Gov. Nixon’s Chance to Do the Right Thing on ASARCO

Three weeks ago, I had not heard of ASARCO. Three years from now, I hope most people in Missouri politics won’t recall it. What happens next is up to Gov. Nixon.

ASARCO is the American Smelting and Refining Company. It’s been around since 1899. In 2005, it filed the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history. Eventually, a federal bankruptcy court in Texas approved the creation of a $1.79 billion settlement fund  to be shared amongst federal and state agencies charged with protecting the environment.

Missouri’s portion of the case was settled in 2007 when ASARCO agreed to pay nearly $35 million for environmental damages at five sites in southeast Missouri’s lead mining district. The ASARCO settlement was specific about where that money could be spent.  The bankruptcy court ordered ASARCO settlement funds to be segregated by each site and limited spending to “restoration activities at or in connection with each” of the five sites.

By far, the biggest settlement was for sites on the Big River. With interest, that settlement account holds approximately $33 million today. Other settlements were created for the West Fork and Sweetwater mines in Reynolds County (now worth a combined $3.8 million), the Glover Smelter in Iron County (now worth $2.5 million), and the Madison County Mine in Madison County (now worth $1.6 million).

The area needs environmental remediation. For example, the Department of Natural Resources lists 93 miles of the Big River as “impaired” and has found that 75 miles of sediments in the Big River are contaminated. Not surprisingly, St. Francois County residents would like to use ASARCO settlement funds to clean up the areas ASARCO damaged. In Madison County, local officials want to use the $1.6 million in ASARCO settlement funds to clean-up the Fredericktown City Lake, the only water-supply for a town of 4,000 Missourians.

Three trustees control the settlement funds: the state of Missouri through the Department of Natural Resources, and the federal government through representatives of the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife Service. Before the trustees can spend the money, they have to create a plan that’s subject to public hearings. On September 2, the trustees held a “public” meeting – notice of which was not posted ahead of time on the DNR website.

At the meeting, the trustees revealed a plan to spend more than $20 million of the settlement “off-site,” including a substantial portion of the acquisition of land and creation of a new state park in Oregon County. The first question should be obvious: what does Oregon County have to do with this settlement?

The answer: nothing. The trustees’ presentation included a map of the affected “Southeast Missouri Lead Mining District” – and Oregon County doesn’t even appear on the map.

Indeed, the Oregon County property isn’t even in the same watershed where most of the environmental damage occurred. The Oregon County property is on the Eleven Points River, which flows south, joining the Black and Spring Rivers near Black Rock, Arkansas then the White River near Jacksonport, Arkansas. The Big River runs north, joins the Meramec and then runs into the Mississippi just south of St. Louis. The water molecules of the Big River don’t have the opportunity to interact with the water molecules of the Eleven Points in the Mississippi River until a point near Gunnison, Mississippi – two hours south of Memphis.

Public hearings and open government have multiple purposes. First, there’s the underlying democratic value of accountability. Second, public hearings are the process through which ideas can be vetted. Some ideas appear sound in the cocoon of a small group, but flaws are revealed when shared with the public.

Whosever idea it was to spend the ASARCO funds on a new state park ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. Gov. Nixon has a passion for conservation and state parks. Others have criticized his effort to build a new state park at Camp Zoe. I’m hopeful that it will become the jewel of our state park system and a tourist attraction for both Missourians and visitors from throughout the United States.

But passion also blinds. What’s obvious to outsiders is not so to those with a singular focus. I believe that’s exactly what has happened with DNR and the other trustees’ plan for the ASARCO settlement. To DNR and the trustees’ credit, they have extended the public comment period for their plan and set a  a new public hearing date. It’s expected that the Missourians whose communities ASARCO pollution actually impacted  will offer alternatives. In the great disinfectant of a public hearing, they’ll get to make their case that spending the money to clean up drinking water supplies for Missourians is more important than creating a new state park. Likewise, they’ll have the opportunity to point out that clean-up on the Big River, where the pollution actually occurred, is not only where the money allocated to the Big River sites must be spent under the settlement, but where good public policy dictates it should be spent.

On Friday, Speaker Todd Richardson appointed me chairman of a House committee to look into DNR’s ASARCO plan. I’m hopeful that we won’t even have a hearing. The buck stops at the governor’s desk. On ASARCO, Gov. Nixon has the opportunity to do the right thing: direct DNR to scrap the plan to divert money away from needs in the impacted areas. Clean drinking water is more important than a new state park.  

America: Forever the Great Hope

Last Sunday a Letter to the Editor asked how anyone could think America need to take refugees from war-torn Arab nations. It argued that such refugees should not be allowed to stay because they “won’t fight to save their own nations” and that Westerners were “dummies” to give them shelter.  

