By BRENDAN CROWLEY and ANNIKA MERRILEES
Volunteers and organizers from Clean Missouri stacked boxes filled with signatures at the Missouri secretary of state’s office last spring to place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot they say will clean up Missouri politics.
Clean Missouri gathered 346,956 signatures, and voters will consider the measure focusing on government ethics in November.
Clean Missouri proposes to:
• Limit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers to $5 or less.
• Make legislators wait two years after leaving office before lobbying.
• Lower campaign limits to $2,000 for Missouri House candidates and $2,500 for Missouri Senate candidates.
• Make the state Legislature follow the same open-records laws as other government bodies in Missouri.
• Create the post of “nonpartisan state demographer” to redraw district maps for legislative approval.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, a vocal advocate of lobbying reform, addressed the ballot petition from the Senate floor.
“This body had an opportunity to address the issue and didn’t do it,” Schaaf said. “People in Missouri are fed up with this.”
The Senate passed a bill including a total ban on lobbyist gifts on April 11. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, would also change term limits for legislators.
Some opposition to the amendment has rallied, however, primarily from Republicans who oppose what they see as “gerrymandering” for legislative district lines.
An opposition group, Missourians First, is led by former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent.
“The ‘Clean Missouri’ initiative should be called the ‘Gerrymandering Initiative,’” Talent said. “Its supporters have now admitted that the initiative will massively overhaul the Missouri Constitution so that state legislative districts can be gerrymandered to produce more Democratic seats. Voters should not be deceived. Amendment 1 is about rigging the state legislative maps. The other provisions are the sweeteners to get voters to swallow the poison pill.”
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters endorsed Clean Missouri, and it is also supported by newspaper editorial boards across the state as a way for Jefferson City to clean up its act.
And some Republicans who live in heavily Democratic districts favor the law.
John Saxton, a St. Louis Republican who ran twice for the Missouri House of Representatives, advocated for the state demographer position that the ballot measure would establish. Under the proposal, the demographer would be chosen by the Senate majority and minority leaders from a list of at least three candidates offered by the state auditor.
“Year after year, insiders draw lines to protect and re-elect powerful incumbents, whether or not they represent the public interest,” Saxton said. “Most districts in our state are not competitive.”
Saxton’s opponent in the 2016 election, Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis, won with almost 89 percent of the vote.
The Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Jefferson City and executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said that lobbyists, large donors and small groups of political insiders have too much influence in the Capitol.
“When I think of what goes on in Jefferson City, I’m reminded of the prophet Amos,” Gould said. “(Amos) said, ‘For I know your crimes are many, and your sins are innumerable. They oppress the righteous, take bribes, and deprive the poor of justice at the city gates.’”
She said the people of Missouri are united to end “systemic corruption” in the Missouri Legislature.