Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ online savvy extends beyond signing bills and executive orders on Facebook. This summer, he launched a website to crowdsource public policy ideas and ways to be more efficient through May 2018.
It’s an effort that’s used in several other states where Republicans are at the helm. But some argue it’s being used to raise Greitens’ national profile and to target regulations that protect things like consumers and the environment.
Almost 90 percent of residents who’ve weighed in on the website, NoMoRedTape.com, say state government is making their lives worse. The negative feedback comes from both Democrats and Republicans.
Commenters’ identities are kept secret, but their gripes aren’t. Some people disagree with a law that reverses St. Louis’ higher minimum wage and Kansas City’s planned increase; others take issue with several new laws championed by Greitens. Examples include:
- “By dropping the min. wage back to 7.70 I will not be able to afford health insurance!!”
- “Uncultured and uneducated yahoos that think St. Louis is too stupid to regulate itself. You've literally made us all poorer by overriding our minimum wage law.”
- “The governor signed into law regulations that allow companies to discriminate against employees, wage-killing "Right to Work," and lowered the minimum wage in the biggest economic engine of the state. Jobs are getting worse, not better under this administration.”
- “The additional regulation on women's and reproductive health seems to hold back the health of Missourians.”
Others side with Greitens’ administration and its belief that too many regulations are a burden:
- “I'm a small business owner. Own five retail liquor & tobacco stores in southwest Missouri. My gripe? Each year, my business is TRIPLE TAXED. How? On an annual basis, I pay upwards of $1,700 for state liquor licenses. Then the county liquor license renewals arrive in the mail. Another $1,600. Then, the city liquor license renewals arrive in the mail. Another $1,500. This is unfair. So I asked a county clerk how they get away with taxing my business ON TOP of the state and city licenses. Her response: "Because we can." The rabid Republican in me is fed up.”
- “I had my car stolen. I had recently paid for 2 years worth of license plates. The person who took my car removed the plates so I no longer had them. When I bought a new car and went to the License Bureau I was told I could get no credit for my old plates as you have to turn the in. I explain that they were stolen and reported to the police. They said no credit is given unless plates are surrendered.”
- “Child day care regulations are out of control. In order to accept state assistance providers are being required to take hours and hours of repeat training. I have a BS in early childhood and 24 years experience. Why do I have to take training on the physical development of the child? I own a small center and hire mostly college students. Regulations are so many that they prefer to work at Sonic for minimum wage than work for me at $8/hour because of all the extra requirements.”
The time is ripe for engaging constituents online, Dave Robertson, a University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor, said. But he also thinks it’s a way to fire up Greitens’ political base.
“Those are often the kinds of people who are stimulated usually by anger about something that someone has said, so it’s not a representative sample of the way people in Missouri feel, by any means,” he said.
Robertson also noted that it’s not necessarily an old concept, referencing “legislative update letters” and polling that “sort of prompt the person who’s (taking) the poll to answer the question in a certain way.”
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But social media makes it easier to get constituent feedback, something state governments around the country are trying out. Tennessee and Kansas have state agencies devoted to cutting so-called red tape. Arizona has Regulation Rollback, while Illinois is soliciting feedback via Cutting the Red Tape.
Arkansas launched the website MyIdea in May. Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said they’ve received “hundreds and hundreds” of ideas.
“Some things have been out of date for a while and some of the processes are antiquated,” he said. “So we’re trying to address that and make sure we’re maintaining services regularly, that we’re finding ways to tweak and be more efficient.”
In June, 16-year-old Dylan Johnston, a high school student and foster child, used the website to call for expanding the number of caseworkers and foster parents. The state sent him a letter from Hutchinson that mentioned a $24 million increase in the current state budget for the foster care system; the money had been allocated before the teen's suggestion.
But the crowdsourcing doesn’t sit well with everyone. Many of his opponents think Greitens is using the website to raise his national profile. And the Missouri Democratic Party sees it as self-serving.
"Eric Greitens has shown time and again that he only cares about using the governor’s mansion to benefit politicians like himself, millionaire mega-donors, and big corporations,” party spokesman Sam Newton said.
And the top Democrat in the Missouri House, Gail McCann Beatty, believes Greitens' arrangement is a way to push for deregulation of boards and commissions that set standards for things like health care jobs and hazardous waste.
“The commissions are designed to protect the average constituent … are we going to put citizens in jeopardy by doing that?” she asked. “I think we have to be very careful about which professions that we are going to eliminate regulations on.”
Greitens continues pushing against unnecessary regulations, most recently last week at a plant in St. Charles County that manufactures aircraft parts.
“When we came into office, we saw that Missouri had 113,000 regulations,” he said. “That’s more than 7.5 million words; it’s 40 dictionaries worth of regulations," the governor said.
It’s unknown whether any of the suggestions will be adopted as policy or promoted as bills in the 2018 legislative session. But Greitens says he plans to “sit down” with members of his administration in the coming weeks to go over some of the ideas.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport