Conflict and upheaval defined Missouri politics throughout 2022 — more to come in 2023?
Missouri politics in 2022 featured a little bit of everything: high-stakes elections, nasty legislative fights and landmark court decisions.
And all of the storylines that defined 2022 stoked enough contention and conflict to likely affect events in 2023 and beyond.
While the midterm election cycle didn’t do much to alter Missouri's status as a bright red state, there were other events that could plant the seeds for a very different political reality in the years ahead.
Away from Jefferson City, St. Louis experienced a monumental upheaval that sent three aldermen to prison and strengthened a political faction that’s championed left-of-center policy positions.
As is the case at the end of every year, members of the St. Louis Public Radio politics team ranked their top political stories of 2022. Here they are in reverse order:
5. Missourians legalize marijuana
One of the long-running observations about Missouri is that voters tend to back conservative candidates but approve progressive ballot items. And while there’s some nuance about why this happens (like, for instance, grossly underfunded opposition campaigns), the results have pushed the state in a different direction than GOP officials would want.
Such is the case for the legalization of marijuana. Even though some of the top GOP officials and Democratic leaders strongly opposed what was known as Amendment 3, it passed in the November election. By February, a variety of marijuana products are expected to be available for purchase in Missouri, many marijuana possession convictions can now be expunged, and it is legal to possess up to 3 ounces.
The legalization of marijuana may show that the issue isn’t actually “progressive” — especially since places with lots of conservative voters like Jefferson and St. Charles counties supported the measure. It may be that people of all political persuasions don’t see the value in marijuana remaining illegal — especially when lots of other states, including neighboring Illinois, have made it available.
4. The Conservative Caucus makes noise and then disbands
The Conservative Caucus in the Missouri Senate made its presence known in Jefferson City and at the ballot box in 2022.
After spending much of the session bedeviling GOP leadership over a congressional redistricting map, candidates associated with the Conservative Caucus did fairly well in the August primary. But the members of this group decided to disband soon afterward, hoping that they’d made their point without having to be a formal group anymore.
What’s unknown, though, is if individual senators who were part of the Conservative Caucus will continue to fight with GOP Senate leaders in 2023 and beyond, especially since some have aspirations to run for statewide office in 2024.
(TIE) 3. Redistricting grinds the legislature to a halt
Perhaps the issue where the Conservative Caucus created the most impact (or, to some lawmakers, chaos) was the fight over Missouri’s congressional redistricting map.
Lawmakers labored for months to smooth out disagreements between GOP legislators who wanted a fairly status quo map and Republicans who wanted to aggressively target Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City. Ultimately, the map that ended up passing created six Republican districts and two Democratic ones — the setup the state has had since 2013.
Despite the furor over congressional redistricting, new state House and Senate maps were arguably more impactful in 2022. Thanks to a more favorable map that surprisingly won unanimous approval, House Democrats gained seats for the second straight election cycle. And Senate Democrats are bullish that the maps appellate judges crafted could dig them out of their super minority.
(TIE) 3. Schmitt emerges out of wild GOP primary
Missouri’s U.S. Senate race, at least in the general election, appeared to many to be a foregone conclusion. Few prognosticators felt Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine could beat Republican Eric Schmitt — and they were shown to be correct when the GOP attorney general won comfortably in November.
What wasn’t certain throughout 2022 was who would emerge out of a highly competitive Republican Senate primary. At various points in time, Schmitt, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and former Gov. Eric Greitens each seemed like the leader of the pack. Greitens’ reemergence was especially alarming to some GOP leaders who had detested the former chief executive for years.
In the end, Schmitt easily won the primary thanks to a disciplined campaign and millions of dollars' worth of third party ads that sunk Greitens’ hopes. Even former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of “ERIC” (not specifying Greitens or Schmitt) on the day before the primary failed to get Greitens in second place.
2. Bribery scheme rocks the Board of Aldermen
St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed’s long tenure in city politics came to a crashing halt when he was indicted on federal bribery charges along with Aldermen Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins-Muhammad. All three men ended up resigning from office and were sentenced to prison.
And Megan Green, an ally of St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, won a special election to fill out the rest of Reed’s term.
Now the progressive faction of city officials holds more tangible power than ever. Whether they can work together through major issues, and hundreds of millions of dollars from federal COVID relief and the St. Louis Rams lawsuit settlement, will unfold in the months to come.
1. Roe’s demise bans most abortions in Missouri
It wasn’t a local election or judge that brought about the biggest story of 2022. Rather, it was the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade locked in the state’s trigger law, which prohibited all abortions in the state with the exception of medical emergencies.
This was a monumental victory for opponents of abortion rights in Missouri, who already had placed restrictions into law. But it also created a political dynamic that wasn’t exactly favorable to Republicans. Even though Schmitt prevailed, Democratic state legislative candidates did much better than in previous elections — which they attributed to Roe v. Wade’s demise.
And in 2023, the conversation could turn to a ballot initiative to repeal the state’s trigger law. Republicans could also place something on the ballot about abortion and may try to make the constitution more difficult to change, which could impact any effort to target the trigger ban.
Any measures concerning abortion before voters in 2024 could have a sizable impact on races for governor and the U.S. Senate.
Some of the stories that didn’t make the cut this year but are worth noting include:
- Green’s victory in the Board of Aldermen president’s race against Alderman Jack Coatar
- Missouri lawmakers approving a massive budget.
- An investigation into groundwater contamination in southwest Missouri
- St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s reelection, which featured a GOP switcheroo when old rival Mark Mantovani subbed for Katherine Pinner
- St. Louis leaders coming up with a way to divide the settlement over the Rams’ departure
- Congresswoman Cori Bush convincingly winning the Democratic primary over state Sen. Steve Roberts and subsequent reelection