Local Columnists

Dave Helling: St. Louis brings a battle sword to Jefferson City, while Kansas City carries a pocketknife

Would Kansas City have as much luck as St. Louis appears to be having seeking state money for its new football stadium? It doesn’t seem likely.
Would Kansas City have as much luck as St. Louis appears to be having seeking state money for its new football stadium? It doesn’t seem likely. HOK/360 Architecture

This week’s dustup over Missouri’s contributions to the Truman Sports Complex and Bartle Hall reminds us Kansas City’s influence in Jefferson City may be at its lowest point in 25 years.

Gov. Jay Nixon, seeking $300 million for St. Louis to build another football stadium, eliminated almost $5 million earmarked for Kansas City’s stadiums and convention hall.

Er, just a mistake, his office said. We’ll put the money back.

It’s a pretty subtle game. Kansas Citians, one assumes, are now expected to be grateful for keeping funds they have received for decades — so grateful they won’t ask for a piece of whatever new money St. Louis wants.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the apparent slight. It’s an open secret that St. Louis interests bring a battle sword to the Missouri Capitol, while Kansas City carries a pocketknife.

Part of the problem is demographic. Urban Democrats hold little sway in a state now largely run by rural Republicans, but well-to-do St. Louis County Republicans have helped that region make up the difference. Many wealthy suburbanites in our area live in Kansas.

Bitterness over state funding for desegregation lingers. Term limits have washed out Kansas Citians experienced in working with St. Louis, making it harder for the two cities to put their votes together for their common good.

But it’s also political. Both parties know it’s extraordinarily difficult to raise campaign money in Kansas City, while St. Louis is heavily involved in helping candidates. In 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, St. Louis interests gave candidates triple the contributions from Kansas Citians.

Do we wonder why St. Louis at least gets a hearing on state money for a new stadium? Imagine Kansas City asking the legislature for $300 million for anything and you get the idea.

For years, Kansas Citians overcame this problem by relying on the superior lobbying abilities of elected leaders such as Bill Waris, Kay Barnes and Emanuel Cleaver. Sly James, in contrast, lacks a similar voice.

Kansas City’s political and business elites sometimes explain away the problem by pointing to Kansas. We’ve got two states to worry about, they say, more so than St. Louis.

But the area’s influence in Topeka may also be weak. Johnson County interests have fiercely defended their schools, for example, only to watch outstate lawmakers target their districts for cuts.

Kansas City’s elites have decided to ignore the politics of influence. That’s why, increasingly, they don’t have any.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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