Why should America take religious and other refugees? I’ll start with the words of Ronald Reagan from his famous speech called “A Time for Choosing” in 1964. “Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee,” Reagan explained. “And in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said ‘We don’t know how lucky we are.’ And the Cuban stopped and said, ‘How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.’ And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”

Reagan ended with a famous line. “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny,” he said. “We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”

The greatest threat to freedom in 1964 was Soviet Communism. The greatest threat today is ISIS and its savage ilk who are forcing hundreds of thousands of Christians, Muslims, and others from their homes in the Middle East. These refugees have created a humanitarian crisis in Europe, and there are no easy answers.

Those who would deny refugee status to all of those fleeing ISIS bring to mind the tragic voyage of the St. Louis steamship in 1939, which carried 937 Jews fleeing Hitler across the Atlantic Ocean only to be denied entry in Havana and the United States. They left port on May 13 in Hamburg, Germany and arrived in Havana on May 27 to be turned away. After leaving Havana, the ship came so close to the U.S. that they could see the lights of Miami. Passengers on the ship begged the State Department and President Roosevelt to allow them to enter. Their requests were ignored and on June 6, the ship set sail back to Europe. Some found refuge in Great Britain and others re-settled on continental Europe. For those who disembarked on the continent, their refuge proved all too brief. Nearly half died in the Holocaust.

The St. Louis is a relative anomaly in American history. Rather than turning away the persecuted, America actually has a long history of sheltering those suffering for their religion or other status. Historically, Missouri has been more welcoming of those fleeing religious prosecution than other states – particularly mid-Missouri. The Catholics who built Westphalia, Hermann, Freeburg, and other communities in mid-Missouri were fleeing religious persecution in Germany and seeking fellow Germans in America.

And, of course, we descendants of German Catholic immigrants in mid-Missouri are the heirs of just one tiny pocket of religious exiles. In fact, the Pilgrims journeyed to Plymouth Rock precisely to flee religious persecution, and, according to the Library of Congress, early colonists fled European societies where “non-conformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics.”

Does that sound like anything happening today? It should. It’s exactly what happened to Jews in Hitler’s Germany. And it’s also what ISIS is doing.

Both Christians and Muslims are fleeing. The CBS program 60 Minutes reported in March that more than 125,000 Christians in Iraq had been expelled from their homes where they and their ancestors have lived since the first century after Christ. Imagine what fear drove those families to abandon their homes? The 60 Minutes story reported that, “for the first time in 2,000 years, there are no Christians left inside Mosul.” Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf of the Syriac Orthodox Church told Lara Logan, “They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot.”

“Just like the Nazis marked the property of the Jews,” Logan explained.. “Christian homes in Mosul have been marked with this red symbol. It’s the Arabic letter N – for Nasara – an early Islamic term for Christians. When ISIS puts it on your home, you either convert to Islam, pay an extortion tax or face the sword.”

I was amazed that last Sunday’s letter castigated the refugees for abandoning their homes and failing to fight ISIS. Does the writer really expect three year-old Aylan Kurdi and his mother to take up arms against the ISIS thugs who would, in the best case scenario, rape and enslave them?

I understand the fear associated with Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Unlike previous refugee groups, ISIS could slip members into those fleeing.  (Those who denied the Jews on the St. Louis refuge claimed it was a ship full of communists.) It’s also obvious that the United States should not have to carry the heaviest load. At some point, it’s hoped that they will be able to return to their homeland.

I know this won’t be popular in all quarters in this time where a temporarily popular presidential candidate has promised to reject all Syrian refugees without exception. But I’m not willing to abandon America’s heritage as a refuge for persecuted religious minorities. Nor will I stand silent while others advocate actions that would enable modern-day Hitlers to perpetrate another Holocaust.

There has to be an appropriate screening system in place. We have to be discerning. Our nation has the right of self-defense to turn away those who would do us harm. Further, we can’t take everyone. But to suggest that we turn our backs on all refugees, including those who can prove their innocence and good will, is both un-Christian and un-American. Those refugees (Christian and Muslim) who can pass a thorough background check should be welcome in Europe and the United States – like the Jewish passengers on the St. Louis should have been welcomed ashore when fleeing Hitler.

Reagan believed America was the last great hope for man on earth. I believe that’s still true today. If America listens to those who would completely abandon our role as the protectors of the persecuted, that last best hope on Earth will be extinguished forever. Far better to move carefully, but in the spirit of Reagan and the Pilgrims than to abandon a fundamental American value. America has always been and should forever remain a safe haven for religious refugees.

