This Boots Was Made for Runnin’

Some people just won’t taken “no” for an answer.  And our political heritage is richer because they won’t.

Former State Representative George “Boots” Weber of Eureka died the other day.  He was 87.  He was elected to the House in 1964, the only time he won a political office although the St.Louis Post-Dispatch reported in his obituary story that he’d been on the ballot more than 30 times in the last 50 years.

George was what we call a “perennial candidate.”  God bless ’em.  They add color and texture to our elections.  And more.

Boots Weber’s last run for public office was in August when he finished third in the Democratic primary for the Second Congressional District seat eventually won by Republican Ann Wagner.  He wrote in his campaign website that is still on the internet (and we hope stays there),  “You’ve undoubtedly seen my name many times in many races over the years, This is because I believe that I can have a positive impact on many of the issues that affect each and every one of us…”

He was an incurable optimist. You have to be if you’re going to go one for 30 in elections, we suppose.  But his blog on August 6, 2011, one year before primary election day, 2012 adds a dimension to his optimism: “Well, I was hoping for a lengthy remission, and so far, I’m doing well.  The doctor gave me two months and that was nine months ago. I’m so encouraged and optimistic, I opted for a two year renewal on my car license.”  That’s when he announced he would run for Congress from the Second District. He’d been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma in 2010, a situation he called “this new race.”

His son, David, told the Post-Dispatch that his father “believed in serving family, church, and community and never tired of presenting ideas.”   David Weber told the newspaper, “People complain about how things are, but what are they doing about it?  He tried to do something about it. He wasn’t accepted, and that’s fine.  At least he could say he gave it a shot.”

We write all of this, by the way, using Weber’s words or the words of others.  I don’t recall ever having met him although I recall seeing his name on a lot of ballots through the years.  He might have been more successful if he had gotten into the money race during his political campaigns.  But he did not acept campaign donations and spent little to run.  “It was all him, and that gave him a great sense of satisfaction,” said David.

He ran for his first office in 1962 and he lost.  But two years later he ran for state representative again and won, his only success.  His name showed up on ballots for state representative again, Congress, the U. S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, and state auditor.  He even ran for President in 2000.

Late in life he became a blogger for the Eureka-Wildwood Patch, calling himself “The Old Blogger,”  One reader of the Patch responding to editor Julie Brown Patton’s obituary of Weber the other day, noted “George Weber touched many people with his humor, intelligence and commitment to service.”  Another noted, “He was a true ambassador of the political process.”

God knows we need a lot of those.

Tomorrow:  Another colorful Missouri perennial candidate.

Dreams will live and die today

The numbers we report tonight on the Missourinet and in our around-the-clock coverage on will change lives.  For most of us the changes will depend on the things that will be done by those we elect.  We won’t recognize them or feel them for several months.

But the men and women we vote for today have risked their political futures on what we do in the voting booth.

It’s not just dreams of a second term that might die today for some, or dreams of a step into statewide office and the potential that step has.  It’s more lofty dreams.

Some of these candidates have eyes on runs for even higher office–governor or U. S. Senator, perhaps.  What we do in the polling place today will affect the ballot of 2016. Our decisions today also could shape the ballots of 2020 and 2024. We are not electing just the governor this year.  We might be electing the governor’s successor and that person’s successor.

But there is a flip side.  Some dreams will die today.  And it won’t just be the dreams of those who lose because political candidates do not run these races alone.  Their families share their dreams.

I recall hearing Christopher Bond talk about the pain of losing his re-election bid for governor in 1976.  It was a terrible blow to a young man who only months before had been on President Ford’s short list of possible running mates as Vice-President, pretty heady talk for someone who had become the youngest governor in Missouri history in ’73.  But then had come November and the staggering defeat to Joe Teasdale.  All of that promise that went with a second term and a possible position on the national stage in 1980 was wiped out that November night in 1976.

Bond spoke not only of the impact that loss had on him, but on the double impact it had on his wife, Carolyn.  She not only saw what the loss did to him, but she had to deal with what the loss did to her.  No second four years in the Governor’s Mansion.  No future as the wife of a rising young political figure who could someday aspire to much higher positions.  No First Lady of Missouri and maybe First Lady of the United States in years to come.  All of that had been shattered–her dreams as well as hers.

Bond became Governor and she became First Lady of Missouri again in 1980.  But we never heard the name of Christopher Bond mentioned again as a national ticket figure.

Dreams are at stake today.  We are not voting for an office.  We are voting for real people.   For some, our vote will be cruel.  For others, our vote will be the next chapter in a dream.  And they will not share the victory or the defeat alone.

Petition Anniversary

Today is the 105th anniversary of the day the Missouri House approved a Senate resolution giving Missouri voters a chance to decide (again) if they wanted the right of initiative and referendum.  Voters in 1908 agreed that they did, after badly defeating a similar proposal in 1904.

If it were not for that decision by the legislature to ask Missourians if they wanted reconsider their 1904 vote against direct democracy, some people today would need to find different hobbies.

