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Government, Politics & Issues

Carnahan's ballot summary for health exchange prompts outcry from Kinder

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 3, 2012 - Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s office released ballot summary language Tuesday for two proposals set to be on the ballot later this year.

Carnahan, a Democrat who is not running for re-election this year, unveiled ballot language for a constitutional amendment altering the selection process for Missouri Supreme Court and Missouri Court of Appeals vacancies.

She also released a summary for a statutory change that, among other things, bars a governor from establishing a health insurance exchange through an executive order.

The summaries also include fiscal notes, which are prepared by state Auditor Tom Schweich. Both items are being placed on the ballot by the General Assembly, not through initiative petitions.

Here’s the ballot summary language and fiscal note for the amendment to alter the court plan:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to:

•      appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees; and

•      appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor’s appointees be nonlawyers?"

"There are no estimated costs or savings expected if this proposal is approved by voters."

And here’s the summary language and fiscal note for the health insurance ballot item:

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"Shall Missouri law be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute, initiative or referendum or through an exchange operated by the federal government as required by the federal health care act?"

"No direct costs or savings for state and local governmental entities are expected from this proposal. Indirect costs or savings related to enforcement actions, missed federal funding, avoided implementation costs, and other issues are unknown."

(Start of update) Late Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, blasted Carnahan's ballot summary for the health exchange proposal, and threatened to take legal action to force it to be changed.

"Carnahan’s language states that if you vote yes, ‘Missouri law will be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans,' " Kinder said.

"In actuality, the Missouri ballot measure allows voters to prohibit unelected bureaucrats from implementing certain ObamaCare provisions unless specifically authorized by the legislature or a vote of the people."

"Even though Secretary Carnahan is a strong supporter of ObamaCare, she must separate her personal political bias and fulfill her obligation to the voters of Missouri and to state law," Kinder said. He contended that Carnahan is violating a state law that requires "fair ballot language statements that fairly and accurately explain what a vote for and what a vote against the measure represent." (Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 116.025)

"No reasonable person could conclude that Secretary Carnahan’s language is a fair or accurate description of the issue being presented to voters," Kinder concluded, adding that he planned to ask other Republicans to join him in a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Her office's language regarding judicial selection has yet to prompt any controversy.

Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart said in an e-mail that "this office has always followed our legal obligation to provide Missourians with fair and sufficient summaries of ballot initiatives, and this summary is no different." (End of update)

Under the current judicial selection system, the governor selects the judges who serve on the state Supreme Court, the appeals courts and in the circuits in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Jackson County and Greene County. 

The governor chooses from three nominees who have been selected by commissions that include an equal number of lawyers, people chosen by the governor and the state’s chief justice on the Missouri Supreme Court.

The amendment would replace the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court with another gubernatorial appointee, giving laypeople on the commission a 4-3 advantage. It would also allow a governor to select his commission appointees during his or her term in office, a move that would likely give the governor more influence over who the commission selects as judicial nominees. (Currently, the gubernatorial members of the commission are staggered, so some were named by a previous governor.)

Proponents argue that changes will provide more accountability, since an elected governor will have more power over filling vacancies. But opponents counter that the amendment could politicize the process and would not necessarily diminish the influence of attorneys since a governor could hypothetically appoint four attorneys as lay members.

When the health insurance item was passed, House Majority Leader Tim Jones noted that the proposal was aimed at reflecting Missouri voters’ antipathy the federal health care bill. Others have noted that exchanges will be set up regardless if Missouri legislators don’t act.

Both items are slated to be on the general election ballot on November 6.

Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter, contributed information for this article.

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