Jack Danforth uttered the single most truthful statement about Missouri politics this year.
In a campaign season full of misinformation and half-truths, the former three-term senator cut to the quick a week ago about why voters should pass the Clean Missouri good-government initiative. Danforth was talking about an arcane aspect of our politics, and that’s drawing competitive districts.
Hang with me here because this is important. Check out what wise Jack said:
“Under the current system, lines are drawn in order to provide safe districts for one party or the other. True political contests do not exist when general election results are foregone conclusions.”
Bingo. Exactly right.
Think about that a minute. In a sentence, Danforth explained why Missouri politics has become so combative. Safe seats dot the Missouri landscape both in Congress and in the General Assembly. Quick, point to one of the state’s congressional seats that’s in danger of switching from control of one party to the other this November.
Drawing a blank? Of course you are because there aren’t any, unless you include the 2nd District in the St. Louis area, which still leans toward the incumbent.
Safe seats mean members are free to drift to the far right and far left to stave off primary opponents. Far right and far left leave a big void in the middle where compromise takes place. The result is a polarized Congress and a polarized Missouri.
Clean Missouri, which is Amendment 1 on the ballot, does several important things. It requires lawmakers to wait two years before becoming lobbyists. It opens legislative records to the public. It eliminates most lobbyist gifts. Smart-thinking legislators have clamored for some of these changes for decades.
But the most controversial aspect of the Clean Missouri initiative — and the one that will have the most enduring impact on state politics — concerns redistricting. Under the proposal, a new, nonpartisan state demographer who would draw legislative maps.
The law would require that districts be drawn to achieve “partisan fairness.” That’s a beautiful phrase that speaks of a truth long absent in Missouri: Voters, not political insiders, should pick lawmakers.
Redistricting is the most political process in the history of humankind. Statehouse districts are not pieced together with any notion of legitimate competitiveness in mind. The key, always, is protecting favored incumbents in both parties. Many members of the supposedly bipartisan commission the governor appoints to draw boundary lines are insiders themselves. Their aim is to make life easier for incumbents. That’s basic politics.
Protecting buddies easily trumps any goodie-two-shoes notion of political competitiveness.
The process became so skewed last time that a judicial panel stepped in to redraw state House and Senate districts for only the second time in state history.
Republicans are opposing Clean Missouri because they stand to lose seats. They claim the current system is bipartisan and just fine the way it is. That’s exactly what Democrats used to say in the 1990s when they were in charge. But it’s not. Republicans had their chance to fix government and passed. Now citizens have stepped forward with this initiative.
Sexy stuff, this is not. But it’s important, and its impact will linger way beyond the outcome of the Claire McCaskill-Josh Hawley match-up. Clean Missouri deserves your vote.