COLUMBIA — Today I’m offering, in response to no public demand whatsoever, a voters' guide to the amendments and propositions on Tuesday’s ballot. I intend to be both selective and opinionated. Proceed at your own risk.
This is the first election I can remember in which those propositions are more contentious and therefore more interesting than the contests between actual candidates. Of course, there aren’t that many candidate contests; and the ones we have are all easy calls. For me, at least, that’s not the case with all the ballot issues.
I’ll begin with the question that has caused me the most agonizing. That’s whether to ban the use of Tasers and similar devices in our fair city. I’m going to vote against the ban. I’m persuaded that the Taser is a valuable law enforcement tool and that our cops have learned to use it responsibly.
I didn’t come to that conclusion easily, partly because I know and respect the people pushing the ban and partly because there have been abuses in the Taser’s use, here and elsewhere. Had it not been for the guidelines drafted and enforced by Chief Ken Burton and Deputy Chief Tom Dresner, I might have gone the other way.
I’m impressed with the candor of both men, who seem to accept that, as Chief Burton told a League of Women Voters forum recently, “The use of force by police is never a pretty thing.” When force is required, it seems to me that the Taser is less likely to cause lasting harm than hand-to-hand combat or that old stand-by, the baton. Firearms remain, as they should, the last resort.
What worries me more than cops with Tasers is untrained and unrestrained civilians with them or similar devices. But that’s a subject for another initiative campaign.
The campaign that has generated the most heat and maybe the least light this year is the battle over puppy mills and how best to correct the proven and horrifying abuse of helpless dogs. After a lot of reading and listening, I’ve decided to vote for Proposition B in spite of its evident shortcomings.
The most serious of those shortcomings is that it doesn’t directly address the inability or willful failure – I’m not sure which – of state inspectors to enforce existing law. The proposition does, however, strengthen and clarify the law, a necessary if not sufficient step in the right direction.
Another reason I’m voting Yes is the proposition’s opponents. You can tell a lot about any issue by looking at who’s against it. In this case, the loudest opponents are a couple of organizations that seem paranoid or perhaps deliberately deceptive. The Farm Bureau and MFA, both wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate agriculture, claim that this proposition is the first wave of an assault on livestock farming.
They offer no real evidence for that claim. Even if they did, the factory farms that produce most of our beef, pork and chicken these days deserve more critical attention than they get.
Of the other ballot issues, I’ve previously expressed myself on the Rex Sinquefield Amendment, the earnings tax ban. Its campaign slogan, Let Voters Decide, is exactly backward. It would prevent local voters from deciding in the future how to tax ourselves while requiring St. Louis and Kansas City citizens to revisit a decision they’ve already made. We should tell Rex to stick to his charities and his chess.
We should also say No to the real estate industry’s pre-emptive strike against the transfer tax that most states already impose. Missouri’s state religion is low taxes, so we’re not likely to add this one. But we shouldn’t rule out the possibility.
One tax we do have in Columbia is one we should keep. That’s the 1/8 cent for our parks. If we value our city’s quality of life, we have to pay for it. This is a bargain.
I’m done now. Good luck Tuesday.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.