- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Joplin Globe, Nov. 6

Waiting for the ‘work’:

Tuesday’s midterm election brought about a resounding change of leadership in Washington. Republicans now hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, something that hasn’t happened since 2006.

We thought you might be interested in the similarities in the statements issued Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning by Missouri’s senators, as well as the thoughts of Southwest Missouri’s Billy Long, who was elected on Tuesday to his third term in the House.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, issued this statement: “These election results will change the power balance in Congress - but one thing that remains the same is my commitment to work with all of my colleagues, Republican and Democratic, to forge bipartisan compromise, achieve results for Missouri, and strengthen accountability in our government. … Now let’s get to work.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, made this statement about the election results: “It’s time for Washington to get back to the people’s work, and a change in Senate leadership will create a greater opportunity to get things done. I’m honored to work for Missourians in the new Senate majority, and I will keep fighting every day to ensure their voices are heard in Washington.”

And Long, a Springfield Republican representing Southwest Missouri’s 7th Congressional District, was quoted in an interview as saying, “The people want us to work together. Now we get to govern. We don’t need to gloat and we don’t need to spike the football.”

Notice how the word “work” was used by each of the legislators.

A disenchanted public appears to hold out hope that by changing party leadership, gridlock will be broken and work will be done. Truth is, work shouldn’t have to wait until one party holds the majority in both the House and the Senate.

Only 35.25 percent of Missourians showed up Tuesday at the polls. Clearly there’s some work that needs to be done by the electorate as well as the politicians, and that includes getting involved in the process.

Our political leaders’ work only means something if it is done for their constituents and their country.

With that in mind, let the work begin.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 6

Wave of fear and grumpiness carries GOP to big victories:

If you liked the Gilded Age, you’re going to love what comes out of the U.S. Congress in the next two years.

If you liked the tax cuts for the wealthy, the pro-gun laws and restrictions on women’s rights that came out of the Missouri Legislature in the past two years, you’re going to like what it has in store for you next.

The red wave that rolled across the country in Tuesday’s election washed control of the U.S. Senate from Democratic hands, solidified Republican control of the U.S. House and raised the Republicans’ veto-proof majorities in the Missouri Legislature to near-record levels.

This year the Legislature managed to override about a third of the 33 bills that Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed, plus most of the governor’s line-item vetoes of special spending items. With 118 of the 163 House seats and 25 of the 34 Senate seats now in GOP control, Mr. Nixon’s check on the craziness that sometimes comes out of the Legislature is diminished. …

The wave was almost big enough to carry state Rep. Rick Stream of Kirkwood into the St. Louis County executive’s office. In a county that gave President Barack Obama 56 percent of the vote in 2012, Democrat Steve Stenger only managed 47.7 percent in 2014. Mr. Stream got 47.1 percent, losing by 1,768 votes. Call the new executive Steve “Point-Six” Stenger. Had two third-party candidates, one a conservative and the other calling himself a libertarian, not siphoned off more than 11,000 votes, Mr. Stream might well have won.

The events in Ferguson played a part in the county executive’s race. But there and elsewhere, Mr. Obama drove much of the vote. And not in the direction he might wish.

This was always going to be a tough election for Democrats. Most of the Senate seats that were in play were in Republican-leaning states. Eight incumbent senators are retiring, six of them Democrats.

But events since the 2012 election made the map even tougher. Mr. Obama was slow to react to the ISIS threat in Syria and Iraq. The Ebola epidemic in western African made it to U.S. shores. The White House was dogged by problems with the Veterans Administration, the Secret Service and the National Security Agency, to say nothing of the relentless pounding it took over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 that killed four Americans.

Say this for Republicans: They know how to exploit a weakness. They stay on message. They suppress Democratic votes whenever possible. They gerrymander congressional districts to minimize the impact of Democratic voters. And they outspend Democrats; this year they spent $505 million in so-called “dark money” from anonymous sources. Democrats had $200 million in dark money. Overall, some $3.67 billion was expected to be spent on the elections. Politicians don’t come cheap.

Missouri escaped most of the tide of negative television ads this money paid for, but voters in states with Senate races saw their share of black ISIS flags and health workers in biohazard suits. Fear was on the GOP side.

