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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Time to take the 'For Sale' sign off the Missouri Capitol

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

In many ways, next year’s session of the Missouri legislature is shaping up as the same kind of gigantic waste of five months that was this year’s session.

Already, Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who helped kill an unconstitutional federal gun law nullification bill in the September veto session, has promised to make a new version of the first bill debated in the Senate. Guns over jobs, just like this year.

Lawmakers who nobly failed to cut taxes for the wealthy, thus pushing a larger share of the tax burden onto the poor and middle class, have vowed to try again.

And even though special hearings were held over the summer and fall that found major support for expanding Medicaid, anti-Obamacare forces are planning to ignore the will of the public. They are turning a blind eye not only to need, but to the simple math showing how the state’s economy would benefit by an infusion of $8 billion into the state’s health care industry. Jobs, schmobs.

Oh, and in their best Chicken Little impersonation yet, some Republicans are again vowing that they are going to impeach Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. That will be a useful way to waste taxpayer dollars.

But there is one area in which there is growing bipartisan consensus that something constructive must be done. An increasing number of Republicans and Democrats are putting their names behind proposals that would better define and limit the damaging role of money in Missouri politics.

Last week, following the arrest of state Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant, on felony stealing charges, two Democrats served notice that an ethics debate was needed in Missouri next year.

First, attorney Brad Ketcher filed a wide-ranging initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office that would change the constitution to reinstate campaign finance limits, limit lobbyists’ gifts, institute a two-year waiting period before lawmakers could become lobbyists and ban political consulting by sitting House or Senate members and their staffs. The proposal would also clarify that members of the General Assembly are subject to the Sunshine Law.

Then, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, got into the act, announcing her intention to file a similar piece of legislation next year. And it’s not just Democrats who are worried about ethics.

Long before Mr. Webb got in trouble for asking lobbyists for money and then allegedly using the cash on personal expenses, Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, made it clear that passing ethics legislation next year will be among his highest priorities. Mr. Lamping wants to change the culture of corruption in Jefferson City by limiting lobbyists’ gifts, ending the revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying and better defining the roles of those who make the laws and those who are paid influence-peddlers.

And conservative St. Louis Republican Fred Sauer, a one-time candidate for governor and longtime anti-abortion activist, has filed a constitutional amendment to reinstate the campaign finance limits that Missouri voters overwhelmingly supported when they passed them in 1994.

Mr. Nixon, too, has promised to make the issue a priority, though his deeds have yet to match his strong words. Still, that’s a lot of bipartisan support for doing something to limit the influence of money in politics in the state.

One would think this issue would be a slam dunk for Republicans. Twice in the state’s history, ethics legislation has followed the arrest of St. Louis Democrats on ethics charges. The last attempt, in 2010, got watered down in the end, and then tossed out by a court.

While there is much disagreement in both parties on how to deal with the campaign finance issue, limiting lobbyists gifts, the revolving door and forbidding the increasingly popular practice of lawmakers and their staffs doubling as private political consultants, should be an easy fix.

In many ways, the issue is much less important than the topics that should dominate the legislature next year: Medicaid expansion, funding schools and fixing the transfer crisis affecting thousands of schoolchildren in St. Louis.

And yet, fixing the ethics issue is fundamental to all of these topics. Nothing gets done in Jefferson City without money playing a role. Lawmakers like to turn their noses up at that concept, but more and more of them in both parties are recognizing the truth.

Next year is an election year, and it’s often hard to pass high-profile legislation in an election year. But in the case of a serious ethics bill, it should be the opposite, particularly for Republicans.

Voters are disgusted with the political system these days. They know what they see and they don’t like it.

We suggest Mr. Lamping and Ms. Nasheed get together and figure out what they agree on. File a bipartisan ethics bill as then-House members Jason Kander, a Democrat, and Tim Flook, a Republican, did in 2010. Make it a serious bill and don’t let the monied interests and corruption that have invaded the Capitol water it down.

It’s time to take the “For Sale” sign off the Missouri Capitol.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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