Voters in Missouri and Illinois answered many key regional questions at the polls this week, deciding a wide range of races and ballot issues. But with those midterm results come more questions about what it all means.
On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh worked through a handful of local and statewide topics alongside three guests who offered analysis: St. Louis Public Radio political reporters Jo Mannies and Jason Rosenbaum plus University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist Anita Manion.
The panelists’ answers to eight of the many questions they considered in conversation with Marsh and listeners were as follows.
1. Where do the Democrats go from here with regard to rural Missouri?
Manion: It was interesting what we saw with Prop A, right-to-work – that motivated folks. And so we see a disconnect, I think. We see shifting coalitions with what had been a labor base for the Democratic Party in Missouri, and those folks are now voting for the Republican Party and aligned with President Trump and that administration. So I think it’s a tough road forward for the Democrats in Missouri.
Rosenbaum: I think that the biggest problem in rural Missouri for the Democrats now is that voters are no longer able to differentiate between local candidates, who might be more socially conservative on issues like abortion and gun control, and the national party. I went around northeast Missouri last year … and the common thing I heard from Republicans and Democrats was just a disconnect from the Democratic Party about what people want as far as what issues as well as the national/local dichotomy.
2. What are we going to get with Josh Hawley as senator?
Mannies: He has been upfront [that] he is a religious conservative; he made that clear last night. … He is a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act. Now, because the Democrats took the House, I think some of the things he would like to be a major player in may be stymied a bit … but I think that he’s definitely going to be very close to Trump, and Hawley’s expertise is really on legal issues. So I can imagine he’ll be a real strong advocate for more conservative judges.
3. How divided is Missouri? Hawley suggested in his speech that Missouri isn’t as divided as many people think.
Manion: [Hawley] said he’s been all over the state, but he wasn’t really doing rallies in that [Interstate] 270 corridor; he was invited to come to UMSL and he didn’t attend. And so I suspect that the Missouri that he was encountering was united, but Missouri as a whole is divided. There’s a large rural/urban divide.
Rosenbaum: It’s not just [the] rural/urban divide that’s divided – we are in [the] St. Louis area. We’re just four years removed from Michael Brown’s shooting death, and even four years later there hasn’t been a huge amount of policy trajectory forward on a state or a federal level when it comes to building the trust between African-Americans and law enforcement.
Mannies: I think that, and this is going to be somewhat controversial to say, but I don’t think he necessarily means it that way, but when Josh Hawley says [in his victory speech] “our way of life,” you know what that sounds like? The white way of life – the way white people have done things, not just rural, but rural conservative, the white way of life. He may not mean it that way, but I think many listeners – especially African-American listeners who I talk to – that’s how they interpret it. So I think it’s going to be interesting, because he did virtually no campaigning inside the 270 circle, but as it turned out he didn’t need to. So the issue is: Is he just going to be speaking to that part of the state that he traveled in extensively, or will he be reaching out to the part of the state where he did not reach out?
4. We reached out to our listeners over Twitter over the course of the day to see how they are feeling about the overall direction of the region after yesterday’s election. Many of them said they are feeling uncertain/ambivalent or concerned/worried. What do you make of that?
Manion: I think the expectations were really high [among] some, particularly young people and first-time people engaging in the process, progressives. And I think that even though nationally elections kind of went as predicted yesterday, their hopes were a little dashed, and they’re feeling fairly disappointed today … some of those big races – the [Beto] O’Rourke, the [Andrew] Gillum, the [Stacey] Abrams, the [Claire] McCaskill – didn’t go the way they wanted, and I think they’re feeling a little deflated.
Rosenbaum: Even locally, I noticed a lot of excitement on Twitter about seeing high turnout in places like St. Louis City and St. Louis County. What I don’t think people – I mean younger people, especially – that don’t travel a lot outside of the [metro] area quite understand is that St. Louis is not indicative of the rest of the state. I mean, first of all, rural Missouri has immense poverty just as St. Louis has immense poverty that is actually very similar. But I think it also has just different political sensibilities, and oftentimes religion plays an outsized role in a lot of rural communities and also some exurban communities like St. Charles and Jefferson County … and I certainly understand the motivation and the energy in St. Louis, because they are upset about what’s happening in Washington D.C. and they are repelled, often, by what President Trump says and does. But not everybody else in Missouri feels that way.
