- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Joplin Globe, Oct. 22

Protect our children:

It’s a rare occasion when we endorse a ballot issue that amends the Missouri Constitution. In almost all cases, there is a better way to change the law.

The proposed Amendment 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot is the exception. In fact, if we are going to change the way our courts consider evidence in cases of child sexual abuse, this change to the constitution will be necessary.

Amendment 2 will make propensity evidence, or past allegations of sexual abuse, admissible in jury trials involving a victim younger than 18, provided a judge rules the evidence can be allowed.

Missouri courts allowed past allegations to be heard in child sex abuse cases up until 2007. That’s the year the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that such evidence could no longer be used, even though it’s admissible in U.S. courts under federal law and in almost every other state in the nation.

Yes, Missouri has now earned the reputation as one of the most restrictive states in the land in giving prosecutors the tools they need to convict those who prey on our children.

The amendment, passed with wide bipartisan support of the Missouri Legislature, is the fix that is needed to return Missouri to the same standard used in federal court and in other states.

The sexual abuse of our children in Southwest Missouri is a real concern. According to Vickie Dudley, the executive director of The Children’s Center, 555 children have been assessed for possible sexual abuse just since January. The Children’s Center serves 12 counties.

We know of no organized opponents to this measure. Amendment 2 has received the endorsement of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association.

Today we add our support and ask you to consider a “yes” vote on Amendment 2 on Nov. 4.

___

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 23

Judicial branch should not be for sale in Missouri:

Before Cole County voters cast their ballots in a judicial race that has important statewide implications, they should take a few moments and read the second half of Judge William Ray Price Jr.’s speech to the Missouri Legislature in 2011.

At the time, Judge Price, a Republican, was the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. In the annual state of the judiciary speech, normally a noncontroversial affair that draws little attention, Mr. Price warned of the scourge of massive campaign donations causing damage to the independence of the judiciary all over the country.

“Big money in judicial elections is a scandal,” he said.

Your honor, we enter as exhibit A, the race in Cole County this year between incumbent Judge Pat Joyce, a Democrat, and her Republican opponent, Brian Stumpe, a Jefferson City prosecuting attorney.

The race would have gone without notice if not for the $200,000 in mysterious campaign donations funneled to Missouri on behalf of some secret donor. Judge Joyce has been on the Cole County bench for 20 years. She is well-respected in the legal community. Her decisions, and those of the other Cole County judges, are significant statewide because nearly all cases involving ballot issues or state legislation begin there, since it is the seat of state government.

Until a few weeks ago, Mr. Stumpe had but $58 in his campaign account.

Now Cole County voters are seeing juvenile television ads painting Judge Joyce as some ‘60s hippie liberal that are an absolute embarrassment to the legal profession.

Mr. Stumpe’s new riches came via the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political action committee that serves as a conduit for various wealthy donors who would rather not have their names attached to specific donations.

A spokesman for RSLC told the Post-Dispatch’s Virginia Young last week that the committee doesn’t accept “earmarked” donations. But its past tells a different story. In the 2012 race for secretary of state, Republican Shane Schoeller was a recipient of money from the committee, but the real source of the funding was Missouri’s most prolific political donor, Rex Sinquefield.

Here’s how the game is played. On Oct. 23, 2012, Mr. Sinquefield donated $475,000 to RSLC. Within a week, RSLC had written three checks to Mr. Schoeller totaling - you guessed it - $475,000.

It’s actually against the law in Missouri to give a campaign donation with the intention of obscuring the original source of the funds. But the law is ignored because it is difficult to prove intent.

In the case of the high-priced attacks on Judge Joyce, it’s impossible at this point to know which deep-pocketed donor is trying to buy a judge, but it’s not hard at all to see that’s exactly what is happening.

Judge Price warned this would happen in his 2011 speech:

“Judges who have been bought and paid for have not been the Missouri way since 1940, and they should not be the Missouri way of the future,” he told lawmakers.

In 1940, responding to the “Pendergast era,” when one political boss could control the courts in Kansas City, voters in Missouri adopted a new way of choosing judges for its appellate and supreme courts, as well as courts in St. Louis and Kansas City. Dubbed the Missouri Plan, it elevated merit over politics, putting in place a system in which expert panels accept applications, and based mostly on the merit of judicial qualifications, whittle down the potential judges to three qualified applicants. The governor chooses from the list of three. Judges then stand for retention elections, without opponents or obscene campaign spending, every 12 years. The Missouri Plan has been adopted and adapted across the nation as the best model yet devised for protecting the independence of the judicial branch.

In 2008, Greene County voters decided the Missouri Plan was better than electing judges and they joined St. Louis and Kansas City in using the same system for their circuit court judges that picks appellate judges.

