Missouri doesn’t have a U.S. Senate race next year, which means Republicans will focus on retaining their statewide offices. But U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt has an idea for GOP stalwarts suffering from Senate withdrawal.
Right before she spoke at Saturday’s Lincoln Days banquet in St. Louis County, Blunt quipped that “we’re just going to make the Iowa Senate race to re-elect Joni Ernst the Missouri Senate race.”
“And she is just about as close a neighbor as you can possibly hope for,” Blunt said. “The closest four-year school to Red Oak, Iowa, is Northwest Missouri State University.”
In many respects, Iowa and Missouri have gone through similar transformations from competitive swing states to GOP-tilted strongholds. Iowa’s shift was more sudden, as the state voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 after casting its electoral votes for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008. (By comparison, Missouri hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.)
Ernst, who captured a seat in 2014 that Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin held for many years, told the crowd she wasn’t taking recent GOP success in her state as a reason to get complacent. She noted that Iowa was split fairly evenly between Republicans, Democrats and independents.
“We need you all for 2020,” Ernst said. “And thank you for adopting me, Roy. I appreciate it. Send your support my way!”
And she contended Democrats were lurching too far to the left, using her speech to criticize that party’s positions on health care and environmental policy.
“I would ask any of my colleagues supporting these different plans: Do you want to live in Venezuela? Do you want to live in China? Do you want to live in Russia? Do you want to live in North Korea? There’s a winner,” Ernst said. “That’s not where we want to be. So I am really proud to represent the Republican Party and our conservatives, because folks, socialism is not the answer.”
Since Trump is expected to easily win Missouri next year, Missouri’s governorship will be the top office up for grabs in 2020.
Many at Lincoln Days assumed that Gov. Mike Parson is running for a full four-year term, especially considering a political action committee aligned with the GOP chief executive has already raised nearly $2 million. But the governor told St. Louis Public Radio that he’s not ready to make an official announcement about his 2020 plans.
“We’re going to make that decision later on,” Parson said. “That’s going to be a family decision for me. Right now, I feel good. I feel like things are going good in the state. And you know, as long as we’re successful, that’s important to me. And as long as I have the ability to lead the people of this state.”
Parson, of course, became governor after a series of scandals prompted Gov. Eric Greitens to step down last year. Many on both sides of the aisle have praised Parson for bringing some calm to state politics, even if they digress from his policy.
Still, history shows that Republican dominance of state government can be fleeting. Republicans won most statewide offices in 2004 — only to see Democrats nearly sweep the ticket in 2008. Parson said his party needs to stay focused on issues that people care about to avoid a similar fate in 2020.
“We have to do things that affect the everyday moms and dads and children out there for the future,” Parson said. “And there’s no reason why Republicans can’t lead on that. And sometimes, I think we get kind of off on the side roads. We need to stay focused: What do Missourians really want, and how do we deliver?”
One issue that may affect Parson’s re-election chances is a proposal to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County, which may be on the 2020 statewide ballot.
While Parson hasn’t endorsed the Better Together plan, some prominent Republicans have. And it’s expected that retired financer and GOP political donor Rex Sinquefield will provide some financial support for the effort.
But Republicans in western St. Louis County have historically opposed a city-county merger — especially since it could end any chance of the GOP ever capturing a countywide office. Some attendees held up signs when Parson was speaking asking him not to support the statewide initiative.
At least one key Republican doesn’t need much convincing. Congresswoman Ann Wagner sharply criticized organizers of the merger effort taking their plan to statewide voters, as opposed to just city and county residents.
“The fact that they’re proposing all of outstate Missouri decide how we in St. Louis County and St. Louis City organize our government and our services is not representative of the people,” said Wagner, R-Ballwin. “It’s imperialistic. And I find the process to be really, really concerning.”
Wagner is expecting to face a competitive contest in 2020 after winning by a smaller margin than usual in 2018. And since much of Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District encompasses St. Louis County, the candidates’ opinion on the merger could matter quite a bit.
While Democrats have had a dismal record over the past three election cycles at winning statewide and legislative races, the party did see some endorsed ballot initiatives on the minimum wage and state legislative redistricting pass.
That’s likely prompted GOP lawmakers to mull whether to make it more difficult to get initiative petitions up for a vote. Among other things, lawmakers have proposed increasing the amount of needed signatures — and boosting the percentage needed to get something into the Missouri Constitution.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said he is fan of the latter proposal, adding that it’s much too easy for groups to amend the constitution.
“Most people don’t realize there are bond issues that need a supermajority. And yet somehow it’s only 50 percent plus one to amend our constitution,” Ashcroft said. “That’s crazy.”
Both sides of the political spectrum have bristled against making it harder to amend the constitution, as both liberal and conservative groups have used the initiative petition process to achieve key policy goals.
Ashcroft, though, said, “I think it passes easily if it just goes before the people.”
“Our constitution shouldn’t have a sign on it saying ‘for sale,’” he said. “And right now, if you’ve got $3 million, you can put just about anything you want on the ballot. And if you’ve got a couple million more dollars, and you’re smart about how you shade your language, you have a decent chance of getting things passed. I just don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Any effort to raise the percentage needed for a constitutional amendment to pass would need, ironically, a constitutional amendment. And it would only need a majority vote to go into effect.
As a member of the U.S. House Republican leadership, Congressman Jason Smith, R-Salem, has gotten to meet with Trump on numerous occasions — and even took a ride with the president once on Air Force One.
While he was airborne, Trump cajoled Smith to make a phone call to his mother. After giving her phone number to an attendant, Smith’s mother ultimately picked up the phone. Needless to say, she wasn’t terribly impressed that her son was on a presidential plane.
“When my mom answers the phone, I’m like, ‘Hey mom.’ And she’s like, ‘Is the plane going down?’” Smith told the crowd on Saturday. “And I was like, ‘Mom, if the plane’s going down we’re all in trouble.’”
Ultimately, Smith’s mother ended up hanging up on him, “because she had other things to do.” “Clearly, my parents don’t care much that their son was on Air Force One, let alone serving in Congress,” he said.
Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
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