Missouri GOP trying to muzzle voters
Voters deliver petitions with enough signatures to hold a referendum in Arizona. If Missouri Republicans have their way, similar efforts in Missouri will become much harder. | Matt York / AP

ST. LOUIS – In an effort to stifle the voice of Missourians, the Republican-controlled state legislature is considering a bill to make it harder for citizens to put referendums on the ballot.

The effort appears to be a direct attack on working people who want to give the public the chance to decide whether or not there should be a statewide vote in 2018 on the so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law. Under current law, the issue would be on the ballot if the required number of voters sign a petition by August 25.

GOP legislators want to change that law.

The GOP’s anti-referendum measure, SB389, harkens back to similar moves in other Republican-run legislatures nationwide. In those legislatures, GOP lawmakers, unable to stop local cities from adopting pro-worker laws – such as hikes in the minimum wage – have retaliated by stripping those localities of powers to enact wage and benefit legislation.

In the most-extreme recent circumstance, the GOP-run Iowa legislature not only yanked such powers from cities and counties, but actually revoked – after the fact – pro-worker ordinances in five counties.

“[The GOP move] is clearly an attack on American democracy,” said Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis. “Trying to make it harder for citizens to object to a terrible law is as un-American as it gets.”

Louis continued, “Promoters of this effort should be ashamed of themselves. This is a new low even for this Republican Party. There are responsible Republicans who I’m sure can’t support this kind of new low.”

A state senate committee has already approved SB389. A similar bill, HB1043, had a committee hearing in the House last week

Among other things, if SB389 is approved and signed by right-wing GOP Governor Eric Greitens, citizens would only be allowed to file a petition for a referendum after a general election and would have to collect the required number of signatures within nine months before the election date on which the issue would be decided. This would severely limit the time to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures needed across the state.

“I hope Missouri voters will see through this veiled attempt to stomp on their rights as citizens,” said Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Jake Hummel. “It’s amazing to me how far some Republican lawmakers will go to push their own distorted agenda by trying to effectively eliminate our voices in how Missouri should help its own citizens.”

Even if the bill is adopted, there is hope that it will not impact the current campaign to get enough signatures to put RTW on the ballot.

Jim Faul, an attorney representing the Missouri AFL-CIO, told the Labor Tribune, “[While] the legislature may try to place an emergency clause on the bill, making it immediately effective… the proposed changes likely do not fit the constitutional requirements for an emergency clause. That aspect, as well as other issues with the bill, would have to be handled in the courts.”

Former state GOP chairman Woody Cozad, a champion of conservative causes and now a lobbyist, also condemned his old party’s effort to stifle public input into the political process and candidly said it would ruin many petitioners’ chances for success. He also he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he felt it was unconstitutional.

“I think we’re past the time to stop trying to restrict the people’s fundamental right to make law for themselves,” Cozad said.

Ed Finkelstein is publisher and editor of the St. Louis Labor Tribune.


Ed Finkelstein
Ed Finkelstein


Ed Finkelstein is publisher and editor of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune.