It’s 2021, and America’s oldest political party is busy dismantling the norms and institutions that allowed them to exist in the first place, seemingly at the whim of a down-and-out megalomaniac who cares not a whit for them.
The fact that sentence wasn’t a shock to write and probably isn’t one to read shows how far we’ve already sunk. If you want to know what the GOP’s descent into rabid authoritarianism and plutocratic rule will soon look like if left unchecked, look no further than Missouri.
Missouri, first the Show Me State, became known as the Bellwether State during the 20th century for its uncanny ability to predict presidential winners. Now, according to journalist, author, and St. Louis resident Sarah Kendzior, it’s “the bellwether of American decline.”
What prompts Kendzior, the author of Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, to give such a grim prognosis to her home state? Politicians, mostly.
“Now Missouri is just this cesspool of corruption because there’s been no accountability,” she told Mila during our recent interview. “Put at a national level, that’s very dangerous. And I think it’s what the GOP wants to do.”
So how did Missouri, once the definition of a purple state, fall so far from political grace? According to Kendzior, it was dark money and a hard shift into Tea Party conservatism—a deadly combination that now has the state in a stranglehold.
“Missouri is the dark money capital of America,” she said. In 2018 her then-governor, Eric Greitens, was forced to resign in part because of a dark money scandal that funneled millions into his campaign. More recently, millions of dollars in dark money were used to fund a ballot initiative meant to undo another initiative passed in 2018 that targeted gerrymandering, a favored tool of Republican lawmakers nationwide.
The last example highlights one of Kendzior’s main complaints against her state’s government: it happily ignores the people’s will.
“We all voted to get rid of the dark money, raise the wage, and protect the labor unions and the state legislatures just like ‘Nah.’ And they just overruled the whole thing. They don’t care what we voted for.”
In 2018, 67% of Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative called Clean Missouri. The initiative put a non-partisan “state demographer” in charge of redistricting to avoid gerrymandering and tightened state ethics rules. Republicans fought the changes and brought another initiative before voters in 2020. Amendment 3 used misleading wording, millions in dark money donations, and a Republican-led misinformation campaign to squeak past the finish line, 51-49%.
Missourians also approved a gradual minimum wage increase in 2018, with 62% of the vote. Cut to 2021, and Republican lawmakers are stalling, even as residents and politicians greeted a GOP proposal to march the minimum wage back to $8/hour with fury.
Last August, 53% of Cave State voters passed a state constitutional amendment requiring Medicaid expansion. “No,” said their Republican-led-Congress last month. Earlier this week, the similarly conservative State Senate affirmed that abdication of duty to enact the will of the people, confirming to the watching world they preferred autocracy over democracy. There isn’t a much more straightforward example of destroying democracy than refusing to ratify a democratically decided constitutional amendment that will benefit thousands because it doesn’t serve your political ideology.
Now, the Missouri GOP is advancing a new bill neutering the entire ballot initiative process. It would increase the signatures required, shorten the signature collection timeframe, and require a 2/3 majority to pass any initiative. Heaven forbid something as pesky as the will of the people get in the way of democratic governing.
It’s not hard to see why Josh Hawley, Missouri’s youngest senator, happily promoted an insurrection on Capitol Hill in January, or why he continues to spread The Big Lie every chance he gets. Worse, the Missouri GOP’s swing toward authoritarianism encourages the state’s politically criminal elements to re-emerge, seeking their comebacks now that consequences are a thing of the past. The Missouri GOP’s blatantly anti-democratic actions expose the fact the Republican Party doesn’t feel the least bit bad about the last four years. If they can continue to operate with absolute impunity, they aren’t likely to grow a conscience any time soon.
“The ‘Dark Money’ Behind Missouri’s Pro-Gerrymandering Ballot Measure.” Sludge, readsludge.com/2020/10/22/the-dark-money-behind-a-pro-gerrymandering-measure-in-missouri/.
Erickson, Kurt. “Missouri Senate Rejects Funding for Medicaid Expansion.” STLtoday.com, 29 Apr. 2021, www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/missouri-senate-rejects-funding-for-medicaid-expansion/article_33249172-2601-51ff-b4fd-4ff541ed3331.html.
Gregory J. Holman and Austin Huguelet. “By a Narrow Margin, Amendment 3 Reversed ‘Clean Missouri.’ How Did We Get Here?” Leader, Springfield News-Leader, 5 Nov. 2020, www.news-leader.com/story/news/politics/2020/11/04/missouri-election-results-amendment-3-fails-ends-clean-missouri/6159978002/.
“Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America.” Bookshop, bookshop.org/books/hiding-in-plain-sight-the-invention-of-donald-trump-and-the-erosion-of-america-9781250779403/9781250210715?aid=11259&listref=all-authors-season.
“Letter: Once a Bellwether, Missouri Is Now Northern Arkansas.” STLtoday.com, 10 Jan. 2021, www.stltoday.com/opinion/mailbag/letter-once-a-bellwether-missouri-is-now-northern-arkansas/article_33a113bd-a70a-5419-8d33-f03a7280f46f.html.
“Missouri Amendment 2, Medicaid Expansion Initiative (August 2020).” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Missouri_Amendment_2,_Medicaid_Expansion_Initiative_(August_2020).
“Missouri Lawmakers Declare War on Ballot Initiative Process: Independent Voter News.” RSS, ivn.us/posts/missouri-lawmakers-declare-war-on-ballot-initiative-process.
St. Louis Public Radio | By Corinne Ruff. “Missouri House Committee Debates Delaying Minimum Wage Increases.” St. Louis Public Radio, 24 Mar. 2021, news.stlpublicradio.org/government-politics-issues/2021-03-24/missouri-house-committee-debates-delaying-minimum-wage-increases.
St. Louis Public Radio | By Jason Rosenbaum. “Eric Greitens Announces Run For Senate, 3 Years After Resigning As Missouri Governor.” St. Louis Public Radio, 23 Mar. 2021, news.stlpublicradio.org/government-politics-issues/2021-03-22/eric-greitens-announces-run-for-senate-3-years-after-resigning-as-missouri-governor.
St. Louis Public Radio | By Jason Rosenbaum. “Missourians Back Clean Missouri, Minimum Wage Hike, Medical Marijuana; Reject Gas Tax Hike.” St. Louis Public Radio, 7 Nov. 2018, news.stlpublicradio.org/government-politics-issues/2018-11-06/missourians-back-clean-missouri-minimum-wage-hike-medical-marijuana-reject-gas-tax-hike.
St. Louis Public Radio | By Rudi Keller | Missouri Independent. “Missouri House Republicans Reject Efforts To Fund Medicaid Expansion.” St. Louis Public Radio, 31 Mar. 2021, news.stlpublicradio.org/government-politics-issues/2021-03-31/missouri-house-republicans-reject-efforts-to-fund-medicaid-expansion.
Torres-Spelliscy, Ciara C. “Missouri’s Dark Money Scandal, Explained.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 4 June 2018, apnews.com/article/eric-greitens-missouri-ciara-the-conversation-8ead3bd13b3ead871bba01199bc6bb68.