A Moving Memorial in Jefferson City

On Thursday, I was privileged to attend the opening ceremony for the Moving Wall – a replica of the Vietnam memorial – in Jefferson City. The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago, but the valor of Americans who served in our Armed Forces in the hot conflicts of the Cold War lives on. This Moving Wall is a profound reminder of the tremendous sacrifice and losses our nation shared from Vietnam. Seeing those 52,000 names etched in white is overwhelming. It’s takes your breath away to look at each name and think of them as the father or mother, sister or brother, husband or wife, son, daughter, or friend that they were. 

In listening to the speakers and the ceremony, I could not help but think of parallels to today. Vietnam was the largest, but just one of the several conflicts that comprised the Cold War – a four decade fight between those who love and cherish freedom against an ideology that would subordinate the individual to the collective mass, effectively enslaving millions of people. As Ronald Reagan would say – in the end, we won, they lost. Freedom reigned, tyranny waned.

Today, after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fight for freedom continues as ISIS and its ilk marches through the Middle East and chases moderate Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghanis from their homes and everything they know. God-less Communism has been replaced by Theocratic Terrorism as the greatest threat to freedom in the world.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were controversial like Vietnam and have caused similar American soul-searching about our nation’s role in the world. The extent of our national responsibility to fight for freedom elsewhere is a constant source of political conflict. That debate – and the freedom to have it – is part of what makes America great. We decide political differences here at the ballot box, not in show trials or gulags. The fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers memorialized on the Vietnam Wall made the ultimate sacrifice to defend that and other freedoms. These Americans deserve our eternal respect and remembrance – and the Moving Wall effectively honors their service.

Ensuring Economic Sanity in St. Louis and Kansas City

Economics 101 says when you increase the price of a product or service, fewer people will buy it. When the price goes up, demand goes down. Some people believe that this basic rule of economics doesn’t apply to workers at the lower end of the pay scale. But politicians can’t suspend the laws of gravity or economics.

Experience shows that increases in the minimum wage decrease employment – particularly large increases. Seattle offers the latest evidence. In June 2014, the Seattle City Council voted to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour in a stair-step approach. The first increase, to $11, took effect on April 1 of this year.

In a recent analysis, Prof. Mark Perry from the University of Michigan reviewed key labor measures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that Seattle restaurants  (the sector most impacted by the minimum wage) cut 1,000 jobs in May – the largest one-month decline since January 2009 and the first significant decrease since the fall of 2011. Fortunately, Seattle’s restaurant industry was isolated in this job loss. Seattle’s overall employment in May increased by 21,800 jobs or 1.2 percent. And restaurants elsewhere did not suffer. Nationally, restaurant employment increased by 1.2 percent, and in non-Seattle areas of Washington state, restaurant employment increased by 3.2 percent.

Not long after Seattle increased its minimum wage, local politicians in St. Louis and Kansas City started discussing similar ideas for our two largest cities. In St. Louis, alderman approved a stair-step increase to $11 an hour. In Kansas City, a referendum was placed on the ballot to increase the wage to $15 an hour.

House Bill 722 started as a silly, if not stupid, bill. When first passed by the House, it prohibited local governments from banning plastic bags or taxing them. I can’t remember any other time I did this, but I voted “present” on the bill when it was just the “bag bill.” Call it a protest vote. I don’t support cities banning plastic bags or taxing them. Yet, at the same time, plastic bags are not a topic worthy of two seconds of floor time in the legislature. We shouldn’t be micro-mananging municipal minutiae.

Then Senator Kehoe made the bill meaningful by adding an amendment ensuring that we have a uniform statewide minimum wage by prohibiting local governments from increasing it. Governor Nixon vetoed the bill. Last week, the legislature overrode it.

Those arguing to uphold the veto argued the bill was an improper infringement on local control, comparing the bill to the federal government placing a mandate on the states. This argument misses the critical distinction between federalism – the relationship between the federal government and the states – versus the relationship between states and municipalities.

The federal government is the creation of independent states that existed before the federal government. The federal government is one of limited powers (at least in theory, unfortunately not, it seems, in reality). Those powers were granted to the federal government by the Constitution with the individual states reserved as the building blocks of American government.

The states also created cities and other local governments. As explained by the Missouri Supreme Court, “A municipal corporation is a creature of the legislature possessing only those powers expressly granted, or those necessarily or fairly implied in or incidental to express grants.”
As a general rule, local control is better than the alternative. It’s also the most abused argument in the Capitol. (A close second: the claim that spending X amount of your tax dollars will result in X times Y in a return to taxpayers.) Local control is a value in itself, but unlike life or liberty, it’s not an overriding value. (If you think otherwise, ask yourself why we have a Bill of Rights.) In Missouri’s capitol, “local control” is most often a desperate talking point of those who hope to avoid an argument on the merits.

Local decisions are better for several obvious reasons. First, those in an affected community are in a better position to know the right policy for their community. Second, those who disagree can always “vote with their feet” if they don’t like local control decisions.