5. A listener asked us this question on social media: How can Missouri voters support medical marijuana, increase the minimum wage, right-to-work in the past – and still vote for conservatives?
Manion: I think this is a question a lot of people were asking last night and today. It seems to me a lot of that is probably the blue-collar vote, the labor vote. My dad worked at the Chrysler plant in Fenton, and so I picture those folks who are going to come out and vote against right-to-work, even if they are no longer employed by a union. So they might be feeling that hard time with the economy, feeling a bit disenfranchised, but still come out for those sorts of issues. But there’s [those] conservative values … the social values drive it, and I think that Trump’s message really resonates there too.
Rosenbaum: I think there’s a simpler explanation. A lot of the ballot issues that [the listener mentioned] didn’t have robust, organized opposition. There was one – Clean Missouri [Amendment 1] – which did have organized opposition, but even the opponents would concede it was fractious and disorganized opposition. And it was going up against a very cleverly crafted proposal that emphasized ethics-related changes and not necessarily what many feel was the impetus, which is basically to overhaul state legislative redistricting. And I would also push back against people who say medical marijuana is a Democratic issue. We’ve seen a lot of Republicans, including a lot of Republicans in the legislature, embrace the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use.
6. Illinois has a new governor-elect – Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who beat incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. What do you make of the results of that race – and Pritzker’s victory speech last night?
Rosenbaum: Look, Bruce Rauner’s administration was a disaster. I knew he was going to lose by a lot, and I’m not defending his ineptitude politically, which was vast. But when I hear J.B. Pritzker talk about the beacon of democracy, [it] was two gillionaires basically self-funding their campaigns to lead a state that’s functionally bankrupt, I can’t help but be cynical. And I guess I take it a little more personally because I’m from Illinois and I really do love the state and its people. But I don’t think anyone can look at that governor’s race and say, “Let’s make that the type of race we want in America.” Because if that’s the case, then somebody who is not, again, a gillionaire is not going to be able to become a governor of a major state. And I don’t think that that race was good for democracy.
Mannies: I get where Jason is coming from there … I think that there will be some soul searching among people in both parties – is this where you want to go, where someone who’s running for president has to be a billionaire in order to self-fund so that they don’t have to report their donations, or is it going to be something else? And I think that that’s something that the public’s going to have to grapple with, and frankly I’m not sure if they want to … but eventually trouble happens, and you gotta deal with it. Because people who are billionaires, even if they’re self-made, their lives are different than yours and mine.
7. Is Amendment 1, particularly its redistricting component, going to really change things with regard to gerrymandering?
Manion: I think it will change districts, but I don’t know that people are going to be any happier in the end.
Rosenbaum: The proponents of Clean Missouri never really showed what these districts are going to look like, so it kind of left a lot up to the imagination and interpretation … there is language aimed at protecting minority representation, but that did not stop a lot of African-American elected officials and political leaders from opposing Clean Missouri, because they fear that in order to create competitive districts in the St. Louis area you’re going to have to connect north St. Louis County with west county or St. Charles, and there’s really no way to get to those goals without doing that.
8. A listener in west St. Louis County asks us over email, “Could one of the reasons the gas tax proposition [Prop D] failed be because most of the money went to the police instead of the roads?”
Rosenbaum: Yes … I’ve been hearing that that was probably the reason. I think that they had to do it that way and the mindset was you give it to the highway patrol and then you free up money for transportation projects elsewhere. But I just don’t think that that nuance trickled down to average voters. And I think it’s a big missed opportunity, because regardless of where you are on that issue, I think it’s pretty clear that Missouri roads and bridges need a lot more money, and they’re not getting it.
Mannies: And Missouri’s gas tax has long been one of the nation’s lowest.
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.