So was the economy, even though Wall Street is at record levels, as are corporate cash holdings. Unemployment is down, but wages are stagnant. If you think about that at all, you realize that companies are keeping money, not sharing it with raises or expansion. Income inequality is at heights not seen since the Roaring 20s, and before that, the Gilded Age that Mark Twain mocked so savagely.

If voters have any idea that a Republican Senate is going to fix that, then they deserve what they’re going to get.

Republicans deserve their victories. They got their people to the polls. Democrats didn’t. Republicans have a brand, Democrats have constituencies that may or not have anything in common.

Around the country there were scattered victories for progressive causes - universal background checks on private sales of firearms in Washington state; defeats for “personhood” amendments that would have criminalized abortion in Colorado and North Dakota; minimum-wage increases in four red states, Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. Oregon and Washington, D.C., legalized marijuana, though that’s as much a libertarian issue as a progressive one.

In Missouri, voters resoundingly defeated Amendment 3, the brainchild of gadfly millionaire Rex Sinquefield. It would have limited teacher tenure and linked teacher evaluations to student performance. Voters in Missouri also said no to Amendment 6, the bogus early voting amendment.

So while various Democratic constituencies had wins, Republicans won where it counts. It calls to mind the old Will Rogers line: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

As predicted here Sunday (though it took no particular genius), the election turned on turnout. Exit polls indicated that 75 percent of the voters across the nation on Tuesday were white, and they favored Republicans by 20 points.

Older voters (65 and north) were a 22 percent bigger part of Tuesday’s electorate than they were of 2012’s. Meanwhile, a third of the young voters who helped Mr. Obama build his majorities in 2008 and 2012 stayed home. In 2012, voters 18-29 made up 19 percent of the electorate. On Tuesday it was 13 percent.

Black voters made up 12 percent of Tuesday’s turnout, compared to 13 percent two years ago. But Republicans got 10 percent of the black vote Tuesday, up four points from 2012. And the GOP increased its share of the Hispanic vote (8 percent of the total) from 27 percent to 35 percent.

In Missouri, where there was almost nothing on the ballot to attract a casual voter, turnout was an abysmally low 35 percent. It was 44 percent in St. Louis County, no doubt because of the interest in the county executive’s race.

There will be time enough in the next two years to figure out what all of this means for the 2016 election. If the Democrats get organized - always a big if - they have the demographic advantage. The list of Senate seats up for grabs in 2016 is friendlier to Democrats, too.

So the GOP House and Senate may only have two years to prove it can legislate without getting bogged down in ideological disputes, an iffy proposition in a Senate that contains the likes of Ted Cruz, R-Texas. They will have to avoid the sort of overreach that can damage not only their brand, but the country.

We wouldn’t count on that.


Jefferson City News Tribune, Nov. 6

To the victors, use powers wisely:

To the victors go the spoils, according to a familiar axiom.

But, we would add, that’s no reason to spoil the victory.

In Tuesday’s election, Republicans posted significant wins, both nationally and locally. The power that comes with political victories, however, must not be abused.

Nationally, Republicans gained a majority in the U.S. Senate and padded their majority in the House of Representatives. Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, who is in line to become Senate majority Leader, said the results show voters are “hungry for new leadership.”

GOP majorities in both houses of Congress now reflect the Republican majorities that continue in Missouri’s House and Senate following Tuesday’s vote. And, in both the nation and our state, Republican lawmakers will deal with Democratic chief executives - respectively, President Barack Obama and Gov. Jay Nixon.

Also approved was a Republican-backed initiative in the form of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution to transfer budget powers from the governor to the Legislature.

And, in Cole County, Democratic incumbent Circuit Judge Pat Joyce not only was the lone Democrat elected Tuesday, she will be the only elected Democrat in the Cole County Courthouse. Joining her in the courthouse will be nine additional Republicans, both opposed and unopposed, who prevailed Tuesday.

Partisan candidates frequently emphasize working for the people and compromise.

When those candidates ride a tidal wave of partisan victory, however, the tendency is to envision a mandate.

The axiom cited at the beginning is derived from the quote - “To the victor belong the spoils” - by New York Sen. William L. Marcy in reference to the 1828 election victory of the Jackson Democrats. The quote also is linked to the “spoils system,” which denotes an abuse of power.

We congratulate the winners of Tuesday’s election.

