Editorials

Voters deserve a say. Clean Missouri ethics initiative belongs on the November ballot

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On Thursday, judges on a Missouri appeals court could prevent serious damage to the state’s petition process, and the people’s right to vote.

They should seize that opportunity by restoring the so-called Clean Missouri ethics initiative to the November ballot.

Last week, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ordered the state to strike the initiative. The proposal — Amendment 1 — offers several changes to the state’s constitution, all involving the state legislature.

The amendment includes lobbying restrictions and a limit on lobbyist gifts, redistricting reform, campaign finance reform and changes to make state government more transparent. Green decided the measure contained too many different subjects, a process he called “logrolling.”

“The Court’s review of this Bunyanesque initiative leaves this Court with an abiding conviction that it is the quintessential logroll,” Green wrote.

His ruling leaves us with an abiding conviction that he removed the measure from the ballot for partisan reasons.

Judge Green is a Republican. The plaintiffs’ case was argued by Edward Greim, who is the law partner of Todd Graves, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party. Other Republican lawmakers have opposed the Clean Missouri proposal.

It isn’t clear why the GOP is so resistant to needed ethics reforms in Jefferson City or why the party is so afraid of letting the people decide this issue. Limits on lobbying and drawing legislative districts more fairly should be supported by every Missourian who wants open, honest government.

It’s true that Democrats are involved in the Clean Missouri project. But they aren’t trying to impose ethics reforms on Missouri; they’re simply seeking a statewide vote. Republicans should support that, too.

Some Republicans understand this. Former Sen. Jack Danforth has endorsed Amendment 1, and a trio of current and former GOP state lawmakers has filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the measure is ballot-worthy.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, says the Clean Missouri initiative involves a single subject and should go to voters. Clean Missouri submitted more than 340,000 signatures asking that the proposal go on the November ballot.

They all understand what Green does not: In Missouri, ballot initiatives must be interpreted broadly, with every close call going to the people — not legislators, lobbyists or judges.

“The trial court’s judgment must be reversed because it misapplied the law,” Clean Missouri supporters told the appeals court in a brief filed over the weekend. “The people should be allowed to vote on the wisdom of the measure.”

We agree. If opponents of Clean Missouri want to argue against it, or claim Missouri’s legislature is a model of ethical behavior now, they should do so in a campaign.

They should not be allowed to use the courts to circumvent the judgment of Missourians.

The Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City will hear arguments in the case Thursday, and may rule that day. All Missourians who believe in clean, open government will be watching.

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