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Commentary: The GOP 'wipeout' myth

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 22, 2010 - The demise of the Republican Party, following a failed 1978 attempt to secure Right to Work in Missouri, has been a sad story often retold in political circles around our state. Repeated so often that the story can almost be described as "political" folklore. However an examination of the actual results of the 1978 election reveals that the story is more folk myth than folklore.

The myth has resurfaced. The St. Louis Beacon recently published an article that brought up the possible renewal of a fight over Right to Work in the 2011 General Assembly. In an interview, former Missouri governor and retiring U.S. Sen. Kit Bond told the Beacon that the 1978 battle over Right to Work turned out to be "a disaster" for the GOP. He was quoted in the article as saying, "It wiped out every single Republican from top to bottom."

Wiped out every single Republican from top to bottom? A pure myth. What about 50 percent? No, that's still incorrect. 25 percent? Didn't happen. As a matter of fact, the net loss to the Missouri GOP in the General Assembly, between the number seated in 1977 and 1979, was only five members, less than 8 percent.

A wipeout? Hardly.

This loss was less than a third of the loss by the GOP in the 1974 election, when Kit Bond was serving as governor. No Right to Work issue at blame here. The election years of 1964 and 1968 were even worse for the GOP with net losses of 22 and 24 respectfully. So historically speaking the loss to the GOP in 1978 could better be described as small and not a "GOP wipeout."

Then was even this small 1978 loss caused by the Right to Work fight? Only by a rigorous examination of the facts in each of the individual races could we learn the true cause in each district; however, a casual examination of the 1978 election reveals that two incumbent GOP members of the General Assembly chose not to run in the '78 election, and if those two seats are excluded from the calculation, we learn that fewer than 500 total votes separated the remaining districts that switched political parties. Wipeout? You be the judge.

The voting public often accepts weak and illogical rational from politicians that are intended to justify an action or position, particularly on a controversial issue, because they have been told that it will "harm the party"; however, no one should accept outright distortions of facts.

Distortions that with the passage of time may become accepted myths. Any forecast, supported by a myth, that Right to Work will trigger doomsday for the GOP should end right here and right now.

Bruce Hillis lives in Mexico, Mo. 

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