- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 27

Holy chutzpah: St. Louis takes on gay marriage ban:

Tears flowed. Blessings were proffered. There were tuxedos and white dresses; bow ties and cummerbunds. But when the four distinct ceremonies ended Wednesday night in the office of Mayor Francis Slay, one thing was the same:

With kisses and embraces, four St. Louis same-sex couples had vacated their seats on the back of the marriage bus and made history.

In private, sworn to secrecy beforehand, they were married, two by a judge, one by a minister, another by an enthusiastic rabbi.

“Holy chutzpah,” declared Rabbi Susan Talve as she married Bruce Yampolsky and Terry Garrett, two native St. Louisans and military veterans who have been together for 30 years. They were the last of the four couples to get married, breaking a barrier in Missouri never before crossed. They followed John Durnell and Richard Eaton, partners for 30 years; Tod Martin and David Gray, who got engaged June 26, 2013, the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which has spurred a rush of legalized same-sex marriage across the country; and Miranda Duschack and Karen “Mimo” Davis, who wore white lace gowns to commemorate their historic day.

Earlier in the day, Recorder of Deeds Sharon Quigley Carpenter, relying on legal advice she had requested from former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mike Wolff, now the dean of the St. Louis University Law School, issued marriage licenses to the four couples, making them civil rights pioneers in a state that was the first in the nation to have both statutory and constitutional prohibitions against same-sex marriage.

On the morning of their wedding day, two different federal courts struck down similar discriminatory bans in Utah and Indiana. The Utah ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, is particularly significant in that it directly applies the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act to states that ban same-sex marriage.

“A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union,” wrote Circuit Judge Carlos F. Lucero in the Utah case.

Ms. Carpenter, who was urged on by Mr. Slay, came to the same conclusion in agreeing to defy Missouri’s ban. The mayor, who counts three openly gay or lesbian siblings among his 10 brothers and sisters - including a brother who married his partner in New York recently - took on the role of wedding planner. He was directly challenging Missouri’s constitutional ban against gay marriage.

The smiles, the love and the freedom that filled his office Wednesday night was a testimony to an adroit political calculation and the moral imperative to simply get the government out of the discrimination business.

“People shouldn’t be discriminated against because of who they love,” Mr. Slay said in an interview.

Wednesday night was about love and freedom.

“Take a deep breath,” advised the Rev. Wes Mullins of the Metropolitan Community Church, as he made Mr. Durnell and Mr. Eaton the first gay couple to have their wedding legally performed in Missouri. “Breathe in the new freedoms that we unleash here tonight. In this moment we stake our claim and proclaim our right that all types of love are blessed by God and, we trust very soon, recognized by all the people of Missouri.”

Now the politics take over.

Thursday morning, because legally he has few other choices, Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, sought a temporary restraining order to bar the city from issuing any further same-sex marriage licenses. Mr. Slay and Ms. Carpenter had already informally agreed to stop issuing such licenses, hoping this case will head quickly to the state’s top court. The Missouri Supreme Court hopefully will do what every other court in the nation has done since the DOMA decision: Rule that state-sanctioned discrimination is a direct violation of the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.

Since that decision a year ago overturning sanctioned federal government discrimination against gays and lesbians, 15 federal judges and Supreme Courts in several states have reached the same conclusion. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently recognize the rights of gays to marry. Missouri should soon join border states Iowa and Illinois and stand for freedom.

Here’s our suggestion for Mr. Koster as he fights for a constitutional ban he personally opposes: Find an intern, maybe a recent law school graduate who barely passed the bar, and give him the case. Better yet, ask state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who wants to be the next attorney general, to handle it. Let him explain to his gay and lesbian law partners at Lathrop & Gage why he believes they shouldn’t be married.

Or maybe ask putative GOP gubernatorial candidates Catherine Hanaway and Tom Schweich, the state auditor, to arm-wrestle over the case. They, too, have worked for big-city law firms with partners and associates who are gay. The firms, like most St. Louis businesses, have anti-discrimination practices in place because they are light years ahead of the state’s broken political system. Why? It’s good business. Top talent isn’t always straight.

Here’s what would be truly just: Mr. Schweich, Ms. Hanaway and Mr. Schaefer should join the growing number of Republicans who recognize, and will admit publicly, that their party’s platform against gay marriage is both unconstitutional and politically unwise.

The government’s role in denying equal rights to our neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens who happen to be gay or lesbian must come to an end.

It’s worth noting that the four weddings performed Wednesday in St. Louis each had a different feel to them. This is true of all marriages, performed by all variety of faith traditions in our country. No court decision getting the government out of the discrimination business is going to have an effect on the religious traditions in those faiths that don’t recognize the legitimacy of gay marriage, or gay clergy, for instance. The issue with same-sex marriage is simply one of civil rights.

In standing up for the 14th Amendment the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t erase the First. It strengthened it. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taught us, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

On Wednesday night in St. Louis, that arc was the color of a rainbow, and it lighted the way forward to the day when the state of Missouri will rid its constitution of words meant solely to make one class of people less than their neighbors.


Columbia Daily Tribune, June 27

Budget fight:

If you have been on vacation in Ukraine, you might have missed the Titanic struggle between General Assembly Republicans and Gov. Jay Nixon over how to generate and spend state revenue.

Thrusting the issue squarely in the governor’s face, lawmakers in the final weeks of their recently expired session enacted a flurry of hastily presented tax exemptions they say are necessary to provide economic stimulus. Nixon cites a “breakdown” in the budget process. Republicans say the governor failed to work with them to craft the budget, so they had to go it alone. Nixon says Republicans went crazy with tax cuts and adopted an out-of-balance plan.