With elected office comes power; use it wisely and always on behalf of constituents.


The Kansas City Star, Nov. 3

Nixon must consider clemency petitions for 14 women in Missouri prisons:

A coalition seeking clemency for 14 female inmates in Missouri prisons is making some persuasive arguments. Gov. Jay Nixon should listen.

Community Coalition for Clemency wants Nixon to commute the sentences of 14 women who are serving long terms for crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder. Most of them were victims of sexual abuse and/or domestic violence. Four are older than 65, and some have already spent more than 30 years behind bars.

The coalition argues, with good cause, that many of the women were sentenced after trials that did not fully account for abusive circumstances they endured. With a new focus on domestic violence, they remain forgotten victims.

Donna Beirnacki of Springfield was sentenced in 2006 to 20 years for killing her husband. Although a psychologist testified she was suffering the effects of prolonged spousal abuse, the judge excluded numerous orders of protection and police reports that would have documented the violence. Beirnacki’s lawyer never let the jury know they could use evidence of abuse to find her not guilty. Beirnacki, the mother of four daughters, suffers from multiple sclerosis. She is scheduled to remain in prison until 2024.

None of the 14 women poses a threat to society. But their sentences are in many cases disproportionate with penalties handed out to men who do present a menace.

Rena Green, 58, has been in prison 25 years for her conviction of a 1989 pharmacy robbery in which no one was physically injured. She is not eligible for parole until 2029, when she will be 74. According to the coalition, 31 men have been convicted of pharmacy robbery in Missouri, and their average sentence is 14.3 years. Without clemency, Green will serve 40 years.

The Community Coalition for Clemency includes former Gov. Bob Holden, St. Louis University School of Law professor John Ammann, St. Louis defense attorney Robert Ramsey and retired Missouri Court of Appeals Judge James R. Dowd. Colleen Coble, executive director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, is also part of the group asking the governor to commute the women’s sentences.

Nixon has granted clemency once in his six years as governor, to commute the death sentence of convicted murderer Richard Clay to life in prison. Governors who preceded him used that authority much more frequently - 16 times for Republican Matt Blunt; 32 times for Democrat Mel Carnahan; 30 times for Republican John Ashcroft.

“This is about mercy,” Ammann said during a news conference last week. “It’s the last level at which you can correct a criminal justice system gone wrong.”

Nixon must give due diligence to the clemency petitions. These women have lived hard lives, and some are in poor health. Many have acquired education credentials and valuable skills in prison. There is nothing to be gained from having them serve out overly long sentences at taxpayers’ expense.


St. Joseph News-Press, Nov. 3

Law puts disabled at risk:

A new federal law sounds like a good idea, but the unintended consequences make us very concerned about the impact on some of our region’s citizens.

Disabled adults long have found dignity and purpose at sheltered workshops - specially designed places of employment. Some of these facilities no longer may be able to continue because of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act signed into law this summer. Provisions of the law aim to integrate disabled adults into the mainstream work force.

In reality, however, the result is that options for some people will be greatly reduced, not expanded. The law fails to take into account that the needs and desires of those with disabilities vary widely. Gloria Thomas, CEO and president of Specialty Industries in St. Joseph, understands the challenge.

“To believe that all individuals with disabilities that are currently in sheltered workshops will be able to work in regular industries, it’s not logical,” she says. “Not all individuals that are able to work in regular industry wish to work in regular industry.”

The law was prompted by concerns that wages at sheltered workshops are less than minimum wage because of the scale based on a worker’s skills and pace. Without proper oversight, it is quite possible that individuals can be mistreated or taken advantage of in this situation. However, these cases seem more likely to be the exception than the norm.

In fact, Ms. Thomas and other sheltered workshop directors in the region often are among the best advocates for individuals with special needs.

Instead of a blanket approach with an expansive federal law, a better approach would be to target those instances where abuse is suspected. Or perhaps pursue the goal of improving wages by launching multiple pilot projects that can demonstrate both the possibilities and challenges, and determine the very real impact on those the law intends to serve.

By forcing sheltered workshops out of business - or, at the minimum, causing them to make major changes in how they operate - the law may very well cause some of our most vulnerable citizens to lose their jobs, along with their social connections and other components of a healthy lifestyle.

These adults deserve to have their real-world needs considered.

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