In light of what is going on with our petition process today, the words of  Dr. William Preston Hill, a St .Louis activist who had lobbied the legislature on the issue, seem appropriate to recall:

“This system does not aim to abolish the representative form of government we now have, nor to substitute another in its place.  It leaves our representative system just as it is, but guards it from abuse and from becoming misrepresentative. It will perform the same function as a safety valve on an engine; silent and unnoticed when not needed, but most useful in time of danger.”

If Dr. Hill could come back (he died in 1931), and see what is happening with the petition process today, what do you suppose he would say about the rise of well-funded special interest organizations and individuals  who are dominating the scene and are submitting dozens of different versions of petitions on their pet issues.

It was not easy to get the right of initiative and referendum in Missouri, as we recount in today’s (March 15) Across Our Wide Missouri program.  In fact Missouri became the first state to REJECT those rights when people voted down the proposal in 1904.

The first eight citizen-instigated issues to go on the ballot in 1910, 1912, and 1914 failed. But a proposal for a constitutional convention passed in 1920.  Eleven of the next fourteen proposals were voted down.

Only 38% of the citizen proposals on the ballot 1910-2000 passed (26 out of 68).

In the past five election years, seven of ten citizen petition proposals have been aprpoved by voters, almost double the percentage of the first eighty years of petition issues.

But trends in recent years raise questions about Dr. Hill’s assurances in 1908.  In 2010, about 100 petitions were filed with the Secretary of State, many of them variations of one another.  Only 23 were approved for public circulation.  Of that 23, only three made it to the ballot and one of them had to go through the courts to win a position.  All three passed–prohibiting sales taxes on the sale or transfer of homes or other forms of real estate, one prohibiting citizens from all but two cities from ever being able to vote on an earnings tax and requiring votes from time to time in Kansas City and St. Louis on their earnings taxes, and the dog beeeders bill that the legislture rewrote last year.

This year, things are just crazy.

At last count the Secretary of State had received 143 proposed petitions.  143!   Of that total, just three groups have submitted SIXTY-ONE:

  • 22 petitions coming from one source are about income, earnings, and sales taxes.
  • 27 petitions from another source are about local tobacco taxes.
  • 12 petitions  from one group are about statewide tobacco taxes.

Here is an entertaining additional piece of information.  Twenty-seven additional tobacco tax-related petitions have been withdrawn.

That means 66 –count ’em– 66 tobacco tax petitions have been filed with the Secretary of State, of which 39 are still alive in some form or another.

The staff of the Secretary of State’s elections office has to review the wording of every petition.  Other state offices, including the state auditor’s office, get involved in the reviews, in estimating the costs or financial benefits to the state if the proposition is approved, and writing a ballot title.  And that doesn’t count the time that is spent when one of these groups or individuals disagrees with the ballot title or the fiscal note and goes to court.

And it’s not over yet.  More can be submitted.

It’s no wonder some legislators are voicing concerns that the process is being abused by the few well-heeled individuals or groups.  The phrase “gaming the system” has been used by those who perceive an alarming trend of abuse developing among monied interest groups to submit dozens of versions of the same petition instead of deciding on what they stand for and putting it forth.  But, it appears to some who are alarmed by this trend, if you have an unlimited amount of money, what difference does it make if you cause a large number of state employees to waste a lot of their taxpayer-financed time?   Those who are concerned about this trend might be excused if they think Dr. Hall’s statement from 1908 hasn’t been turned on its head.

Several bills dealing with initiative and referendum have been introduced in this year’s session.  Only one has been sent out of committee for debate.  HJR 47 requires at least 5.25% of the legal voters in every congressional district to sign petitios before the issue can go on the ballot.  The proposed constitutional change is needed because the present lw requires eight percent of voters in each of two-thirds of the congressional districts to sign.  But Missouri is dropping from nine to eight districts, so the two-thirds requirement is no longer valid.  Since more districts have to be involved, the percentage of signatures is being reduced.

SB817 cuts the time the Secretary of State has to approve or reject a form of a petition from 30 days to only 15.  Detractors question the feasibility of that requirement as long as petitions are filed by the gross with the Secretary of State.  It also makes osme other chances in petition law.  The bill is still in a senate committee.

House Joint Resolution 40 establishes a special Fair Ballot Commission to determine if the proposed ballot langauge submitted by initiative and referendum is correct and proper.

And Senate Bill 1869, introduced jsut a few days ago, is waiting for a vote from a senate committee.

None of these proposals seems to address the “gaming” of the petition process.

That doesn’t mean nothing will happen.  As we enter the second half of the legislative session, lawmakers with bills that are stuck in committee or are so far down the debate schedule to make passage minimal will be looking for proposals they can amend with their ideas.

Dr.Hill in 1907 saw initiative and referendum guarding the representative form of government “from abuse.”

A lot of things can happen in the two months before the legislature adjourns.  We’ll be watching to see if somebody has a passable answer to the problems of 143 proposed pettions.

And counting.