The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 22, 2012

Kevin Wilson, guest columnist: Missouri's votes count

By Kevin Wilson
Special to The Globe

NEOSHO, Mo. — Did you know that there is an election in a couple of weeks that is kind of important?

If you didn’t, then you are either a hermit or just don’t care about your country.

I have heard politicians describe past elections as the most important election in a generation, and it’s usually because of a single issue that they want to emphasize.

In the case of this election, I think there is more than one issue at stake. The future direction of our country is really what’s at stake. Regardless of which side you support, I believe that everyone can agree that the choice between the candidates for president has never been more distinct.

On one hand, the current administration believes that the path to prosperity lies in more government involvement, while Gov. Mitt Romney’s supporters believe that the future depends more on private initiative.  

This view may be overly simplistic for many to accept but in my humble opinion that’s what it comes down to — more or less government involvement. We currently have a $16 trillion deficit as a nation, and we as a nation have to answer the question as to which side has the appropriate answer to address reducing that outlandish figure.

On Nov. 6, the people of the United States will vote to decide that question, and for more than 100 years (with only two exceptions) Missouri voters have voted for the winning president. The exceptions were in 1956 when Missourians voted for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower, and in 2008 when we voted for John McCain instead of Barack Obama.

That track record has earned Missouri recognition as a bellwether state that can swing either to the right or to the left depending on the individual election. But, many people think the designation as a swing state is no longer valid and Missouri is now firmly in the red state category as solid Republican territory.

We earned the distinction of being a swing state because of our diverse demographics. We have two large urban areas that are heavily Democratic and a large outstate area that is usually overwhelmingly Republican. But, while the rural areas are still solidly Republican, the urban areas are seeing their Democratic majorities slowly erode.

I was first elected in 2002 when the Republicans won the Missouri House for the first time in 48 years. And since that year, Republicans have controlled both chambers and have actually increased their majorities almost every election. As it stands now, 26 of the 34 Missouri senators are Republican and 105 of the 163 representatives are Republican. That is very close to being a supermajority for overriding any gubernatorial vetoes. And, these gains have come primarily from the urban/suburban areas.

So why the dramatic change? I’m not a true historian, but I would imagine that much of it has to do with population shifts from the inner cities to the suburban areas and with it changes in voting attitudes. Many suburban areas are more like small rural towns and tend to be more conservative on a variety of issues. I know that many of my suburban colleagues were quick to correct me when I referred to them as being from St. Louis or Kansas City. They often disassociated themselves from the urban areas even if they were only a few miles from the city limits.

I think the real reason Missouri has swung solidly into the Republican fold is the drastic shift of the national Democratic Party to the left of center. I have a lot of friends who consider themselves Democrats but are also very conservative, so they are more likely to find themselves voting along Republican lines when it comes to national issues. But, since they still consider themselves Democrats, they often tend to separate local and state politics from the national party, which is why we always have competitive statewide races.  

And, let’s face the facts: We are in the heartland and many of the more liberal leaders come from the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and the West Coast. We may have large urban areas, but the people who live there are still more conservative by nature.

Whether we are considered a swing state doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we exercise the right and privilege that was bought by millions of American veterans. Vote on Nov. 6. That’s what really matters.

Kevin Wilson is a former Missouri representative. He lives in Neosho.