Few issues these days serve as points of unity between Missouri Republicans and Democrats, but cleaning up state government is one of them. Gov. Mike Parson’s options seemed simple: He could have demonstrated bold, independent leadership by openly condemning the Legislature’s attempt to bypass the voter-approved 2018 Clean Missouri amendment. Now Parson is largely sidelined. His only say in the matter is whether to place the referendum on Senate Joint Resolution 38 on the August or November ballot.

Either Parson stands for democratic governance or he doesn’t. There can be no middle ground. He has spoken in favor of SJR 38, but it’s never too late to take a stand against dirty politics, gerrymandering and lobbyist influence.

The Legislature effectively says that 62% of Missouri voters didn’t know what they were doing when they approved Clean Missouri.

Because legislators spent so much precious time in the middle of a raging pandemic and economic crisis focusing on protecting their own incumbency, they failed to get other important legislation passed before adjourning Friday. One was a bill to impose the same sales tax on internet purchases from out-of-state sellers as is applied to Missouri retailers. The unequal tax regime places retailers at an extreme disadvantage — exactly at a time when storefront commerce needs all the help it can get. Lawmakers also refused to reduce an unfair tax imposed on women’s purchases of tampons and menstrual pads.

They decided to keep in place the ability to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Legislators deserve credit for approving longer sentences for felony crimes involving guns and singling out vehicle hijacking as a felony criminal offense.

In one of the few business items that actually addressed the pandemic, lawmakers approved the use of mail-in ballots in this year’s elections to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But in typical fashion, this life-saving measure was counterbalanced by passage of a law allowing qualified motorcycle riders over age 25 to ride without a helmet.

For Clean Missouri to have carried such overwhelming approval means Republicans strongly agreed with Democrats on the need to change a system that allows voting districts to be artificially manipulated to protect incumbents and preserve their party’s dominance. Clean Missouri requires the redistricting system to be placed under the direction of a non-partisan state demographer. SJR 38 will impose a revote on the 2018 measure, as if to suggest voters are a bunch of ignorant fools who don’t know what they’re doing.

Parson and his party deserve to be judged harshly by those same voters on Nov. 3.

Missouri politics doesn’t need to stay dirty. Can Parson muster the courage to turn things around?

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

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