Our Call: Better Together is changing, so let’s change statewide vote.

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Editorial 

We applaud Better Together for changing its plan for a St. Louis city-county merger so that County Executive Steve Stenger will no longer serve a two-year unelected term.

Cynics might say that the group only made the change because of the federal subpoena that was served on the county March 21. But the advocacy group backed by billionaire megadonor Rex Sinquefield said the decision was based on public feedback alone, which had been swift and negative against the idea of serving under a powerful unelected official that some likened to a king.

So if Better Together is now responding to the public on its plan, let’s address the Missouri-size elephant in the room: A statewide vote.

More than anything else about the plan for a merger, we’ve heard over and over at Better Together’s town halls and elsewhere that residents feel it is un-American and undemocratic that their local government should be decided by voters across the state.

The irony is not lost on us that the primary backers of the merger would never cede any other decision in this state or country to outstate Missouri, but all of a sudden bow down to the wisdom of voters in Chillicothe or Rolla when it comes to local government in St. Louis.

Are backers of the merger so intent on ramming their plan through that they’re willing to do anything they can to get the needed votes, even at the risk of forcing people into a government they don’t support?

Framers of the plan have contended that the statewide vote is necessary because such sweeping changes can only happen through an amendment to the Missouri Constitution, which can only change by a statewide vote.

To make the vote contingent on a local vote, they say, would violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. But we could easily argue the opposite: That not allowing people to vote on their own government by giving people who live elsewhere a larger say in that very personal matter violates not just the equal protection clause, but the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, our country’s founding principles and democracy itself.

The problem could easily be fixed by making a statewide vote contingent on a local “yes” vote.

More than anything else, whether for or against, residents have told Better Together over and over that they want a local vote on a merger.

If Better Together’s actually listening, now’s the time to truly give the people what they want.