And this second decision is why HB 722 was important to people throughout Missouri. It’s one thing if municipalities make decisions that make life slightly less enjoyable for some citizens. It’s quite another for them to take actions that chase jobs out of our state – particularly when it’s the two largest cities in our state, each of which compete with neighboring states for jobs. When St. Louis and Kansas City do dumb things that cause job loss, it hurts everyone in our state. With HB 722 now law, they won’t have that power any longer on the minimum wage.

Right to Work – Freedom of Association Should Work Both Ways

The legislature overrode Gov. Nixon 10 more times this week, making him Missouri’s most overridden governor – ever.   These bills ran the political spectrum, but one that failed garnered the most attention. The effort to override Gov. Nixon’s veto of right to work legislation fell 13 votes short.

The Right to Work issue is simple to state: should Missourians have a statutory right to freedom of association regarding their employment? In right to work states, unions and employers are forbidden from forcing someone to join a union as condition of employment. 

Right to work has been an issue for decades. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act allowed states to enact laws protecting their citizens’ freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Since Taft-Hartley, twenty-five states have passed right to work laws. Seventeen states passed RTW before 1960. Three more passed it between 1963 and 1985. Then Oklahoma passed it in 2001. Indiana and Michigan passed it in 2012. And Wisconsin passed it in 2015. Missouri is nearly surrounded. Of our neighbors, all but Illinois is RTW. (Kentucky has RTW county-by-county.)

Right to Work encompasses two consistent conflicts in the capitol that range across a wide variety of issues.

First, RTW involves a clash between collectivism and individual liberty. As your state representative, my governing philosophy is always to first look at an issue from the individual’s perspective. I believe in a government of limited powers that exists principally to protect individual rights – not empower those who would force someone else to do something against their will. Rights are inherently individual. Forced collectivism destroys individual rights because it makes the individual subordinate to the group.

These individual rights are most clearly expressed in the Bill of Rights, where the First Amendment guarantees the rights to freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, to petition government, and, implicitly, freedom of association. The Bill of Rights protects us against overreaching government. Federal and state statutes make these rights stronger by applying the same principles to protect individuals against others. 

As your representative, I have consistently voted to increase or protect your individual rights against government, unions, and big business. For example, corporate welfare tax breaks erode every citizen’s right to equal treatment under the law. We shouldn’t have two tax codes – one for those wealthy and savvy enough to grease the gears of government and a separate one for small business owners and working families. I’ve consistently fought these giveaways in favor of legislation reducing the tax burden for all Missourians – including this week during veto session. 

Second, RTW is another example of an unbending rule of politics: those who enjoy legal monopoly power over others will do everything they can to keep it. When government creates any law or regime that allows an organization (public or private) to compel others to pay money or do things against their will, the monopoly organization will never give it up without a huge fight.

I can understand why union executives fear right to work. Under existing law, they can force workers in their bargaining units to pay dues they don’t want to pay. In right-to-work states, the bosses have to prove their value to all members, not just the 50 percent plus one involved in a union election.

If they only listen to their union leaders, I can understand why many union members fear RTW as well. Their bosses tell them it’s a right to work for less and claim that it will lower wages. Facts, however, are stubborn things. Yes, average wages in RTW states are lower. But the RTW states started with average wages far behind non-RTW states. More importantly, it’s undeniably true that RTW states have grown at significantly higher rates over the past 50 years than non-RTW states. That’s true not just of the overall economy of RTW states, but also of median household incomes.

The most recent evidence that right-to-work improves the economy and does not lower wages comes from Michigan and Indiana – two union strongholds that recently passed RTW. In 2012, in the run-up to their changing the law, RTW opponents followed their traditional argument, claiming it was a “right to work for less.” After decades of losing jobs, Michigan led the nation in manufacturing job growth last year – increasing total manufacturing jobs by 4 percent in a single year, more than triple the national average. Indiana enjoyed similar success – increasing manufacturing jobs by 3.1 percent, making it third in the nation. (Second place? Wyoming, yet another RTW state.) Meanwhile, there is no evidence that wages decreased in Michigan or Indiana after RTW passed.  

Defending individual liberty is an American virtue. If freedom of association means anything, it must mean that workers have the ability to organize without interference from their employer or any other third-party. The right to organize is a hallmark of free society. But it must also mean that employees who don’t want to join should not be forced. Freedom of association is, necessarily, a two-way street. The RTW proposal we voted on this week is balanced. It also prohibits employers from conditioning employment on an employee refraining from becoming a member of a labor organization. It enforces the prohibition under state law by making it a misdemeanor and creating a cause-of-action to enforce it.

Right to work is not going away. Its short-term fate in Missouri likely hinges on next year’s gubernatorial election. 

