Hartmann: Amendment 3 Is a Dirty Attack on Clean Missouri

Oct 7, 2020 at 4:00 am
Jefferson City has seen some trickery, but Amendment 3 is at a new level.
Jefferson City has seen some trickery, but Amendment 3 is at a new level. DANIELLE KELLOGG/FLICKR

If you're one of those Missouri voters who carefully pores over ballot wording before you show up at the polling place, good for you.

For the other 99 percent of us, it's red-alert time. In one of the most bodacious electoral con jobs in history, Republican politicians are openly and shamelessly trying to trick voters with a little monster called Amendment 3 on November 3.

Long story short, a vote for Amendment 3 of 2020 is a vote to repeal Amendment 1 of 2018 — better known as Clean Missouri — through which an astounding 62 percent of state voters spanked the political class. The mandate was so overwhelmingly nonpartisan that it won its landslide despite being opposed by U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, who was tragically inflicted upon the nation by 51.4 percent of those voters on the same ballot.

Clean Missouri enacted restrictions designed to rein in lobbyists, strengthen Sunshine Laws, reduce campaign donations and curtail gerrymandering of legislative districts. Or, as GOP lawmakers say, party pooping.

Want to see a couple of smoking guns to see how badly the Republicans resented the attempt to clean them up a bit? Want to see how stupid they think you are? Consider the ballot language, which after judicial review is less fraudulent than the original version drafted by the politicians but still miserable thanks to some weak judging at the state Court of Appeals.

Here's the very first bullet point that voters will read in the ballot summary of Amendment 3:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ban gifts from paid lobbyists to legislators and their employees?"

Well now, that sounds pretty appealing to the casual reader. Nothing like cracking down on those creepy lobbyists.

But guess what? We already did that with Clean Missouri, which imposed $5 limits on those very gifts, pissing off givers and receivers alike. Republican politicians are trying to sell Dirty Missouri by making it look like Clean Missouri.

Boy, those politicians were selling their very souls for those handy little $5 pearls. Now, I don't care what your politics are. If someone is trying to trick you by making you think you're doing something that you did two years ago — for the purpose of repealing what you did two years ago — do you really want to buy what they're selling?

Clean Missouri had established the $5 threshold so that it wouldn't place politicians in the position of violating state law were they to accept a little plaque or a cup of coffee from a lobbyist. I learned that from Sean Nicholson, statewide campaign director for Clean Missouri and now "No on 3."

Now consider the second bullet point of Amendment 3, which is also the second con job of Amendment 3. It reads as follows:

"[Shall the Missouri constitution be amended to] reduce legislative campaign contribution limits?"

Once again, a worthy aim that sounds appealing to just about any normal person of either party. But they left out this part: All it would do is reduce to $2,400 from $2,500 the amount one could donate to politicians seeking one office, that of state senator.

Why pick on state senators? Clean Missouri set new campaign limits at $2,500 for senators and $2,000 for state representatives. Republican politicians are so averse to parting with campaign money that all they could bear was trimming the former by $100 as part of a fake reform. I'm surprised the new limit isn't $2,499.

That sets up the third and final bullet point — and the only reason the pols went to the trouble of placing Amendment 3 on the ballot, which is to restore the Republicans' God-given right to gerrymander. Here's what voters will read:

"[Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to] change the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by: (i) transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions; (ii) modifying and reordering the redistricting criteria?"

Had they, say, a molecule of collective integrity, the Republican politicians could have made this item their sole bullet point instead of cloaking it as part of a three-part initiative, the first two being the aforementioned pathetically obvious dirty tricks. They don't and they didn't.

Now, they do have a counterargument. They had screamed at the time that Clean Missouri was a scam because it housed unrelated reforms under one roof. In this telling, the poor voters had no idea what they were doing in 2018.

There's some truth to that: Hawley did get elected. But Clean Missouri actually enacted sweeping reforms across a broad spectrum: The politicians picked off the ones they could weaken themselves, notably the transparency laws, in their subsequent two legislative sessions.

In the 2020 narrative of Dirty Missouri, redistricting reforms had been snuck in under the cover of darkness. To the contrary, Missouri was part of a national cause: Voters in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Utah also enacted redistricting reforms in 2018.

Clean Missouri's new restrictions on lobbyists were not a con. Same for its other provisions on tightening Sunshine Laws, lowering donation limits and more. And redistricting reform was always a known part of the deal. Two days before the 2018 general election, KSDK — hardly obscure — prominently reported this:

"Clean Missouri aims to replace Missouri's system for drawing state legislative districts with a model designed to have the number of seats won by each party more closely reflect its statewide vote."

This was not a secret mission. This was also not confusing, even as its details are necessarily complex. Again, from KSDK, before the election:

"Amendment 1 would create a new position of nonpartisan state demographer who would propose maps to commissioners that reflect the parties' share of the statewide vote in previous elections for president, governor and U.S. senator. Criteria of 'partisan fairness' and 'competitiveness' would outrank more traditional criteria such as geographically compact districts."

The Republicans are now claiming — with amazing audacity — that what KSDK and others meant to say was that State Auditor Nicole Galloway would be personally redrawing Missouri's legislative districts. This is a lie.

The state auditor was tasked with presenting names to legislative leaders of both parties, who would then agree on someone. The demographer would submit maps to the existing bipartisan commissions.

The need for this is obvious. Just look at the results of what the previous system wrought with redistricting in 2011. (Maps are redrawn every ten years, after the census.)

Today, Republicans control 71 percent of both the House and the Senate in the General Assembly. A win like Hawley's — at less than six points over Senator Claire McCaskill — is considered a thumping at the statewide level. A ten-point win is a landslide. Good luck finding the last 71-29 victory margin in a statewide election.

Gerrymandering is alive and well in the state, and Clean Missouri was a noble course correction. Dirty Missouri, a.k.a. Amendment 3, would cancel that out and make things even worse than before. Its authors have no shame.

They should have lost everyone at the second lie.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).