When discussing democracy, it is often referred to in the national or international sense, more specifically, in the notion of an entire governmental system. The theory of democracy brings about questions like, who is a democracy and who is not? What exactly constitutes a democracy? Are there degrees of democracy, does it require a litmus test, etc? And so forth. However, the recent (and not so recent) actions of a state’s political actors bring these questions to a magnified perspective. With Missouri legislators working hard to overturn, appeal, amend or undermine amendments and propositions passed by Missourians last fall, are these legislators considered guardians of democracy or the state’s master manipulators in democratic backsliding? I argue the latter.
- Constitutional Amendment 1 was a lobbying, campaign finance, and redistricting initiative, specifically focusing on the issue of ethics as it called for a state demographer and restrictions on campaign finance and lobbying gifts. Furthermore, this amendment called for more transparency from state officials with the last line of the text stating, “this amendment further requires all legislative records and proceedings to be subject to the state open meetings and records law (Missouri Sunshine Law).” This amendment passed with 62% approval from Missourians, totaling at 1,469,093 votes for it.
- Proposition B, was a $12 Minimum Wage Initiative through a state statute that included a wage hike over time with 2023 being the year the state reached the $12 minimum. This proposition passed with 62% of the state’s approval, totaling at 1,499,002 votes for it.
Legislation that Repeals What 1.4 Million Missourians Voted For
With Missouri’s predominately Republican legislative body in session right now, legislators are busy submitting their Senate and House bills by the deadline of March 1st. Are any of these new bills a threat to democracy? Well, since the opening of session, specific legislators have introduced legislation that would either repeal or amend the very changes that over 1.4 million Missourians voted for and expressed as the people’s will last fall. As talk about making changes reached the public, Nicholson, the campaign manager for Amendment 1, cautioned that, “I think the governor and all the legislators who are thinking about undoing the will of the voters should look long and hard at the numbers and think about the message voters are trying to send.”
House Bill 348, Roll Back of Constitutional Constraint
These master manipulators did not take that advice, perhaps they felt the warning Rousseau put forth that while the general will is always upright, “the judgement which guides it is not always enlightened.” Evident in the fact that they have started with correcting the call for transparency in our state’s capital, by the introduction of a new section to the Missouri Sunshine Law. This addition to the law, submitted by Representative Nick Shroer (R-O’Fallon) in HB 348, states “pretty much any communication with a state legislator would become none of the public’s business, unless that legislator thinks so,” as Hartmann (2019) of the River Front Times claims. To promote a bill that reduces public oversight and a political actor’s answerability, or as Lust & Waldner (2015) put it, “the obligation of public officials to provide information about their activities and to justify them; to offer both facts and explanations” furthers this Missouri legislator’s lack of accountability and his contribution to our state’s democratic backsliding. Although a subtle change in legislation, in the new era of authoritarianism crumbling democracy from within by legislative or constitutional changes as argued by scholars like Scheppele (2013), and Levitsky & Ziblatt (2018), this should not be taken lightly for it could very well be the primary foundation to a less democratic state.
House Bill 858, The Continued War on Minimum Wage
Furthermore, another legislator felt compelled to “correct” the will of the people by introducing a bill that all together repeals the entire proposition approved on minimum wage. This is not the first war on the minimum wage increase, as Republican legislators overturned an initiative that had passed in 2015 that raised St. Louis City’s minimum wage to $11, in 2017. Representative Ross submitted HB 858 this session, which completely omits the entire Proposition B language that was added. One could easily argue that since this is not the first time that a minimum wage initiative was overturned, that perhaps this is just the gears of democracy cranking and our checks and balances are working. However, with 826,358 Missourian’s living in poverty – with one of the main contributions being low-wage jobs – why are legislators ignoring the cry for help by their constituents? This decrease in accountability can easily be attributed to, the backsliding alluded to by Lust & Waldner (2015), that “occurs when political participation is narrowed, equal access is withdrawn, collective control over the government’s resources and activities is reduced, and its arbitrary power increases.” Simply put, Missourian’s voice on their resources is continuously being overshadowed by those they elected into office, and thus their political participation is nulled, a symptom of declining democracy.
Lack of Accountability and Transparency, What’s Next?
Only a surface level investigation on the dismantling of the will of the people by Missouri political actors has been argued here. However, given the fact that these political actors have gone against the wants of the people time and time again does not warrant any such title in favor of democracy. Instead, it allows for the conclusion to be made that Missouri legislators lack of accountability and refusal to meet the needs of their constituents is increasing government corruption and adding to our nation’s democratic backsliding. When a public demands transparency and is met with disregard, it is safe to say that given the nature of its political actors and their actions, Missouri is the next piece in Donald Trump’s Frankenstate.
Photo by Christian Gooden, firstname.lastname@example.org