Trump v. Hillary – Now Not Later

You may have missed amidst all the other bluster coming from his mouth, but Donald Trump made the following claim, “You know a lot of the gangs that you see in Baltimore and in St. Louis and Ferguson and Chicago, do you know they’re illegal immigrants? They’re here illegally. And they’re rough dudes. Rough people.”

Has Donald Trump ever been to Ferguson or St. Louis? Ferguson is 1.2 percent Latino, less than half of Missouri’s total average of 3.9 percent. When a candidate says something that is so demonstrably false on its face, it ought to call into question nearly everything else they say. How much other stuff is he just making up?

This week Trump stumbled on foreign policy questions in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Asked whether he could identify leaders of anti-American organizations like Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and ISIS, Trump was stumped.

Trump’s response followed his typical script – kind of. He started by admitting he didn’t know what he was talking about (that was the unusual part). Then he blustered, “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.”  The next day he launched into a personal attack on the questioner, calling him a “third-rate radio announcer” and denouncing the “gotcha” questions.

Sorry Donald, but if you want to be commander in chief, you should know your enemies. And just proclaiming you’ll be “so good at the military” isn’t the same thing as having an actual plan or idea on foreign policy. 

I’ve been searching for a historical precedent for Trump for the past month or so and just can’t come up with one from the United States. Silvio Berlusconi, media tycoon and former three-time Prime Minister of Italy, is the closest real-world example. But, of course, he’s from Italy, where in the 2013 election there were at least 13 political parties. 

The best American precedent comes not from real life but the fiction of Missouri’s own Mark Twain. Trump reminds me of the Duke and the King, con men who join with Huck and Jim for a few days on their trip down the Mississippi. They end up tarred and feathered when angry townspeople realize they’re frauds.

Will the same thing become Trump? Not literally, but eventually the Republican electorate is going to realize who he really is. After bearing months of Trump’s personal attacks, Jeb Bush finally decided to counter punch this week. His campaign released a web ad about Trump that in a traditional race would be devastating. It showed the Donald / Duke, in his own words, defending or advocating for partial birth abortion, single-payer health care systems, substantial tax hikes, Obama’s failed stimulus, and Hillary Clinton. Unless he reverses these positions, he should run against Hillary, in the primary. 

Gov. Nixon Tries to Move the Goalposts

When we first sued to stop Gov. Nixon’s illegal stadium scheme, he told reporters he didn’t have time to worry about “five or six legislators.” When he said, Nixon knew that Sen. Schaaf, myself, and the others did not represent a minority of legislators, but an overwhelming majority. Since that first series of articles, several other key legislators have spoken out against Gov. Nixon, including the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of both the House and Senate budget committees. There are also enough stalwart senators who have pledged a filibuster that there is zero chance next year’s budget will include money for Nixon’s scheme. 

So what does a governor do when the opposition is marching the ball down the field? Move the goalposts. 

His new line on last year’s budget. “They had language that would have limited this,” Nixon said. “And after discussing it, they took that language off.” 

This seems to suggest that the legislature either voted to appropriate money for Nixon’s plan or kept language in the budget that was sufficiently vague to be interpreted to allow him to spend taxpayer money. 

Unfortunately for Gov. Nixon, the actual budget bills are online for the public to read. In particular, section 5.215 of House Bill 5 appropriates $12 million from general revenue “for debt service and maintenance on the Edward Jones Dome project in St. Louis.” There is no money appropriated anywhere in the budget that an honest person could rationally argue was intended for a new stadium. 

Here, Nixon is a poor man’s  Donald Trump. If you just say it loudly enough, someone will believe you. Nixon is wrong to think he’s going to bully anyone into following him down this path of new stadium debt – and he knows it. 

Just this week, Sen. Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) promised to work to put stadium funding to a statewide vote next November. Nevermind for a moment  that the project is premised on  illegal financing for an illegal location. Gov. Nixon’s authority to sign any long-term obligation is limited by the Constitution. He cannot bind the legislature to appropriations. Instead, he can only sign an agreement that would purport to bind his and future gubernatorial administrations to requesting appropriations for a project. In plain English, Gov. Nixon does not have the power to appropriate your tax dollars. Much as Gov. Nixon would like to be king, the power to appropriate is exclusively a legislative power.  

Sen. Silvey’s proposal punches the bully in the nose. While Nixon may believe the legislature two years from now will blink, he has to know the people of this state will not authorize their tax dollars to build a stadium for a billionaire. There’s a great chance Sen. Silvey’s proposal will be headed to your ballot next November.

Nixon’s Notes are Worthless

NFL owners met in Chicago two weeks ago  to discuss Los Angeles. Owners competing to move to the nation’s second-largest media market presented their plans. No decisions were made, but a few things became clear. “We need certainty to any proposal,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “That’s one of the things we’re focused on.” NFL VP Eric Grubman told the Post-Dispatch that Gov. Nixon’s proposal has “made consistent progress” but that “risks remain” including “a litigation threat.”

