SJR 39 Stopped -Probably a Good Thing

29 Apr

SJR 39 is the measure that would have”granted greater legal protections under the Missouri constitution to clergy and wedding vendors who decline to participate in a same-sex wedding.” It received a tie vote in a House committee Wednesday, which probably means it is dead. Had it passed the House, it would have gone to a vote of the people. (It passed the Senate in March after a long filibuster; JeffCo Senators Paul Wieland and Gary Romine voted yes.)

While I agree with the motivation behind this bill, the potential negative repercussions are too much. Witness what happened in North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi recently and previously in Indiana; businesses protested and cancelled projects, performers cancelled concerts, and nationwide negative attention rained down. Is this bill worth all that?

Plus, some have said this bill was poorly drafted in a way that would not make it through the courts and would be too broad. If the Legislature wants to pass this bill, it needs to be narrow and airtight.

I agree with the sentiments of Missouri Republican governor candidate Eric Greitens, who said:

“I don’t believe this legislation is the right approach,” Greitens said in a statement. “I oppose SJR 39 because I believe that while it is well-intentioned, it could unintentionally threaten our economy and job creation.

“Here in Missouri, we are already 47th in job growth and 42nd in wage growth. We simply cannot afford more policies from Jeff City that have the potential to kill jobs.”

In general, I question whether the Legislature does enough to fix the numbers Greitens cites, instead spending too much time creating small, incremental changes in things like gun and abortion law and passing bills like this one. With its supermajorities in both chambers, Republicans have a rare opportunity to enact sweeping conservative economic, budgetary, and regulatory change.

At the same time, the GOP on a national and state level should perhaps rethink its approach towards big business. Given the way corporations are sabotaging efforts to enact these religious freedom bills, perhaps their requests for TIFs, subsidies, and tax breaks should be denied. This stuff is corporate welfare that doesn’t really help the economy anyway; but it definitely should not be awarded to companies that make public threats related to bills like this.

JeffCo GOP Caucus Report

10 Apr

Republicans across Missouri gathered Saturday for county caucuses, the first step in choosing delegates for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Jefferson County Republicans met at Windsor High School.

caucus

The caucuses take on extra importance this year, even though Missouri had a primary, because of the possibility of an open convention if Donald Trump does not get the necessary delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. If that happens, delegates are then free on later ballots to vote for who they like, so Trump and Ted Cruz are jockeying to get their supporters selected as delegates. These county caucuses are the first step in choosing Missouri’s 52 delegates to the national convention, 37 of which Trump won via the primary vote.

In the primary, Trump won JeffCo with 49% of the vote to Cruz’s 38%.

The 2012 JeffCo GOP caucus was surrounded by controversy between the establishment and Ron Paul supporters. This was in the back of many people’s mind coming in to today (especially those who brought snacks – the 2012 caucus lasted nine hours).

How it Went Down

The caucus, which was scheduled to start at 10, did not get underway until 10:45 due to delays in getting the final number of attendees tabulated. Part of this was due to having to sign in those who arrived close to 10:00 and part was apparently due to issues with the voter data sent from the county clerk’s office. More on this later. It was declared that 162 people were registered, but that two had already left. But when the district numbers were added, they only came to 157. The body agreed to go with that number.

Things were a bit more complicated in JeffCo due to the fact that we are split up between three Congressional districts – the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th. After the county caucuses come the congressional district and state conventions; each of which get to choose some national delegates. So at the JeffCo caucus we had to select 6 slates, one for each district to both conventions. But in reality each district selected the same slate twice to send forward.

County councilman Bob Boyer was selected as caucus chairman, as he was in 2012, then it was on to the delegate selection. Attendees were divided up into three seating areas, one for each Congressional district. In each district, two slates were proposed: a “Make America Great Again” pro-Trump slate stocked with local elected officials, county GOP committee members, and activists, and a second slate, which became the “Make America Really Great Again” slate, made up of pro-Trump relative outsiders (with a couple of exceptions).

In the 2nd district, which was allotted 12 delegates by the state party, the outsider slate submission (a printed sheet containing names and addresses) was disqualified before the vote because it contained a duplicate name. Therefore, the establishment slate, which included five current/former/future Arnold city council members, Bob Boyer, and Ken Horton (current treasurer candidate and former Tea Party leader), had no opposition and was selected.