Sometime soon, regardless of what happens in the race between Judge Joyce and Mr. Stumpe, Cole County voters should do the same thing. The administration of justice is too important to have questions about whether one donor, or a group of donors, can buy their own judicial outcomes by using their cash to tilt an election.

In the past two decades, the amount of money spent in judicial elections in states where it is allowed has exploded, from a total of $83 million in the ‘90s to more than $200 million in the first decade of this century.

The result is precisely what Judge Price predicted in 2011: American faith in its court system is diminishing. The Pew Research Center’s favorability ratings of the Supreme Court fell to below 50 percent for the first time in history last year, a long decline that coincides with the rise of campaign money in judicial elections. (They have since rebounded slightly).

Missourians can disagree on what makes a good judge, and whether there is such a thing as a “liberal” or “conservative” philosophy as it applies to the law. But they should agree that judges should not be for sale, that huge sums of money spent on behalf of secret donors have no business in judicial elections.

___

Washington Missourian, Oct. 23

No on Amendment 3:

While there are four proposed state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot, the backers of one of them have already thrown in the towel.

We would encourage you to do the same with Amendment 3.

The measure would implement teacher performance evaluations that would be used to determine whether a teacher should be dismissed, retained, demoted or promoted. Among other things, teachers would be graded on how well students do on standardized tests.

Like most Missourians, we’re not opposed to considering any thoughtful education reforms that have the potential to lift students. This isn’t one of them.

It is poorly crafted, deeply flawed, too vague regarding the evaluations and standardized tests and would be expensive to implement. How expensive? Some have estimated it could cost as much as a $1 billion to fully implement the measure in every school district in the state.

But in our view the most troubling aspect of Amendment 3 is that it takes away local control and hands it over to Jefferson City bureaucrats.

This top-down mandate will shift local control away from parents, teachers and school districts, while implementing unfunded, statewide standardized tests. Amendment 3 will force local school districts to spend money that could have been used in the classroom on even more standardized tests.

Students already take too many standardized tests. Do we want to force more on them? If we do, you can bet teachers will “teach to the test” rather than focusing on actual instruction and learning. Is that what we really want?

We need to make sure that our children are learning the material and are good critical thinkers, not just good test takers. This amendment is a one-size-fits-all approach that treats students like numbers and prevents teachers from treating our students like individuals.

It is telling that the group behind getting Amendment 3 on the ballot, the deceptively named Teach Great, has abandoned its efforts to promote it.

The Amendment 3 campaign blimp sprung a leak in September after polling suggested the measure wasn’t resonating with voters. It has been losing altitude ever since then especially as people become aware of exactly what it would do and how much it would cost.

A spokesperson for Teach Great said now is not the time to pursue the initiatives incorporated in Amendment 3.

Voters should heed this advice. Vote No on Amendment 3.

___

St. Joseph News-Press, Oct. 27

Turn down these flawed proposals:

Even though they address valid public policy concerns, three of the four proposed constitutional amendments before Missouri voters on Nov. 4 should be turned down. …

‘NO’ TO AMENDMENT 3:

This proposal, which no longer is promoted by the people who put it on the ballot, would mandate sweeping changes in our public schools.

Among the changes: local districts would have to use state-approved standards-based teacher evaluation systems; pay and retention would be linked to student performance on standardized tests; and limits would be implemented on teacher contracts and collective bargaining.

Several of these ideas deserve a public debate that, unfortunately, has not occurred during this campaign. Boosters of public education should vote “no” but demand that legislators and education leaders continue to explore ways to ensure we have highly qualified teachers in our classrooms and better outcomes for our students.

‘NO’ TO AMENDMENT 6:

As written, this proposal would provide a no-excuses-needed early voting period in Missouri - but for only six days prior to an election.

Early voting would be permitted only at the elections office during normal business hours. It would be prohibited on nights and weekends and would not take place if the legislature chooses not to provide funding.

In comparison, 29 other states offer less-restrictive early voting.

If you oppose early voting, vote “no” for the status quo. If you favor early voting, vote “no” because this is a bogus proposal that does little to advance your interests.

‘NO’ TO AMENDMENT 10:

Don’t be confused by this ballot initiative. At its core, this proposal would place burdensome limitations on the governor’s powers to propose a state budget and to allocate state funding without legislative approval.

Gov. Jay Nixon frequently has invited criticism for the way he has handled budget matters, including ordering unpopular withholdings of budgeted funds and blaming it on actions of the legislature or the economy. But dissatisfaction with a sitting governor does not warrant this drastic overhaul of executive powers held by governors in nearly all other states.

The credit agency Standard and Poor’s offered this sobering assessment: “We believe this amendment could reduce the flexibility to make changes to balance the budget and … could potentially weaken the state’s strong governmental framework to make midyear budget adjustments.”

Limiting the powers of Gov. Nixon and future governors in this way is unwise.


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