The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

November 5, 2012

Phill Brooks, columnist: Declining role of Missouri's political parties

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The year’s campaign season has provided a clear demonstration of the declining role of political parties.

For years, political scientists have noted the growing number of voters who identify themselves as independent. As a result, a candidate from the party with the highest identification no longer can count on getting elected just by getting the votes of party loyalists.

While that certainly is true in Missouri, it’s just one part of a broader and more fascinating story in the evolution of political parties.

When I covered my first Missouri statehouse campaigns in 1970, Missouri was solidly Democratic. A Democrat who won the primary for a statewide office virtually was guaranteed election.

“For the past 24 years, a one-party political machine has had a strangle-hold on Missouri,” the Republican candidate for governor, Larry Roos, was quoted in the St. Joseph Gazette shortly before the 1968 election. It was not just a complaint. It was a statement of fact.

While Roos, the supervisor of St. Louis County, went down in defeat, there was one GOP statewide victory that year. The first statewide GOP victor since 1945 was Jack Danforth who captured the attorney general’s office. Danforth was an unlikely political success. He was an Ivy League college graduate. He had practiced law in New York. He never held major political office. But, he became credited with being the father of the modern Missouri Republican Party.

Once in office, he hired fellow young, reform-minded lawyers. They focused on reforming government, ethics and consumer protection. From them came an energy and intensity I have rarely seen since in state government.

From Danforth’s team came the next Republican to win statewide office — Kit Bond. Two years after his election as state auditor in 1970, he was elected governor.

During my first years as a reporter, Danforth and his team defined the Republican Party.  

But it never was a unified party. From almost the start, an open split emerged between Danforth’s folks and conservative elements of the Republican Party — a split somewhat akin to the ideological divide we see today with the tea party advocates.

At the same time, Democrats also were splintering from disagreements over the Vietnam War. It reached a head in 1972 from Gov. Warren Hearnes’ continued opposition to anti-war presidential candidates.

I did not realize it at the time, but those were some of the seeds being sown that in future years would help contribute to the decline in power of Missouri’s political parties.

You clearly can see the consequences today. Look how candidates deliberately distance themselves from their own parties.  

The GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, Todd Akin, even campaigned against some of his own party’s leaders by calling on voters to reject the demands of Republican Party bosses who wanted him to drop his campaign.

Both Jay Nixon and Claire McCaskill campaign about not being party-line candidates. Instead, they campaign about reaching across party lines to work with Republicans.

Look at the yard signs for candidates. Fewer and fewer give party identification a prominent display, if any mention at all. Even here in Jefferson City, where you would expect partisan politics to be intense, few of the political yard signs identify party affiliation.

Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Other Views Other Views: Eroding court’s authority

    While Kansans were focused on the twists and turns of school finance this past week, lawmakers made an unnecessary and historic change in how the state’s district courts operate, coercively tying the reforms to badly needed funding.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Your View: Travesty

    What a travesty that a terrific young man from Spain is on the verge of deportation even though he has proven his worth in America (Globe, April 13).

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: Astonishing transformation

    The transformation of the Republican Party in the last decade is astonishing.

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: The changing view

    It is heartbreaking to hear the decades old trees (which border on South Pennsylvania in Webb City) cracking and being bulldozed down.

    April 18, 2014

  • Our View.jpg Our View: Safe and sound

    Of the 7,500 Joplin and Duenweg homes hit by the 2011 EF-5 tornado, fewer than 20 percent of them had basements.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Other Views Other Views: Funding for state’s roads

    Missouri is finding there is no good alternative to growing the economy, adding new well-paying jobs and expanding the tax base.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Geoff Caldwell, columnist: Government without apology or explanation

    Americans feel closest to their Uncle Sam at this time of year as he extends his hand for his “fair share” to fund his numerous endeavors.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Step aside

    The people of Joplin made it clear they wanted change at City Hall with their decisive votes to replace two council members.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Serious drawbacks

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) lays out clearly and persuasively the serious drawbacks with so-called right-to-work legislation.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Free choice

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) regarding right-to-work seems to assume that if workers are given the choice of joining a union, they won’t join.

    April 16, 2014

Local News
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Poll

Missouri Republicans are considering a new approach to prevent federal agents from enforcing laws the state considers to be infringements on gun rights: barring them from future careers in state law enforcement agencies. Do you think this proposal has merit?

Yes
No
     View Results
Facebook
NDN Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Sports