In the 3rd district (34 delegates), both slates were disqualified, the outsider one for having another duplicate name and the establishment one for having the aforementioned Ken Horton on it (at an old address – he is no longer in the 3rd district). Since this left no slates to be considered, both sides got to fix and resubmit their lists. Dave Day, speaking for the outsider slate, spoke to the crowd about how his list was tried and true Trump supporters, not establishment members. Derrick Good, speaking for the establishment slate, defended his slate as the people who work for the party to get candidates elected. He said he was tired of the negativity towards the establishment, and proclaimed his own support for Trump from day one, including an unsuccessful attempt to win a position as Trump’s state director. His slate included three state representatives, Senator Paul Wieland, and county executive Ken Waller (these individuals, some of whom have endorsed Cruz, were not present). A vote was held, and the outsider slate won by one vote.

Almost immediately, a question arose, and much conversation was taking place around the head table. From what I was able to gather, a caucus attendee was seated with the wrong district, thanks to some or other confusion, in part related to data from the county clerk. Discussion took place on what to do with this newfound information, leading outsiders to think “here we go again, they are trying to steal our victory.” In the end, we moved on, but it sounds like this slate could possibly be challenged in an appeal to the state party. It seems to me that the mistake, found at a convenient time, was noticed too late and the slate selection should stand.

caucus2a

Photo via Mark Paul

In the 8th district (18 delegates), the establishment slate won by a wide margin. So in the end, two establishment slates won, but the outsider slate that won has more delegates than the other two combined (because most of JeffCo is in the 3rd district).

The above is what I saw and heard at the caucus. If I made any errors, please let me know.

Platform Considerations

I did not stay for all of the proposed amendments to the draft state GOP platform, but here were some that I heard, along with the vote results. Successful amendments get passed on with the selected delegates to the next conventions.

  • Make Missouri’s primaries closed (so only registered Democrats/Republicans can vote in them). Since Missouri voters don’t declare a party when registering, this would require some major changes. This would stop candidates like Trump, who draws many independent and Democratic voters. This would give the party more control over who wins the primary, but it would keep out the types of crossover voters that help the party win general elections. This amendment passed by a large margin.
  • Use paper ballots in elections. This is based on fears of hacking and manipulation of voting machines, which also have no paper backup. This passed unanimously.
  • An amendment to remove right to work from the state platform was proposed by Arnold councilman Jason Fulbright. JeffCo is home to many pro-union GOP elected officials. This vote ended in a tie, which meant that it failed.
  • Disallow individuals found by the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) to have an ethics violation (mostly these are for campaign rule violations) from being GOP delegates. This, I believe, was aimed at county GOP central committee members who were found to have violated campaign finance rules in 2012. The argument against this was a claim that it was easy to get an MEC violation, for things like not putting “paid for by” information on campaign signs. This amendment failed by a large margin.

Some April 5 Election Endorsements

31 Mar

Yeah, I know, we just voted a couple of weeks ago, but it is time to vote again in the low-turnout municipal elections. But these elections are important. There are many tax increases on the ballot, along with local politicians, some who like to raise taxes, raise spending, and file or allow the settlement of lawsuits against local cities. With that in mind, I would like to offer some endorsement. In some cases, I will provide the reasoning behind my endorsement.

Fox School Board

  • Michael Booker – understands that Fox needs to regain the public’s trust
  • Not Dan Kroupa

Arnold City Council

  • Ward 1 – EJ Fleischmann
  • Ward 2 – John Brazeal – will provide an independent, critical voice for transparency and good decision making in city government
  • Ward 3 – two bad choices

Antonia Fire

  • Preston Haglin – fiscal responsibility

JeffCo Health Dept

  • Preston Haglin – fiscal responsibility, limited government

Pevely Board of Aldermen

  • Ward 1 – Erin Kasten
  • Ward 2 – Linda Hahn

Rock Fire

  • Cathy Woolridge

Hillsboro School Board

  • 3 year term:- Dennis Bradley – to hold the administration accountable

Rock Ambulance

  • Charles Groeteke

August Primaries Set

29 Mar

The filing deadline has passed for the August 2 primary election. Let’s review the local races.

Legislature

Three legislators who represent parts of JeffCo will run unopposed in August and November. They are Senator Gary Romine (R, 3rd district, Farmington), Becky Ruth (R, 114th, Festus), and Ben Harris (D, 118th, Hillsboro). Legislative candidates can be found here.

Shane Roden (R, 111th, Cedar Hill) will face four primary opponents: Jason Jarvis, who Roden beat in the 2014 primary 60% to 40%, Ryan Jones, Gary Bonacker, and Tammy Orzel. Quite a crowded field.

Rob Vescovo (R, 112th, Arnold) will have a rematch with Democrat Robert Butler in November, a rematch of 2014, when Vescovo won 60% to 40%.