This week I want to explain exactly what’s happening with Nixon’s convoluted scheme. This week may have marked the beginning of the end for his plan. Nevertheless, the game he’s playing with your money continues in at least five different forums and with dozens of participants: the NFL, Rams’ ownership, our state’s court system, the legislature, the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, the Missouri Development Finance Board, and his own two-man task force.

The same week as the NFL hearings, Judge Beetem dismissed Gov. Nixon from the stadium lawsuit I filed with five other legislators here in Cole County.  It doesn’t do anything to help Gov. Nixon. In a sideways legal strategy, Gov. Nixon refused to litigate on the merits. Instead, he instructed his lawyers to argue that he hadn’t taken any legally actionable steps to merit a lawsuit. Forget what Gov. Nixon has said for seven months, his lawyers argued, Missouri taxpayers can’t sue to stop him until he takes the final step of signing a document purporting to commit them to 30 years of debt.

Rather than achieve certainty with his actions, Nixon has only delayed it. For his stadium plan to proceed, he must eventually sign a Project Financing agreement similar to the one Gov. Ashcroft signed in 1991 for the first stadium – which the General Assembly approved. On signing that document, Nixon will create the standing necessary for litigation on the merits to proceed — and, then, the same suit will be filed against him.  Meanwhile, litigation continues in St. Louis against the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Development Finance Board approved $15 million in tax credits for the new stadium. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder mounted a vigorous defense of Missouri taxpayers but was the only no vote on the Board. To the Board’s credit, the credits are contingent on the NFL’s agreement to keep a team in St. Louis and the signing of a 30 year lease with an NFL owner to keep their team in the new stadium. (Also to the Board’s credit, they allowed me to testify in opposition to the proposal at the hearing.)

Gov. Nixon’s insistence on proceeding with tax credits has compounded the uncertainty for his project. Under the current financing agreement, the state pays $12 million per year to the RCSCA for debt and maintenance on the existing dome. The debt will be satisfied in 2024. Gov. Nixon’s not-so-secret financing plan would have the RCSCA roll the existing debt into a new bond issue that provides new debt for construction of a new stadium.

To put the legislature in a trick box, Nixon’s plan is for the annual payment to remain $12 million. If he could pull that off, Nixon believes he can force the legislature into a heads-he-wins, tails-taxpayers-lose situation. If the legislature zeroes out the existing payment of $12 million, Nixon will argue that the legislature has a responsibility to pay it. Attorney General Chris Koster has said the state is not legally obligated to appropriate those funds. However, Nixon will argue that zeroing out the existing payment will risk the state’s credit rating and cost more money than to just pay it. Conversely, if the legislature appropriates $12 million for the combined old and new debt, Nixon will claim the legislature has approved the new stadium.

On Monday, state Sen. Rob Schaaf sent a letter to Nixon and a warning to anyone contemplating selling or buying the Nixon-backed bonds. “To give Gov. Nixon and the RCSCA fair warning,” Schaaf declared, I will do everything in my power to prevent appropriations for payments on bonds that include any funding for a second St. Louis football stadium.”

In response Gov. Nixon claimed it was just “a couple of legislators” and that “there’s a whole lot of legislators.” He’s right about one thing. There are a whole lot of legislators – the vast majority of whom are vehemently opposed to his plan to add 30 years of debt without a vote of the legislature. Senator Schaaf has since been joined by Sens. Ed Emery and Bob Onder. They will soon be joined by several more in the Senate and by dozens in the House before session starts again in January. And those are just the legislators who have opined in writing. Based on dozens of conversations I’ve had with legislators, I am confident that a super-majority of legislators oppose Nixon’s plan. However, even with just those three senators, that promised filibuster cannot be broken. Ask anyone who knows how the Senate operates.

The late Tom Schweich said there were two types of corruption in politics. The first is the straight-forward bribe. It’s rare. The second type he described as the short-circuiting of the ordinary political process by those with power and money – whether politicians, donors, or political insiders. Gov. Nixon’s stadium scheme is the worst and biggest example of type-two corruption in Missouri in at least a decade. He put together a scheme to avoid Sunshine Laws, avoid public votes, and avoid legal oversight as long as possible in the hopes that he could spend enough money to intimidate the legislature into backing down and put additional pressure on judges determining the legality of his financing plan. His theory is that if he just starts spending it, no one will have the guts to stop him.

There are right and wrong ways to change policy in a democracy. As bad as welfare for NFL billionaires is as public policy, Nixon’s type-two corruption to make it happen is even more troubling. With his no vote this week, Lt. Gov. Kinder pointed out that, if Nixon’s corrupt scheme would have worked out as planned, Kinder might have been the only person accountable to voters who ever had to make a decision on whether to bind them to 30 years of debt. Regardless of what you believe about stadium funding, everyone should agree that Nixon’s scheme is not how government should work in our state or country.

