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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Elections in the Heartland, II

Guest Blogger Paul Parker
Yesterday I wrote about Kansas, and the rift between the right and the far right of the Republican Party. That division has managed to help the Democrats win a couple offices. Party watchers are looking at the Republican primary for the Third Congressional District to see which faction can win; no major statewide races are being held.

As a result, the Kansas secretary of state is predicting a turnout of about 27%, as opposed to the expected 37% or higher in neighboring Missouri. Several statewide issues will draw Missourians to the polls today.

  1. Kit Bond is going for fourth term; the likely Democratic nominee is Treasurer Nancy Farmer
  2. Incumbent Governor Bob Holden is facing a stiff primary challenger from state auditor Claire McCaskill. This has been a divisive battle among the Democrats. Holden’s main claim to fame is that he has played reasonable defense against the Republican General Assembly for four years – although a year ago, the legislature overrode vetoes for the first time in fifty or better years (and the eighth and ninth times in the history of the state). One was to allow concealed weapons, and another was to impose a 24 hour waiting period for abortions. Attempts to override vetoes giving medical malpractitioners and their insurers more legal immunity failed last August and this June. While Holden has done okay given the relatively poor economic environment and the hostile Republican General Assembly, many Democrats think its time for someone new. That is the gist of Sunday’s KC Star editorial (may require registration), which along with the other major paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, endorsed McCaskill. The Springfield paper also endorsed McCaskill.
  3. A race to replace Dick Gephardt in Missouri’s third district (South of St. Louis), and a race to replace Karen McCarthy in Missouri’s Fifth District (KC). The Dems have a decent chance of keeping both; presently the nine house seats are split 5-4, Republican.

Two big constitutional ballot issues will bring out many voters.

  1. Amendment One would allow Riverboat Gambling near Branson, in Southwest Missouri. This amendment comes to us with a long history of mistrust by voters of the gaming industry. Put aside the betrayal felt regarding 'the lottery money will go to the schools'; that deception was a piker compared to the riverboat gambling.
Missouri first adopted “riverboat” gambling in 1992. Its been a tangled web, with a few absurdities:
Including the November 1992 balloting in which 62 percent of voters first endorsed legalizing riverboat gambling, Missourians conducted four statewide votes about the legal status of floating casinos during a six-year span. There also have been local votes on hosting casino boats
One was a court case over whether slots were “games of skill” (ok under the constitution) versus “games of chance” (not okay without an amendment). The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that slots are games of chance, and since slots are the moneymakers, we had to amend the constitution. After the voters rejected an amendment in March, the casinos opened with cards, the games of skill. With that foot in the door, the amendment passed it second time on the ballot. But the casinos wanted changes, and the legislature obliged. Back to court: can the legislature replace a voter-adopted constitutional amendment with a new statute? Nope.

There were other things that miffed many. Initially, this “gaming” was going to be aimed at tourists – think Mark Twain and cruising on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. But the Coast Guard thought river boats that actually cruised on rivers would be a navigation hazard for the barge traffic that dominates those rivers, and the gambling companies were happy not to have the added costs of fuel and a crew, and, well, boats with engines. So the companies built casinos near rivers. After the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a river boat had to be on the river, moats were dug, and river water pumped in to surround the casinos on barges. Again, quoting the Columbia Daily Tribune, 2002:

The latest statewide vote was in 1998, when the constitution’s wording was changed by citizens - through an amendment written by casino companies - to retroactively legalize half a dozen operations that had dug moats near the rivers. The casinos had cited safety concerns, echoed by the Coast Guard, about actually cruising on the major shipping channels.

So against this backdrop, we are asked to vote on expanding the locales for riverboat gambling in Missouri. Those arguing for adoption claim this is an economic development action, allowing a small struggling town to revitalize itself, along with bringing construction jobs to many Missourians. Supporters also include many of the citizens in the Southwest corner of the state who envision better jobs – higher wages and better benefits, including child care are promised.

Con arguments are offered by those morally and economically threatened. The Southern Baptists have run commercials against gambling. They got my vote. The economically threatened include the owner of Silver Dollar City, a theme park near Branson, whose owner would face more competition for labor. Some are also concerned the wholesome Branson image would be tarnished by gambling 12 miles away (or, people might not make it to as many shows).

  1. Amendment Two is about marriage: That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”
In Missouri, an amendment needs a simple majority first from both houses of the legislature, and then from the voters. Its unclear why this issue was popular this year, although most speculate that the Republicans were aiming to increase turnout for the November election to help their party, including Bush and the Republican nominee for governor, Matt Blunt.

Once again, the Missouri Supreme Court had to get involved in political maneuvering. The Constitution states that the proposed amendment will appear on the ballot for the next general election “or at a special election called by the governor prior thereto, at which he may submit any of the amendments.” Countering the Republican effort to generate turnout for November, Holden called for the Amendment to be placed on the August primary ballot. But according to statute, the proposed amendment needed to be certified by the secretary of state by Tuesday, May 25. The Republican leaders in the house and senate stalled in signing the amendment and thus the secretary of state – Matt Blunt – argued that he could not put the amendment on the August ballot. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Constitution over the statute, and thus Holden over Blunt. Its likely amendment will pass either month, as its has been polling 2-1 in favor.

Results for races and issues will be available from the secretary of state's election night reporting web page.

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