Two Democrats will face off for the right to run against Dan Shaul (R, 113th, Imperial). They are Mike Evans and Karen Settlemoir-Berg.

Elaine Gannon (R, 115th, De Soto) will face Barbara Stocker (D) and a Libertarian candidate, Charles Bigelow, in November.

John McCaherty (R, 97th, High Ridge) will be opposed only by a Libertarian candidate, Tracy Scott, in November.

County Races

I wrote about the August county races here, but let’s do an update. County candidates can be found here.

County councilwoman Renee Reuter (R, 2nd district, Imperial) will face Democrat Roger Hendrix in November.

In addition to Flat Top Rorabacher, George Engelbach (R, 4th, Hillsboro) will have another primary opponent, with a rematch of the 2012 primary against Charles Groeteke. Then, Engelbach won by all of 4 votes. Groeteke must have found a few more friends since then. I’m not sure why Groeteke feels the need to challenge a sitting councilman, but that’s what he’s doing. The winner of this faces former state representative Jeff Roorda.

In council district 6, Democrat Cliff Lane is stepping down. Running to replace him are Democrat Richard Henry and Republicans Kevin Weaver and Dan Stallman (a former sheriff’s deputy and candidate for sheriff who is currently on the county GOP committee).

Three Republicans are running for the open county assessor seat: current councilman Bob Boyer, Mary Dunnegan, and Cary Blum. The winner will take on Todd Melkus, Democrat, who works in the assessor’s office.

 

Legislature Spring Break Update

27 Mar

The Legislature will reconvene this week after a two week spring break. Unlike college kids, who get wild and crazy over spring break, Missouri legislators calm down during spring break, spending time at home with their families. They save their wild and crazy conduct for Jefferson City.

Here is an update on some noteworthy votes taken in the past month. I post these on Facebook as they happen, but I like to collect them here since it serves as a better long-term record. Items posted on Facebook disappear pretty quickly and are not easy to retrieve.

Beer bill (SB 919): This bill “would allow beer companies to lease portable refrigeration units to grocers and convenience stores, and allow those same stores to sell beer in reusable containers known as growlers.” Opponents argued it would benefit big brewers at the expense of small brewers, by letting companies like Anheuser-Busch take up more space in stores. Proponents said it was a good deal for everyone. JeffCo senators Paul Wieland and Gary Romine voted yes on this bill, which passed the Senate.

Prescription drug monitoring program (HB 1892): This bill would make Missouri the 50th state to implement a database to track prescriptions in order to prevent people from shopping around to acquire opiods from multiple doctors. This bill passed the House. Voting yes on this bill from JeffCo were Reps. Ben Harris (the lone JeffCo Democrat), Dan Shaul, and Elaine Gannon. Voting against it were Reps. John McCaherty, Rob Vescovo, Becky Ruth, and Shane Roden. Here is why McCaherty said he opposes it in his weekly newsletter:

My issues with this version of the bill is more on the lines of its usage. Physicians and pharmacist are not required to use the database, and in states where there is lot requirement, such as Florida the data is accessed less than 2% of the time. Is the answer to create a database that is used so little??

Thus, in his mind the benefits of the bill did not outweigh the risks to privacy, including risks from hackers.

Paycheck protection (HB 1891): This bill passed the House in February (I wrote on it here) and made its way to the Senate, where it passed before being vetoed by the Governor. However, an override attempt is likely to take place, as the bill passed by sufficient margins for an override. Senator Wieland voted against it, while Senator Romine, who was present during the early part of the over seven hour debate, was absent when the vote was taken. Convenient absence in an election year?

SJR 39:

This proposed constitutional amendment, if approved by the qualified voters of this state, prohibits the state from imposing a penalty on a religious organization who acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning same sex marriage, which includes the refusal to perform a same sex marriage ceremony or allow a same sex wedding ceremony to be performed on the religious organization’s property.

The state cannot penalize an individual who declines, due to sincere religious beliefs, to provide goods of expressional or artistic creation for a same sex wedding or wedding reception.

This bill was filibustered for 39 hours in the Senate before passing, drawing national attention. This is similar to bills that have gained attention in other states. Senators Wieland and Romine voted for it.

Critchlow law (HB 1432): Rep. Vescovo’s bill to curb the overuse of paid administrative leave for wrongdoers like Dianne Critchlow and Melissa Click. This bill passed the House, as it did last year before dying in the Senate. Reps. Vescovo, McCaherty, Roden, and Shaul voted for it, while Reps. Ruth, Gannon, and Harris voted no.

