Among the measures Missouri voters will decide on Nov. 6 is Amendment 1: The Lobbying, Campaign Finance, and Redistricting Initiative. It would amend the state constitution to change several aspects of Missouri’s political system.
It would impact, according to the ballot language, the process and criteria for redrawing state legislative districts; the campaign contributions that candidates for state legislature can accept; the gifts state legislators and their employees can accept; at what point state legislators and their employees can serve as paid lobbyists; political fundraising by politicians on state property; and transparency of legislative records and proceedings.
Monday’s St. Louis on the Air brought arguments on both sides of the ballot issue into focus, featuring host Don Marsh’s conversation with proponent Benjamin Singer and opponent Jim Talent during St. Louis Public Radio’s Oct. 24 ballot issues forum.
Each panelist provided opening remarks before Marsh moderated an in-depth debate between the two that also included questions from audience members. Each argument is summarized below.
Pro: Clean Missouri communications director Benjamin Singer wants Missourians to vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 1
Singer made the case for passing the amendment, emphasizing that “big money, powerful lobbyists and small groups of political insiders have too much control and influence in Missouri politics.”
“Our legislature takes nearly $900,000 a year in gifts from paid lobbyists,” Singer said. “Gerrymandered districts protect Democrats and Republicans from accountability. Legislators keep their records secret, and citizens have been kicked out of public hearings.
“But there’s good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. Amendment 1 will clean up Missouri politics by stopping expensive lobbyist gifts. It will require fair and competitive maps and make our legislature more transparent by requiring meetings and records be open to the public.”
Singer’s major points in favor of Amendment 1 were as follows:
- “Whether it’s [endorsements from] the NAACP, the Brennan Center for Justice, the League of Women Voters, the Campaign Legal Center ... civil rights leaders agree that Amendment 1 will actually make Missouri a leader in protecting minority representation in the legislature.”
- The amendment “requires districts to be compact and contiguous and when possible to follow local political boundaries, like city or county lines, which current house maps totally ignore. And a lot of towns in rural Missouri are cut up because of that.”
- “In terms of competitive districts, right now 90 percent of races are not competitive. These are protecting both Democrats and Republicans from accountability.”
- “The way it’s structured is [that] there’s a qualification process where the state auditor outlines the qualifications for the demographer. They are required to make it a long process to encourage numerous qualified applicants. They pass along the qualified applicants to the senate minority and majority leaders, so members of both parties have a say. If they agree on someone, that becomes the independent demographer who draws the maps. If they don’t [agree on someone], then there’s a random lottery.”
- Presently, “no data [currently] used in drafting the maps is subject to Sunshine Law, only those ultimate maps, and then if the process gets thrown into the courts the judges have claimed they’re not subject to the Sunshine Law, and then we see the maps that come out of there and wonder who’s pulling the strings behind closed doors. So adding transparency is really critical.”
- “Right now a lot of Missourians feel like they don’t have a voice in Jefferson City, especially with the gerrymandering that is protecting our legislators from being held accountable when they fail to act in the public’s interest. For example, if you’re in St. Louis County, there are districts drawn to dilute your voice.”
- “These are all desperately needed reforms. You’ve heard how desperate lobbyists and politicians are to protect the corrupt status quo, where legislators keep taking nearly $900,000 a year in lobbyist gifts, listen to a few big donors and ignore voters back home.”
Con: Missourians First chairman Jim Talent wants Missourians to vote ‘no’ on Amendment 1
Talent made the case for defeating the amendment, emphasizing that while it is “marketed as an ethics amendment … the vast majority of the amendment is a massive constitutional change in the way Missouri draws its state legislative maps.”
“It vests the power in one official and directs him to draw the maps to achieve a percentage of Republicans and Democrats in the legislature,” Talent said, “that mirrors the Republican and Democratic vote for statewide offices like governor and senator.
“Now [the sponsors of Amendment 1] want to draw a whole lot more marginally Democratic seats, because the Democrats currently, in the last 10 years, have run more poorly in legislative races than in statewide races … it’s not a failure of democracy when voters choose one party for governor and another party to run the legislature. We shouldn’t try and game the system to preclude them from that choice.”
Talent’s major points in opposition to Amendment 1 were as follows:
- “The amendment requires that the maps be drawn to achieve partisan fairness, which is defined by the amendment as districts that will produce a result in the legislature [that] mirrors the results in statewide elections for governor, senator and the rest of it. Now to do that you have to draw more marginally Democratic districts, because the Democrats have been running more poorly in legislative races than they’ve been running in statewide races, and that’s what this one official, who’s been vested with power by this to draw the district maps, will do.”
- If the amendment passes “you are going to have state senate districts, if you live in the city, where you’re going to be represented by people in the suburban and ex-urban areas.”
- “The ethics provisions, which I support, they’re good, OK – they’re not tremendously consequential. They’re the tail that is designed to wag the dog of the redistricting portion.”
- “The demographer is going to be a partisan official. He or she will be appointed by the state auditor who is a partisan elected official, and they’re going to appoint somebody from their party to the demographer’s office. Even if the auditor doesn’t want to do that, and resists that, they’re going to be under intense pressure from their own party to appoint somebody who will draw these maps … in a way that favors their party. Auditors usually have higher political ambitions.”
- “The demographer is going to have a five-year term. He’s going to have an office, he’s going to be a paid employee, he’s going to have staff, he’s going to have office space. And the legislature’s going to appropriate all that. So the incumbents whose maps he’s drawing are going to be in charge of paying his salary. I wonder sometimes … if the people who drafted [this amendment] have any idea how Jefferson City works.”
- “This amendment is designed to produce, and it will produce, long snake-like, spaghetti-like, gerrymandered districts.”
- “You’re going to have people representing you who are not from your communities, do not know your issues, do not know your views.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.