean Missouri, even though they`re likely to be asked again next year.
Opponents claim the Clean Missouri campaign was funding by Democrats and groups that support Democrats, including billionaire George Soros.
In an emailed response to legislative attacks on Amendment 1, Sean Soendker Nicholson of the Clean Missouri campaign wrote: “There is a multi-step process for selecting a state demographer involving the State Auditor, leaders in the state senate, and then a possible lottery.
“The bipartisan citizens commissions are still in place for the next redistricting cycle, and are able to modify draft plans proposed by the nonpartisan demographer.
“Protections for the voting power of communities of color in the state constitution now are the strongest in the country. Language to ensure communities of color can elect representatives of their choice are prioritized over all other criteria for future maps.
“Amendment 1 was supported by a huge coalition of both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Jack Danforth endorsed the measure, along with AARP Missouri, the League of Women Voters and many other groups.”