Shockey Support Slips in Arnold

23 Mar

Arnold police chief Robert Shockey has succeeded once again in extracting money from Arnold taxpayers. First he got the city to make purchases from his businesses, then he got the city to pay his son-in-law a salary during his police training. Finally, he filed a totally bogus lawsuit against the city and two council members. Well, that lawsuit has been settled (barely), so Shockey will receive a cool $70,000.

I say that the suit was bogus because age discrimination was one of the claims, even though there was not even a suggestion that that is what anyone cared about. The reason Shockey put that in the suit is that he needed to be part of a protected class, and since he’s a white guy, that was the only one available to him.

I say that the case was barely settled because the council vote to approve it was 5-3. The roll call vote on February 11 was as follows:

  • Jason Fulbright – yes
  • Brian McArthur – yes
  • Nancy Crisler – yes
  • Gary Plunk – yes
  • David Owens – yes
  • Phil Amato – no
  • Paul Freese – no
  • Butch Cooley – no

Not only did three people vote no, but some frank comments were made about Shockey by council members to the Leader. Freese said:

…he knew what he was getting into. Personally, I felt he didn’t deserve the money. I didn’t feel it was justified.

Cooley said he thinks it’s time for the chief to retire. While these councilmen also said complementary things about the chief, it is clear that he is now in a rather weak position.

Mayor Ron Counts said the period with all the lawsuits “was a dark time for the city.” But it was a bright time for him, because the lawsuit was filed against his two opponents in the mayoral election, and it came just in time for the campaign.

Another settlement the city handed out during this time (without a lawsuit even being filed) was to rec department head Susie Boone. She only got $55,000, but she also got an agreement that it would take a supermajority of the council to fire her. Shockey got no such clause.

Candidate Cop Connections

Incidentally, two candidates for Arnold city council in the April 5 election are married to Arnold policemen. The candidates are Jennifer Beutenmiller in Ward 1 and Mary Ruiz in Ward 3. Ruiz also just retired as an Arnold police dispatcher. I’m not sure it would be a good idea to elect them to the council. They will probably not be able to vote on anything police related, given the conflict of interest. That removes them from considering a number of issues that could come before the council. The next council may have to decide whether to replace the weakened police chief, and these two candidates would not get to participate in the decision or help choose his replacement.

Despite the fact that they won’t be able to vote on police matters, both were endorsed by the Arnold Police Officers Association. Beutenmiller was endorsed by Jeff Roorda, who was once fired as an Arnold cop and now makes his living defending bad officers.

Politics Can’t Be Ruled Out in Mahn Case

19 Mar

As you may have read in the Leader on March 10, the lawsuit against former county circuit clerk Howard Wagner and others alleging a politically motivated firing was dismissed by a US District Court judge in early March. Let me summarize the case, and show that the dismissal does not necessarily mean that politics were not involved.

The case by former circuit clerk employee Jamie Mahn centers around three questions:

  1. Did county clerk Wes Wagner tell Howard (his dad) how Mahn voted (it is known that she voted GOP and that the Wagners are Democrats)?
  2. Was party affiliation or loyalty a motivating factor in Mahn’s dismissal?
  3. Was Mahn fired for reasons other than politics?

For the first question, the court ruled that no concrete evidence was presented that Wes Wagner told Howard how Mahn voted, just speculation, and his portion of the case was dismissed. For the third question, the judge ruled that sufficient performance issues related to Mahn’s work existed to justify termination. Based on the answers to these questions, the judge declared there was no basis for the suit, and thus dismissed it.

However, on question two, the judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence to litigate this issue. Four circuit clerk employees (aside from Mahn) testified that Howard Wagner made various comments about voting. Alleged statements include:

  • “I don’t see the ballots, but I know how you vote.”
  • “This is a Democrat world, people are Democrat there, and we should support the Democrats.”
  • Three employees testified that they felt pressured to vote Democrat and/or pretend they were Democrats.

Wagner testified that trying to influence Mahn’s vote in a primary election in which the Democrat candidate to replace him, Jeannette McKee, was unopposed, would make no sense, but what makes no sense is to assume that any pressure or intimidation would have no effect on employees’ votes in the general election three months later, in which McKee was opposed. The judge also did not seem to understand this point.

The court found that “Mahn has submitted sufficient evidence [to go forward with trial] that political affiliation or loyalty was a motivating factor in her dismissal.” But this was not enough to counteract the other two questions stated above.

So while Wagner won this suit, let’s not come away from this lawsuit with the impression that politics were not played in the JeffCo circuit clerk’s office.

Another lawsuit by Mahn, alleging she was discriminated against for using sick leave during an illness, is still ongoing.

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