Missouri Republicans Can Shape State Government And Policy For Years To Come
Two days after handily winning a full four-year term as governor, Mike Parson stepped to the podium and made it clear that he doesn’t want to waste the opportunity to fundamentally reshape Missouri.
“I hear everybody say I got a plan, I got a plan, I got a plan,” Parson said. “You know, people are tired of hearing about plans. People want to know if they’re going to deliver on those plans.”
Parson beat Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway by a margin that’s nearly unprecedented for a Republican gubernatorial candidate. Only John Ashcroft won by as large a margin as Parson did in the past three-plus decades.
One thing Ashcroft didn’t have was a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly.
With Republicans once again dominating the election, Missouri’s executive and legislative branches will remain the same as they have been for the past four years. And that means the GOP will still possess immense ability to control the direction of policy in the state for years, if not decades, to come.
Missouri Democrats, as has been the case for a number of years, are on the outside looking in. And while they will likely contribute, and perhaps shape, specific issues, they won’t have much leverage to stop things they don’t like.
“We’ve got to acknowledge it was a very devastating night for Democrats in Missouri,” said Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City. “It’s something that we got to work through.”
Policy and politics
Both Parson, and his predecessor, Eric Greitens, were able to accomplish a number of key policy objectives over the past few years with a Republican supermajority. That includes revamping the state’s economic development incentives, launching a bonding plan for the state’s bridges and passing restrictive abortion laws.
But the advent of COVID-19 left some policy priorities unfulfilled. And with a unified government, GOP leaders like Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz see opportunities to do things like tax online retailers the same as brick-and-mortar ones. The Sullivan Republican also wants to find a new funding source for transportation projects.
And this could be a chance to follow through on some priorities of the business community, such as curbing lawsuits related to COVID-19. Both Schatz and incoming House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Jefferson County, wanted that idea added to a special session aimed at passing a supplemental budget related to fighting the virus.
“We need to make sure that what we do provides protections so that we aren’t seeing people being closed or unwilling to open because of some legal environment that may exist,” Schatz said.
It’s not just on policy where Republicans will have an impact.
Parson will be able to make appointments to a slew of important posts, including up to three seats on the Missouri Supreme Court because of age-related retirements. While the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan doesn’t allow Parson to choose whomever he wants, he will likely, based on some key appointments, get a panel to choose from that is more to his liking than prior GOP governors.
And since the GOP has control over the Legislature and the governor’s office, Republicans will have full reign over congressional redistricting. That should keep most of the state’s congressional districts bright red.
If anything, the big conflict may be on how to rearrange some districts to become more Republican. Some St. Charles County lawmakers want to place all of their GOP-leaning county in one place, perhaps the 2nd Congressional District. But that may not be universally popular, especially if St. Louis County Republicans want to maintain an ability to represent a district in Congress.
“I think that there's going to be a concern in how these lines shift in potentially putting one very, very large Republican-dominated area in one congressional district,” Schatz said. “I understand their desire to want to have it that way, because I feel very good about Franklin County being all in one county in the 3rd Congressional District. So I get it, but I also realize that’s going to create some issues or some problems.”
The downward spiral
While Missouri Republicans see the next four years as a time of limitless possibilities, Missouri Democrats are still in the political and policy wilderness.
Democrats had hoped to chip away at the GOP majorities enough for Republicans to no longer have the power to override a veto. But that became meaningless after Parson defeated Galloway. And Democrats lost two key Senate races in mid-Missouri and St. Louis County, which means the GOP will still have the same number of members next year as they do now.
Also, efforts to improve Democratic prospects took a huge hit last week when voters repealed the Clean Missouri state legislative redistricting system. That plan could have created more competitive districts that would have likely increased Democratic numbers in both chambers. The new plan, which likely gives most of the map-drawing power to appellate judges, is expected to keep House and Senate districts fairly similar to what they are now.
In fact, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said her biggest priority is not necessarily pushing for a favorable map but making sure children are counted during the redistricting process. That remains a possibility, although an optional one, under the new system that voters approved last week.
“Yes maps are important for sure. But my No. 1 goal is making sure every Missourian that should be counted is counted,” said Quade, D-Springfield. “And with that being an option not to, that’s going to be where we’re putting our energy.”
Even if Democrats get a decent state legislative map next year, Sen.-elect Greg Razer believes that his party has more systemic problems.
Razer is a Kansas City Democrat who grew up in southeast Missouri. Democratic fortunes in rural Missouri have become so bad that the party is losing counties that used to be firmly in their camp to Republicans by upward of 60 or 70 percentage points.
He said Democrats’ inability to attract rural voters to their cause is one of the reasons they can’t obtain meaningful power.
“I think we're on the right side of the issues. We're on the right side of moving Missouri forward. You can see that at the ballot box when time and time and time again Missourians vote with us,” said Razer, alluding to how voters have backed progressive-minded ballot initiatives. “What we have is a terrible branding problem. We've got to go out, we've got to talk to Missouri and we got to make sure that they know that I'm not Nancy Pelosi, I'm a kid from the Bootheel who represents Kansas City.
“This is gonna be a long fight for us to build ourselves back up,” he added. “But the fight starts today.”
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum