A number of things are happening right now at the same time that may not seem connected, but they are, deeply, in ways that speak to what is wrong about governance in the State of Missouri and an historic opportunity to make it better.
Advocates for expanding Medicaid in Missouri turned in enough citizen signatures to get placed on the November 3 ballot an initiative that would allow Missouri voters to choose to expand Medicaid in the state.
The Missouri Legislature, super-dominated by Republicans, worked to undo a previous statewide ballot initiative, the Clean Missouri amendment, which passed on the November 2018 ballot with 62% statewide voter support.
Governor Mike Parson lifted his weak statewide public health order ostensibly meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, enabling local officials to keep in place any – or no – public health protections, although deaths and cases from the pandemic continue to climb.
What connects all of these developments is a disconnect in the minds of a majority of Missouri voters between what they want in public policy and whom they elect to hold public office. November 2018 is the best evidence for this disconnect.
Along with Clean Missouri, which repudiated everything the Republican leadership in Jefferson City had been doing, voters also passed a statewide minimum wage increase – which is perennially blocked by Republican leadership – by 62% and medical marijuana – which is unthinkable in a Legislature run by war-on-drugs Republicans – by 65%. However, those same voters elected an arch-conservative Republican, Josh Hawley, to the U.S. Senate over the incumbent Democrat, Claire McCaskill, 53 to 44%.
That means the Democrat, an entrenched incumbent, attracted a whopping 20% fewer votes than three ballot initiatives likely to be passed by a Democratic majority and certain to be opposed vehemently by a Republican majority. Indeed, Missouri Republicans at this moment are undoing Clean Missouri, even knowing that 62% of voters statewide passed it because they would not. They are acting out of ruthless self-interest, because a less partisan redistricting process, which was enacted by Clean Missouri, would disrupt the Republican super-majority in Jefferson City and force them to return to dealing with Democrats. That means having to deal with the more progressive values clearly held by a majority of people in the state, despite those voters’ increasingly self-destructive, almost tribal brand loyalty to Republicans.
On November 3, Missouri voters will be faced with a number of choices. Among others, they will be asked to expand Medicaid or not and to retain Mike Parson, a Republican, as governor or to elect his Democratic challenger, Nicole Galloway, currently the state auditor. (Parson was not elected governor; he was elected lieutenant governor and took the higher office when Eric Greitens resigned in disgrace.) It is likely that Missouri voters will expand Medicaid, as the Republicans they elected adamantly refuse to do. And, if recent voting patterns and current polls hold true, they will elect a Republican governor who will immediately go to work with the Republican leadership in Jefferson City to undo the will of the voters. Galloway, on the other hand, would expand Medicaid and welcome federal dollars to the state on day one as governor.
There is one way out of this self-destructive cycle: Democrats can figure out how to win elections in Missouri again outside of the urban centers and college towns. Galloway is the most recent to do so, though running against a candidate much more hapless than Parson. If the polls are accurate, then she and the Democrats need to be doing and saying some things they are not to convince Missouri voters that, in electing Republicans, they keep voting against themselves.