For Rams fans, the worst part is that Gov. Nixon had time last session to make an effort to get legislative approval. In an act of hubris, Nixon opted to try an end-run around the legislature. If he had tried the good government route, he would have had a fighting chance. Now, there is none.

Here’s where we stand: the NFL says it must have certainty in its efforts to strong-arm St. Louis and other communities into building stadiums for billionaires. But, as the NFL has noted, there’s “a litigation risk” – and it’s not going away until Nixon submits to litigation on the merits. Just as important, there’s more than an “appropriations risk” – there’s an absolute certainty that the legislature will not appropriate funds for a new stadium.

Gov. Nixon can whistle and pretend as if the deal is locked and loaded.  He can tell the NFL it’s just a few legislators who oppose long-term debt to pay for a football stadium. But NFL and bond buyers beware: Gov. Nixon is the most veto over-ridden governor in the history of our state. He has close to zero influence on what the legislature does. He does not know what legislators think because he doesn’t bother to speak with any. The legislature opposes the project and will not blink.

Nixon’s notes aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

How Long Can Donald Trump Last?

The presidential primaries have long been a place where the nearly famous or longshots can grab the spotlight early in the process. Michelle Bachman led in Iowa at one point. Herman Cain surged to a lead on the basis of a good pizza ad – remember 9-9-9?

This cycle’s unexpected contender is both famous and was a longshot. His favorite word is “I.” He has a tendency to exaggerate. He’s a world-class salesman.

He has the political world up-in-arms. The other candidates don’t know how to respond. One political adviser said preparing for a debate for him was like “a NASCAR driver mentally preparing for a race knowing one of the drivers will be drunk.”

Forget his tendency toward boorishness. Donald Trump is not a conservative and may not really be a Republican. He’s pro-choice. He’s anti-Second Amendment. He’s long been an advocate for socialized medicine. He once proposed a 14.25 percent “net worth tax” on everyone with assets in excess of $10 million. In an interview this week with Sean Hannity, he let slip he was for a progressive, graduated income tax (like we have now) and thus, necessarily, against a flat or fair tax. He supports the use of eminent domain to take middle-class homes for economic development purposes. He supports a path to legalization for illegal immigrants. He supported the Wall Street bailouts. He has consistently opposed free trade agreements. His business has routinely relied on government subsidies plus four bankruptcies. And, oh, there’s that small thing of his refusal in the first debate to say he’d support the Republican candidate for president if it wasn’t him.

None of these policy positions, standing alone, should completely disqualify him with Republican voters. Some are worse than others. Nevertheless, parties interested in winning general elections should not demand lockstep conformity on every single issue.

But Trump is not merely a one-off candidate. Collectively, he’s an all-off candidate. If you take his past statements at face value, Trump is just about as far to the left as Bernie Sanders.  He trends more liberal than Hillary Clinton – to whom he has donated several times in the past. Any other candidate with his history on the issues would have been ram-rodded out of contention the day they announced. Heck, Jeb Bush has one of, if not the most conservative record of any governor of a big state in 20 years and he’s been called, among many other things, a RINO.

So how is Trump not just hanging around but soaring in the polls? I think he has struck a nerve with Americans exhausted by political correctness and politicians who do not deliver as promised, but instead offer excuses and confused messages to avoid taking a real stand on anything. Donald Trump does not pause to ask a pollster what he should say next or ask a focus group what they think about his hideous hair. Americans crave authenticity. Trump loves bling and bluster, things that are not authentic, but he’s also unafraid to speak his mind – and with conviction, even if his professed convictions change frequently.

Would it work for another presidential candidate? Not if they tried to be The Donald 2.0. (Insulting women is not a good long-term campaign strategy.) However, it would help anyone if they dropped the script, looked away from the teleprompter, and at least tried to speak from the heart.

Some candidates appear much more authentic than others. John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee are the best in the field at this. Perhaps coincidentally (or not), none of them are likely to win. The others seem more wooden. Jeb Bush looked like he didn’t want to be there last week. Scott Walker seemed to have a set of talking points in his head that he’d been coached to spit out. Ted Cruz is our best debater, but his answers feel a bit contrived – that this is a big show and he knows he’s the best actor on the stage.

I believe there are many good Republican candidates for president. At this point, I’m way too picky. I found myself dismissing one candidate during the debate because he refused to smile. I’m doubting another because of a third-tier policy issue that I really have no good reason to care that much about.