At the end of this frustrating exchange, the tax cuts were excessive and the governor withheld enough money to compensate - and then some. The two sides sneer at each other across the political dividing line.

This squabble has several aspects. Both sides overestimated the amount of revenue that would become available. Lawmakers and the governor struggled over who would have leverage over making spending cuts in case revenue fell short.

In this pushing match, the governor has a natural advantage, particularly when opponent lawmakers enact an array of odd late-inning tax cuts, in this case giving Nixon the opportunity to make $786.2 million in vetoed and withheld spending in case, he says, the legislature overrides his spending restrictions. Talk about leverage.

The governor already has made his priority mark by vetoing some spending and simply withholding other items that could be readily reinstated later. He said money for public lower and higher education would top the list.

So as lawmakers anticipate the veto override session in September, they are faced with a frightening unknown. Many favored projects are on the hit list depending on the governor’s final choice. They surely thought their budget-busting list of special-interest tax cuts would pressure Nixon to make unpopular moves, but now who knows which side suffers most politically.

Maybe most Republicans were making the vague point articulated by Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia, who supported all 10 tax cuts: “I think that the citizens of Missouri are best served by keeping as much money in their pockets as possible and keeping as much money as possible out of the pockets of government.”

This theme has become a mantra for the GOP, but it becomes mushy in the current budget argument, mainly because nobody can credibly argue Missouri is given to budget excesses. We are not Illinois or California. We are the Show-Me State, famously trapped or blessed in parsimony, notoriously a low-tax, low-spend state. Our credit rating is strong, but coupled with the effects of the recent recession general revenue accounts at all levels of government are tight, including funding for schools, parks, transportation, law enforcement and a host of other important public functions.

So Nixon rather successfully put the hard choice on the table: Shall we have money for his range of coveted categories or tax breaks for a utility company, a fast-food restaurant and a dry cleaner, to use the governor’s selective illustrations?

As Republican lawmakers gather in Jefferson City for the veto session, they are in a spot. They will make veto override choices on each of their 10 tax cut decisions. I’ll give 8-to-5 odds they let the vetoes stand on them all, but then the governor will have remaining choices to make because he still won’t have enough money to go around. Most of the shortfall comes from overestimating normal state revenue, meaning a number of belts will have to be tightened even if the tax cuts are avoided.



Jefferson City News Tribune, June 27

GOP raises childish bickering to new heights:

Oh, yeah! Well, I’ll show you.

In response to Gov. Jay Nixon’s cuts to GOP spending, Republican lawmakers are seeking flight restrictions for the Democratic chief executive.

When we wrote previously in this forum - “In response to the governor’s actions, expect GOP outrage, not surrender” - we didn’t expect the outrage to be so swift, or so petty.

What Missourians need is an adult discussion on sensible state spending; what we are getting is childish bickering.

Republicans didn’t attempt to shield their motivation for seeking to limit Nixon’s use of state airplanes.

Twin news releases from both the Senate and House began: “Missouri legislators are asking certain state departments to look at cutting waste after the governor’s actions this week on the state budget.”

The governor’s actions, our readers will recall, include $1.1 billion in spending cuts to initiatives approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The new releases quote Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Shaefer, R-Columbia, saying: “While he (Nixon) continues to cut services for some of our most needy and education, he flies around in his state-of-art $6 million plane using state money to pay for the expense of pilots, maintenance, fuel, and other associated travel costs.”

Nixon’s use of state aircraft is a legitimate issue - an issue first raised years ago.

Reintroducing it now only raises the stakes in a confrontation; it does nothing to facilitate conciliation.

Partisan politics is confrontational. We don’t mean to suggest otherwise.

But when confrontation moves beyond political issues and becomes personal, the process suffers.

Our intent here is not to scold members of the state’s executive and legislative branches.

But Missourians, who may support or oppose specific policies, are becoming disenchanted with, and damaged by, a political process in disarray.

Partisans have dug in with a win-at-all-costs mentality. We encourage someone in government to rise above the fray and restore a mature, responsible discussion on state spending before the people lose all confidence.


The Kansas City Star, June 30

Missouri voters should scratch lottery plan:

A question on Missouri’s Aug. 5 ballot would extend the state lottery to include a new scratch-off ticket to raise money for homes for elderly and disabled veterans, and for maintenance of veterans cemeteries.

The cause is good, but the funding method is flawed. Voters should say “no.”

The back story of Constitutional Amendment 8 demonstrates the folly of relying on gambling revenues to fund essential state services.

In 2012, the trust fund for veterans homes was so depleted lawmakers returned a portion of casino admission fees to veterans programs. Those fees had been used before to fund the seven state-run veterans homes, but in 1998 some of the money had been diverted into early childhood education.

When they returned the admission fee proceeds to the veterans, the General Assembly and Gov. Jay Nixon dipped into funds the state receives from a legal settlement with tobacco companies to fund early childhood education. But that meant a loss of money for smoking prevention and cessation and public health, which are supposed to be financed from the tobacco settlement.

And, of course, lawmakers have used the admission fee revenues as a rationale for allocating less money from the general fund to veterans’ nursing homes, cemeteries and outreach programs.

The entire picture is messed up. Missouri has a responsibility to properly fund services for veterans and also to prepare children for a bright future. It shouldn’t be placing good causes into competition with one another for gambling funds.

Creating a new lottery ticket for veterans may siphon money from elementary and secondary education, which currently receives lottery money. It would almost certainly encourage lawmakers to shortchange the veterans in their annual budgets.

Missouri legislators should stop giving tax breaks and favors to businesses and special interests and fully fund its veterans homes, schools and other essential services. A “no” vote on Aug. 5 would send that message quite effectively.

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