As you may have noticed, I’ve been out of the paper (and out of town) for several weeks. Got back in time to vote, though. Now the trick is to figure out what, if anything, Tuesday’s results might mean.
That’s the question I put Wednesday morning to a couple of gentlemen I bumped into outside the public library. One of them quickly replied, “I have to read the newspaper to find that out.”
He’s a smart guy, so I knew he was joking. Still, I’ll accept the challenge of trying to mine a little meaning from the numbers.
Terry Ganey, a longtime newspaper reporter turned advocate, already has offered a plausible explanation for the defeat of that statewide sales tax increase for transportation.
To paraphrase, Terry said that while it’s always hard to pass a tax increase in Missouri, it’s even harder to pass one that’s demonstrably unfair. Right on both counts, don’t you think?
What’s not so plausible is any expectation that the Republicans who run our legislature will change course and propose the gasoline tax increase that would be a more equitable way to raise sorely needed revenue to repair our crumbling highways. There’s a rough road ahead.
This was one of those rare elections in which the ballot issues were more interesting and more important than the paucity of high-stakes candidate competitions.
My read on the statewide issues is that we Boone County voters got them right. Would that the rest of the electorate has followed our lead. To recap:
- On Amendment 1, the so-called Right to Farm, which might more accurately have been termed “the CAFO protection and Humane Society avoidance clause,” we said No by 67-33 percent. Statewide, it barely passed, subject to a recount. I guessed that urban voters, not paying close attention, were misled by the ballot language. However, in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, voters said No, too.
My take: It was a wise person who observed that you can fool some of the people all of the time.
- On Amendment 5, the unnecessary emphasizing of our sacred right to carry our guns anywhere at any time, we said No by 53-47 percent. Statewide, it carried comfortably.
My take: Missourians love guns as much as we hate taxes.
- On Amendment 7, that transportation sales tax, we said No by 55-45 percent. Statewide, the margin was even greater.
My take: See Terry Ganey’s comment above. I would offer only the amendment that I suspect many No voters didn’t get past the word “tax” to the question of fairness.
- On Amendment 8, the “veterans’ lottery,” we said No by 65-35 percent. The rest of the state followed our lead.
My take: This was a classic right-wing trick. Take a revenue source that is already inadequate to support public schools and pretend to be helping another deserving group by diverting a chunk of it.
- On Amendment 9, the appealing if redundant protection of electronic security, we said Yes by 69-31. It passed statewide, as well.
My take: As we learn more about how vulnerable are our communications and even our identities in the Internet age, another promised level of protection can’t hurt. Can it?
- The one local ballot issue, the small sales tax to support the Fairground — excuse me; I mean the Events Center — and other parks, was the only question I agonized over. In the end, I went with my overall aversion to the regressive sales tax. Whether it was that or an aversion to taxes, period, we said No by 66-34 percent.
My take: The Events Center hasn’t produced enough events of general interest to earn our subsidy. And if Ashland wants better parks, why can’t the people who live there pay?
Overall, these results seem mainly to reinforce what we already knew about our fellow Missourians. We don’t like taxes, and we do love guns.
We’re still a farm state, but we’re grappling with just what that means these days. We worry about protecting our privacy even as we give it up on social media.
In Boone County, of course, we’re a little more progressive, but any tax increase is still going to be a hard sell.
Nobody, including the men who thought it up, ever said democratic government was simple or conflict-free. Indeed, the founders of this one structured it deliberately to make change difficult to achieve.
If nothing else, Tuesday’s election reminds us of that built-in difficulty and of the importance of our participation.
It’s good to be home again.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.