Dan Ponder: Amendment 3 should make conservatives, liberals bristle

Government legitimacy relies on citizen trust. The United States has absorbed declining levels of citizen trust for decades. Indeed, recent evidence shows that while trust in government remains low, Americans trust one another to judge our democracy and the issues facing it. A fundamental expectation of republican government is that political leaders, when the will of the people is clear, accept election results and do as the voters command. That is why it is so surprising that some in the Missouri Legislature are ignoring the will of more than 3 in 5 voters who clearly expressed their preference just two years ago — a move that threatens to deepen the trust gap between citizens and government.

In 2018, Missourians spoke loudly when they passed Clean Missouri with 62% of the vote and said that they wanted to vest a nonpartisan demographer with the power to draw district lines more fairly and closer to the split of the statewide vote as it has played out over time.

But now, barely two years later, Amendment 3 is on the ballot. Cloaked in language of political reform, the measure removes lobbyist gifts to politicians — bringing the limit from $5 to zero — and contribution limits to state Senate candidates from $2,500 to $2,400. This meager $105 reduction head-fakes voters from the driving issue, which is to overturn the expressed will of an overwhelming majority of voters who ushered in Clean Missouri, which placed the legislative redistricting process in the hands of a nonpartisan demographer instead of a governor-appointed commission.

Some legislators even wondered aloud if Missourians “didn’t understand” what they had done. That’s quite a statement, supported by neither logic nor evidence.

In 2018, the same year Missourians passed Clean Missouri, many of those same voters elected Republican Josh Hawley to the U.S. Senate with more than 51% of the vote. Simultaneously, Missourians voted even more overwhelmingly for Clean Missouri and progressive legislation such as medical marijuana (65.5%) and to increase the minimum wage (just over 62%).

Digging into the data a little more deeply, the overlap is stark. Hawley won in 109 of 114 counties, while Clean Missouri passed in 78. In 65 counties where Hawley won, medical marijuana, minimum wage, and Clean Missouri all passed as well. Indeed, Clean Missouri passed in 66 counties where Hawley got at least 60% of the vote, and 34 of which he won with at least 70% of the vote. For example, conservative Ripley county, located near the Bootheel, voted for Hawley by a lopsided 50 points, and passed Clean Missouri by a small but relatively comfortable four points.

American democracy has been under threat and downgraded to such an extent that many of our institutions often work at cross purposes with Americans ideals. Our institutions are not self-executing; they rely on politicians to respect the voters for whom they work. Not doing so threatens citizen trust in government. Many in our legislature refuse to heed the clear voice of the voters. And that is the kind of governmental paternalism that should make conservatives and liberals alike bristle.

Dan Ponder is a professor of political science at Drury University in Springfield.

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