Kansas City and Missouri need to go their separate ways

07/16/2013 6:22 PM

07/16/2013 6:22 PM

Kansas City legally can’t secede from the state of Missouri. But wouldn’t it be great if it could?

That thought certainly has crossed the minds of many local elected officials and business leaders in recent years.

They have battled with rural and conservative lawmakers in Jefferson City over the future of struggling urban school districts, tax breaks, gun-control laws and social policies affecting tens of thousands of people.

Indeed, plenty of residents in the state’s two largest cities— Kansas City and St. Louis — generally don’t have the same interest in promoting blind allegiance to the anti-tax, anti-abortion, anti-poor-people and pro-gun policies that the GOP-dominated legislature too often does.

And yes, that’s partly because the voters in Kansas City and St. Louis are more liberal than much of the rest of the state.

Consider two recent examples:

• Voters in Kansas City and St. Louis overwhelmingly supported a higher cigarette tax in 2012 to promote a healthier state. But rural voters helped narrowly kill it, sadly leaving Missouri with the lowest such tax by far in the nation.

• Kansas City and St. Louis voters showed up big-time last fall for the re-election of President Barack Obama. But rural voters chose Mitt Romney, who won the state’s electoral votes although Obama seized the bigger prize: the White House.

The clear pattern here is that Republican legislators and rural Missourians out-number and out-vote the urban areas’ lawmakers and voters.

Honestly, the GOP deserves credit for gaining this power. (It’s not absolute, fortunately; Missouri has several key Democratic state leaders, led by Gov. Jay Nixon.)

Recently, Mayor Sly James injected himself into this matter of Kansas City vs. Jefferson City, with gusto.

The topic was gun control, and James showed his contempt for the cavalier approach of Missouri’s legislators to it.

James pointed out in a passionate blog post, “I’m not suggesting that we rid the country of all firearms. I simply argue that cities like ours, St. Louis, and others with gun-related homicide issues be allowed to take reasonable steps to eliminate illegal guns from our city streets and cars.”

But the mayor quickly noted that, “under Missouri law, we cannot take any action affecting or interfering with the ownership, purchase, use, possession, regulation of any weapon or bullets, regardless of size, type, intended use or purpose.”

James said he would like to see reasonable background checks and a few other measures help guide who can get guns in Kansas City.

Then he bluntly added: “Nothing that I have proposed is very likely to be enacted in Missouri. You see, the Missouri legislature has made it legally impossible for cities like Kansas City or St. Louis to do anything substantive to stem the tsunami of illegal guns into the hands of criminal idiots on city streets.”

This outburst was aimed at Republican lawmakers, a shot the mayor took even though he’s going to have to go to Jefferson City next year to get their support for many bills the city wants passed.

One example: If the city decides to pursue local control of the Police Department, James will have to convince Missouri lawmakers to give up state control. It’s the right move; Kansas City shouldn’t be the only city in the nation that can’t insist on local accountability for its police.

In the real world, where secession isn’t possible, Republicans in the General Assembly will continue to have outsized-influence over the futures of Kansas City and St. Louis.

Unless, that is, more liberal and more Democratic voices eventually seize a more powerful role. That’s where elections come in.

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