High on the list of the many reasons to treasure Chris Kelly — along with his obvious intelligence and general good humor — is his boyish enthusiasm. That was on display again last weekend, as he discussed on the front page of the Columbia Daily Tribune prospects for the upcoming legislative session.
It will be a session with both houses run by the biggest and most conservative Republican majority in recent memory. Newly elected senators are so conservative that they dumped their presumptive leader for being too moderate. In the House, where Chris serves, the speaker is in thrall to tax-hating activist Rex Sinquefield.
Chris, of course, knows all that. Nonetheless, he told the Tribune he plans to again push a bill allowing a public vote on an $800 million bond issue for infrastructure, mainly to benefit the state’s universities. And he’ll join his Columbia colleague Mary Still in arguing for a major increase in the nation’s lowest tobacco tax.
“It could be an opportunity,” he said of the influx of freshmen Republicans. “How could it be worse?”
Let us count the ways.
One of the ways in which the next session will almost certainly be worse than the last was explained in a Post-Dispatch article reprinted in Sunday’s Tribune, just one page behind Chris’ no doubt rhetorical question. In it, lobbyist James Harris promised a renewed effort to destroy our Missouri Plan for selecting judges. Mr. Harris, backed by a wealthy right-wing family from Joplin, would prefer a system that would be openly partisan and susceptible to corruption. This year and last, that campaign failed both in the legislature and as an initiative petition drive.
That’s not the only assault we can expect from the right. Mr. Sinquefield, we must assume, will want action for his money. That is likely to take the form of another effort to replace the state income tax with a higher, wider sales tax, which its proponents misleadingly call the “fair tax.” Oddly enough, that would have the effect of shifting the burden of supporting state government from the wealthier among us to the middle and lower economic classes.
The state’s workers can also expect another attempt to reduce further the protections offered by labor unions. “Right to work” legislation might better be called “right to work longer for less.” Its supporters are more likely to bill by the hour than work by the hour.
The ascendant conservatives are talking, as well, about ways to undo the initiative approved by voters last month to strengthen the laws governing the state’s notorious puppy mills. KBIA reports that Sen. Bill Stouffer has already filed a bill intended to reverse the public’s decision.
As unpalatable as all that will be to us lonely liberals, I have yet to mention the impact of last month’s landslide that fits Keith Olbermann’s definition of “worser.” That’s the decennial redrawing of legislative and congressional districts.
The Revolutionary-era statesman Elbridge Gerry bequeathed his name to the process we’ll see, as nine congressional districts are reshaped into eight and legislative lines are shifted. Gerrymandering is the time-honored tool employed by whichever party controls a legislature to ensure increased success by its candidates in elections for the next decade.
If Democratic districts are colored blue and Republican districts red, come 2012 the political map of Missouri will look like the crowd at a Nebraska football game.
Could it be worse, Chris? Count on it.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.