As we’ve considered how we’ll cover the primary election tomorrow night, we’ve been drawn to four Republican contests for the House of Representatives because they will tells us something about ourselves as citizens and as Missouri voters.
They will tell us if one man can determine the direction of Missouri politics. With his money.
We will learn if today’s political system allows money to prevail over civil debate and if one man’s voice is so much louder than yours or mine because he can buy a larger microphone.
The man is Rex Sinquefield, the J. R. Ewing of Missouri Politics. Wealthy. Conniving. Ruthless. Intimidating.
Here are the House Republican primary races we will watch Tuesday night:
District 3: Nate Walker challenged by John Bailey
District 130: Jeff Messenger challenged by Loren Hunt
District 144: Paul Fitzwater challenged by Ron Bohn
District 155: Lyle Rowland challenged by Jason Froge and Mike Lind.
Walker, Messenger, Fitzwater, and Rowland are incumbents who refused to join other Republicans to overturn Governor Nixon’s veto of a tax bill Sinquefield wanted last year. They had been warned that if they went against party leadership and Sinquefield’s wishes that they would face well-financed opposition this year.
Various other political reporters have tracked the flow of money from Sinquefield through his Missouri Club for Growth into the campaigns of challengers to these four. The Club gave $50,000 to Bailey and $25,000 to Hunt, Bohn, and Frodge. The last campaign report was filed last week, eight days out, meaning last-days money could flow to campaigns in the critical final week. We won’t learn if any more money did go into those campaigns until after the election.
Bohn has told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the money went to him with ‘no strings attached.” He says he will not be indebted to Sinquefield if he is elected.
The traditional political rhetoric is that money doesn’t buy votes. It might buy access, but not votes.
The problem in today’s political climate is that the access money buys is far greater than the access accorded to those who don’t have it. And big donors do not provide significant funding to candidates likely to be their philosophical or political opponents.
This assessment in no way implies that any of the challengers of the incumbents have been bought or that they will dance to the beat of Sinquefield’s drum. In fairness we should note that Missourians are free to support any candidate whose positions agree with their own to whatever degree they can afford.
The issue in these four races in this post is not the integrity of any of the candidates, incumbents or challengers. The issue is the imbalance in the competition of ideas that occurs when a specific interest or individual with unlimited financial resources takes the competition beyond the competing ideas and ideals of the individuals involved and personally or through a favored organization elevates the ability of one side to manipulate the message against the other side.
Rex Sinquefield’s ability to do that–his willingness to do that—with his seeming limitless amount of money that critics assert enable him to try to buy favorable laws and constitutional provisions makes him in the eyes of those critics a most dangerous man, perhaps the most dangerous man in Missouri politics.
It is easy in these campaign times to see Rex Sinquefield through only one lens, to see him for the influence he exerts on the laws he wants to live under and therefore the laws he wants all of us to live under.
As is the case with the largest number of those who know him only because of his political involvement, we have never met the man. Wouldn’t know him if we passed him on the street. But we have been told that if we were to talk to him one-on-one, we would find him to be engaging and friendly, a man with a broad range of interests.
He is, from what we have read and been told, a man who has come by his wealth through his own intelligence and efforts, an American success story that can be inspirational to those looking at what they can make of their own futures. He is a man of diverse interests whose involvement goes far beyond writing checks to influence the politics of Missouri.
He’s a board member of the St. Louis Art Museum. He’s on the board of the Missouri Botanical Garden. The board of the St. Louis Symphony includes his name. And he’s a director of St. Vincent’s Home for Children.
He’s in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame because of his leadership and support of the St. Louis Chess Club.
We haven’t met his wife Jeanne but our connections with the Concert Association in Jefferson City have brought us into relationship with the Jefferson City Symphony, in which she plays and for which she has provided financial support. The Sinquefield’s foundation has given the University of Missouri School of Music millions of dollars for a program encouraging young composers. They’ve also heavily supported children’s education and special education programs. Sounds like pretty decent folks, doesn’t it?
Economic inequality is not an issue when it is a matter of philanthropy, a matter of lifting others or supporting causes that enrich us culturally.
It is when economic inequality becomes deeply ingrained in making the political system UNequal that it becomes a matter of deep concern to those who believe in the foundations of political equality the nation’s founders proclaimed in 1776 and sought to confirm in succeeding documents.
Abraham Lincoln, on the ravaged battleground of Gettysburg, spoke of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” a phrase increasingly inaccurate in a political climate where the unlimited flow of money aims to create a government of some people, by some people, and for some people.
So we will watch these four races on election night as an indication of whether the people of Missouri still believe in Lincoln
or in Sinquefield.