When I was 14 years old I had a bad habit. I snatched things away from my little brother.
If he had a cookie, I snatched it away. One day my grandfather came in with a bucket of green persimmons for my brother. Before he could take even one, I snatched the bucket, selected the biggest, plumpest green persimmon and took a bite.
A ripe persimmon is a delight. A green persimmon is among the bitterest things known to humanity.
Suddenly my mouth spontaneously puckered. My lips, my mouth, my whole oral cavity wanted to turn inside out. My eyes clinched shut, and my face contorted beyond human recognition. My grandfather laughed. Two things I learned: 1) don’t snatch from others, and 2) green persimmons are best left alone.
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Constitutional Amendment 3, on Missouri’s November ballot, is a “green persimmon.” It may look promising, but it is a bitter “green persimmon” best rejected by voters.
“But,” you say, “who can be against an amendment to establish an Early Childhood Health and Education Trust intended to help kids and funded by a tax on tobacco — or so suggests “Raise your Hand for Kids,” the group behind Amendment 3.”
Let me peel away the skin of this persimmon. You must ask why R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s parent company has spent more than $3 million to increase Missouri’s tobacco tax allegedly to reduce smoking. Also, why are groups opposing Amendment 3, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, American Lung Association in Missouri, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Missouri National Education Association and Tobacco-Free Missouri. They historically favor increased tobacco taxes to reduce smoking.
What bitterness could possibly be lurking in this amendment? Ironically, any educational or health organization that receives funding from the Amendment 3 trust would be prohibited from using these dollars to advocate for limits or prohibition of tobacco products, coupons or tobacco promotions.
Amendment 3 mandates nicotine replacement therapy products as a required treatment for smoking cessation. While currently a good methodology for many, Amendment 3 constitutionally limits our state to this single methodology now and in the future. Existing pharmaceutical companies benefit from this one.
Amendment 3 constitutionally prohibits grants or other disbursements to any organization that is associated in any way with abortions other than for emergencies. Politics aside, what has a tobacco tax to do with abortions?
Amendment 3 eliminates, for this revenue stream, the restrictions on state funds being given to private or parochial schools. Amendment 3 contradicts Article IX section 8 of the Missouri Constitution.
These defects represent a small portion of the many elements of bitterness contained in Amendment 3. While the goal of improving the health and education of Missouri’s children is noble, the motives of those behind Amendment 3 are murky, the language is deceitful and the “fruit” is full of worms.
I suggest you not bite Amendment 3 for it is a giant green persimmon!
R. Stan Runnels of Kansas City is a priest of the Episcopal Church, Diocese of West Missouri.