By Associated Press - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 7

It takes a particularly egregious series of flubs to cause Republican state legislators to rebel against Gov. Mike Parson’s appointees in an election year. The administration’s mishandled rollout of applications for Missouri’s medical marijuana licensing absolutely deserves the shellacking recently delivered by GOP state lawmakers and other critics.

At a hearing last week looking into how the application process went so badly awry, state Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, ripped into program director Lyndall Fraker for the multiple ways the procedures have been botched. Whether it was “ignorance or confusion or incompetence, Director Fraker clearly didn’t have the experience needed in the position,” Taylor said. Fraker was hired after being contacted by Robert Knodell, a top aide to Parson, and Dr. Randall Williams, Parson’s appointee as director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reports.

The missteps that so rankled Taylor and other House members are rooted in the way scores were assigned for license applications to grow, produce consumable products and sell medical marijuana. Nearly identical answers on separate applications yielded widely differing scores, with some resulting in approval and others resulting in rejection. A strong whiff of favoritism surrounds the process.

The third-party scorer hired to grade those applications is Wise Health Solutions, a venture owned partially by Oaksterdam University, an unaccredited California-based institution that provided for-profit “boot camps” to coach would-be applicants. The scoring process was designed to be blind, meaning that identifying information of applicants is stripped from the forms so the scorer only judges based on the quality of the answers provided.

The concern raised by lawmakers and jilted applicants is that the Oaksterdam-coached clients may have used specific wording in their applications that won them preferential treatment by scorers.

“These folks have applicants who have been their customers, who have given them money,” Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, stated at a hearing last month. “And now they may recognize the answers on the tests, and that might taint the whole grading system.” Fraker countered by asking if Eggleston knew of any Oaksterdam clients who won licenses.

“That’s not my job to know. That would be more your job to know,” Eggleston replied.

In fact, Oaksterdam-connected applicants did win multiple dispensary and cultivation licenses.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Wolff, writing in a Post-Dispatch op-ed last week, questioned whether the Parson administration has rigged the process to create an “anti-competitive cartel” favoring well-connected applicants.

Considering the ridiculous level of secrecy imposed by the administration, including a previous refusal merely to release the names of license applicants, the Parson administration cannot credibly claim that it has conducted a transparent and fair scoring process. It had better be due to “incompetence,” as Rep. Taylor suggests. Otherwise, it’s by design - a far more troubling scenario for all involved.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, March 8

While Jefferson City deals with affordable housing in the wake of last year’s tornado, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is dealing with livable housing.

According to an Associated Press story we recently published, Hawley has introduced a bill to increase federal oversight of landlords, punishing those who are neglectful.

The legislation was spurred by the discovery of mold and rodent infestations in Kansas City public housing.

“Bad landlords have abused our housing system for too long and it’s happening right here in Missouri,” Hawley said in a news release. “They have taken advantage of tenants, failed to provide them the most basic living standards, forced them to live in squalor - all while demanding rent and bills continue to be paid. And because their properties span jurisdictions, they have gotten away with it. It’s time we hold these scumbag landlords accountable.”

His bill would require the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a nationwide database to track contract terminations with landlords due to violations of HUD’s Housing Assistance Payments contracts. It would also require public housing authorities to report landlords’ violations to HUD.

The bill wouldn’t pertain to all landlords, just ones who participate in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.

While many landlords are responsive and respectful to their tenants and their living conditions, others are not. Like many professions, a few bad apples - at least in the eyes of the public - sometimes spoil the bunch.

When landlords do things such as refuse to maintain acceptable living conditions or wrongly shut off utilities, tenants don’t always know where to turn for help. And municipalities often are ill-staffed to help.

We believe Hawley’s bill has the potential to weed out some of the slumlords who value profit at the expense of their tenants’ well-being.


The Joplin Globe, March 5

Next week, Missouri voters weigh in during the presidential preference primary.

When you go to the polls, you will be able to vote in whichever party’s primary you choose. It’s called an open primary. You tell the poll worker which party’s ballot you want to cast.

But there’s a move afoot in Jefferson City to require Missourians to register with a party months before the primary. In the primary, voters would be given that party’s ballot.

There’s concern because right now voters can cross party lines. Republicans can ask for a Democratic ballot and pick the candidate they want to run against President Donald Trump, for example. They may pick the most extreme candidate to advance their party’s chances. Democrats can do the same. It’s a dirty trick, but it happens.

The Globe reported recently that, in South Carolina, some tea party groups encouraged Republican voters to take advantage of their open primary and vote for a Democratic candidate they thought Trump could beat. In 2016, some liberal commentators urged Democrats to vote for Sen. Marco Rubio to stop Trump, according to The Washington Post.

The problem under the proposed system is that voters not affiliated with either party can’t vote for candidates in a primary; they could vote on noncandidate questions on the ballot.

We have concerns with changing the current system. We don’t think independents - 18 percent of voters, or nearly 1 in 5, according to some estimates - should be cut out of the process.

As parties swing to extremes because of money and social media pressure, we’re seeing the number of independent voters grow, and nationally, that number has gone from 23 percent in 2004 to 29 percent this year in the 31 states where people register - nearly 1 in 3. Gallup polls earlier this year found that in all 50 states between 40-45 percent of voters identify as independent.

Rick Watson, president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks, raised another concern. Registration to vote in a party’s primary would have to be done at least 23 weeks before the primary election, but candidates don’t have to file for the Aug. 4 primaries until March 31 - 18 weeks before the election. Voters would register before knowing who the candidates will be.

What if voters learn something about a candidate that causes them to want to change parties?

“If we add one layer of requirement that, should they have a change in philosophy, they would have to change their political party affiliation six months prior to the next primary election, I think that would cause frustration,” Watson said - and he’s right.

It also would hurt voters in areas that are dominated by one political party. What if a Democrat in Southwest Missouri or a Republican in St. Louis County, where the real choice is lined up within a single party, wanted to vote in a race that truly matters?

Leave the current setup alone.

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