Rubio undoubtedly has the most charisma. He smiles and looks like he actually enjoys being there. He’s our latest Happy Warrior. He’s nearly Cruz’s equal in technical debate and mastery of the issues. Yet, unlike Trump, Cruz, or Bush, he really has lived a regular life. There’s nothing elitist about him. The New York Times launched a hit on him this summer because he has struggled financially.If I had to vote today, it would be for Rubio.

Yet seventeen candidates remain in the race. That’s too many for proper focus. Debates don’t work when there are so many candidates that the cameraman has a difficult time getting them all on screen. This field needs to be winnowed to six or seven – and for me, the quicker the better.

Can Trump win the Republican nomination? I highly doubt it. At some point voters are going to take a hard look at the candidates’ actual positions and histories on the relevant issues. I find it hard to believe that a candidate who has been a liberal on nearly every big issue can win the nod, no matter how authentic voters find them. What I don’t doubt is that electing a Republican president will be the last chance we have to reverse eight years of damaging policies wrought by the Obama administration.

Addendum: No matter what happens. Trump’s campaign should always be honored for creating the greatest hat in the history of presidential campaigns.

How to Fight Prescription Drug Abuse Without Violating Privacy Rights of Innocent Missourians

The legislature may take an annual seven month break, but the effort to put your prescription drug use into a government database continues.. Over the past month, proponents of a prescription drug monitoring program for Missouri have been busy pressing the issue with the media. They’ve garnered positive press in many outlets – including the News Tribune.

The tracking advocates argue that the legislature’s failure to mandate that the government track every citizen’s prescription drug purchase and put them in a database is creating a growing heroin problem. Their logic: 75 percent of new heroin users first become hooked on prescription drugs. If Missouri could track every person’s use of prescription narcotics, they argue we could dramatically reduce drug abuse.

Of course, in order to do so, the trackers first need first to put the medical records of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Missourians, into a government database. To protect others the trackers want to create a state-wide dragnet. They seek to invade your privacy – even though you have done nothing wrong. Taking a legal prescription does not create any reasonable suspicion that you’re a drug abuser, nor should it, the overwhelming majority of Missourians do not abuse prescription drugs.  

Proponents seek to create enough momentum outside of session to create a “mission accomplished” feeling by the time session starts. They will not succeed. 

Dragnets are un-American – even when proponents seek to create them for a just cause. Those opposing   the government tracking program, myself and Rep. Keith Frederick (R-Rolla) included, will not go quietly next session if the tracking advocates try the same old thing.We will never go quietly. On the other side of the building, Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) will have to be run over before a bill passes to create a dragnet.

But don’t mistake opposition to a dragnet as opposition to everything. There is real room here for a creative compromise. Next session, I hope to help pass legislation that creates a drug abuser registry. Rather than putting every prescription drug purchase into the government system, the state would instead create a registry of Missourians who are known narcotics abusers. There could be four ways to be placed in the registry.

First, any person convicted of a drug crime or a crime in which a court finds that they were under the influence of drugs or influenced by drugs at the time it was committed would be placed on the registry. Second, any person involved in a civil lawsuit where drug abuse was an issue and they were found to be a drug abuser could be placed in the registry at the judge or administrative hearing officer’s discretion. Third, a person could be placed on the registry after a hearing if they are reported through a sworn affidavit signed by a family or household member. (To guard against abuse, there must be serious consequences for false reports.) Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, a person could place themselves on the list.

The state could make this list accessible to health care providers writing and filling narcotic prescriptions. If a provider suspected a patient may be an abuser, they could type the suspected patient’s name into the system, along with another personal identifier, and would be informed whether they were in the database. At that point, the provider could determine how to proceed, but would need to document any prescription authorized. (In no circumstance should the registry be available to law enforcement or any other person to use in a legal proceeding. It would be terrible policy to allow a person’s decision to put their name in the registry to be used against them somewhere else.)

This type of system will identify those most likely to need help. Most people with serious drug problems make an effort at some point to get clean or have someone around them who tries to turn their life around. Many times they fail. That’s the nature of addiction. They promise one afternoon to go to rehab, and then they conveniently disappear before everything is packed up and ready to go. With a registry in place, however, they have been flagged. The next time a provider suspects them of being an abuser, the provider will have a way to check.

This system is similar to Missouri’s gambling addiction registry. As with prescription drugs, a small percentage of gamblers in Missouri are addicts who endanger their own and their families’ financial future with their habits. Missouri has a Problem Gamblers’ List that bans people who put their own names on the list from entering Missouri casinos.

What would the public reaction be, however, if a group proposed creating a government database of every transaction that every visitor to a Missouri casino made? My bet is that you and just about everyone you know would be appalled. Why should innocent people have their legal activity tracked when they’ve done nothing wrong? And yet, the government tracking advocates propose the very same thing without batting an eye.

I refuse to believe that privacy is dead, and I’m confident we can pass legislation to fight prescription drug addiction without violating the privacy of millions of Missourians.