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Recent Missouri editorials

May 9, 2017

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6

Missourians consistently hit the snooze button each time the alarm sounds, warning of the looming deadline for our state to come into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Starting in January, you will no longer be able to board a plane or enter a secure federal facility without a passport or other compliant ID. A Missouri driver’s license won’t work.

But the real deadline is this coming Friday, when the Legislature adjourns. A small faction of conservatives thinks that updating Missouri driver’s licenses to federal standards will somehow rob Missourians of their privacy. Because of their obstinacy and ignorance, the rest of us are heading for a world of pain when the federal deadline arrives on Jan. 22.

The Missouri House voted 99-40 in March to authorize the necessary security upgrades for licenses to become compliant, as required by federal law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But a few Senate opponents argue that compliance would require the state to create a database of documents that verify license holders’ identities, such as birth certificates.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, raised similar concerns about establishing a prescription database that doctors could access to help avoid prescribing opioid medications to addicts and abusers. After years of opposition, he finally backed down this session, and that database is on its way to becoming law.

The effects of failing to approve REAL ID upgrades would be widespread and pernicious if a few Senate holdouts continue to block the bill. Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, has previously threatened to filibuster if it comes to the floor for a vote.

Gov. Eric Greitens has suggested that President Donald Trump might issue an executive order granting Missouri a reprieve from federal enforcement, but it seems unlikely that Trump would risk the resulting criticism for being soft on terrorism. Greitens now says he might call a special session if the Legislature fails to act on REAL ID.

The privacy concerns are downright silly. The Missouri Bureau of Vital Records already maintains a database of information required for a federally compliant driver’s license. And the average smartphone contains far more invasive data than anything found on a birth certificate. For example, most phones contain tracking software that identifies on a minute-by-minute basis exactly where the user has been during the past days and weeks.

The opposition is doubly silly considering that many of these same Republicans have insisted on strict ID requirements for Missourians just to enter voting booths. Yet, when it comes to airline security, they suggest, what’s the big deal? Constituents must stop hitting the snooze button and register their outrage now. Otherwise, we’re in for a rude awakening come Jan. 22.


Kansas City Star, May 6

Hello out there. Gov. Greitens? You there? Taking any questions today?

We didn’t think so.

Missouri’s still-new governor is often compared to President Donald Trump for his promises to upend the status quo. But there’s at least one big difference between the two, and that’s Eric Greitens’ reticence to talk to reporters.

He won’t do it. Or at least he won’t do it very often.

He has gone out of his way to avoid reporters, particularly those who actually cover him day to day. He has held exactly one full-blown Statehouse news conference since his January inauguration. The reluctance is staggering for an official who holds the state’s highest office. Citizens have never seen anything like it, and neither has the press corps.

Phill Brooks, who covered the Capitol for decades, wrote that Greitens had draped a “cloak of secrecy” over the building.

The governor once had the audacity to complain about a lack of coverage. That was something, given how often Greitens refuses to say even a single word about the big issues facing Missouri.

There was that subpoena from state Auditor Nicole Galloway ordering Greitens’ administration to turn over information on income tax refunds. No comment.

And that $1,000 fine the Ethics Commission levied against the governor over a list of donors that his campaign acquired. No comment.

He was asked how much, exactly, each of the donors to his inauguration contributed. Nope.

What about his policy of paying for travel around the state? It’s a practice that could save taxpayers money, but it raises questions about who’s picking up the tab. Nothing.

Then there was the governor’s decision to invite a big-time campaign donor to his inauguration even though he had been accused of sexual abuse. And there was his decision to hire a former Huffington Post editor who faced sexual harassment accusations. And just days into the job, Greitens opted to attend the annual Alfalfa Club Dinner in Washington, D.C., with some of the world’s richest people. What about all that?

No comment, no comment, no comment.

Greitens has even declined to talk about some basic questions of governance, such as the Senate’s refusal to vote on his top appointments and questions about whether security levels in the Statehouse are adequate. He gave the same non-response when asked about his plan to cut state-funded care for 20,000 disabled Missourians .

Trump’s first 100 days in office? Greitens’ first 100 days?

No comment and no comment again.

Working out with police cadets and driving through a Taco Bell to sign a bill, and then posting about it on Facebook, aren’t getting the job done. There are so many things we — and the Missourians who elected you — would like to know. The list of questions is growing:

— What’s your plan for highway funding going forward, now that nothing has happened this session?

— How likely are you to call a special session to deal with the Real ID law so that Missourians can board planes with their driver’s licenses if lawmakers don’t pass a fix?

— Why so much secrecy about who funded your campaign? It seems antithetical to your calls for ethics reform.

— Do you support the Republican health care bill?

— Will you sign that UMKC performing arts campus bill that now sits on your desk?

— What about the job itself? Do you like it?

People want to hear from you, governor. Yet you choose to remain a man of mystery. Hello? Anybody home?


Joplin Globe, May 5

We are getting it wrong on free speech. Recently, Ann Coulter canceled an appearance at the University of California-Berkeley after her invitation to speak was rescinded because of the fear of violence. The campus had erupted in February over the planned appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos. The school canceled his event because of students’ violent response.

Those who opposed the appearances say we shouldn’t give a platform to speakers with extreme or hateful ideas. Some say that thoughtful people must try to block those espousing extreme ideas from access to our campuses and other public spaces to prevent normalizing those ideas.

They’re wrong. Students treat challenges to their beliefs as an attack, then protesters attack people who hold differing viewpoints as their enemies. A free society can’t function that way.

With few exceptions, the First Amendment means the government can’t stop us from speaking or jail us for having done so. Public universities are bound by the First Amendment in their public spaces. They also must protect public safety and their primary purpose — providing higher education.

Those shouted down and driven out may be provocateurs. Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter certainly are. But shouting them down is not the way to fight them. Ignoring those we don’t agree with or trying to shut them up means that no one is directly addressing and opposing their ideas. And trying to muzzle controversial speakers can actually strengthen their case by casting them as victims of repression.

While this happened at Berkeley, it echoes First Amendment issues that arose at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2015, where students and faculty used intimidation and crowd “muscle” to shut down access in a charged environment.

When we shut down opposition, we act as if other ideas will overwhelm and defeat ours. And that could be. If their ideas are better than ours, those ideas will win out in open discussion. If not, they will fail. But we can’t be afraid to confront opposition if we truly believe in a free society.

From our founding, our nation has valued free speech as integral to the functioning of democracy. The marketplace of ideas is fundamental. Concepts must be openly shared. Free expression allows ideas to compete with one another, so that free people may consider them. The best ideas will be advanced, the worst will decrease in favor.

We must tolerate offensive speech in this market, or we face the threat that orthodoxy will shut down the free and transparent exchange of ideas. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. . error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Those who would fight ideas they find offensive should protest. They should speak out. But shouting the other guy down is not free speech. It is the opposite. Thuggery and violence are not ways to oppose an idea; they are an attempt to stop its expression.

We can’t treat people who disagree with us as threats. Saying something disagreeable — or even reprehensible — is not an assault.


Columbia Daily Tribune, May 7

State legislators are giving themselves high fives for finally fully funding the school foundation formula. I can’t remember last time this happened. I do remember not long ago the bar was lowered, removing some of the glitter from the accomplishment.

After failure to fund had become so routine, one wondered whether the target would simply fade from usual budget discussions, in 2012 the so-called State Adequacy Target was fixed at $6,131 per pupil. By school year 2014, under the earlier formula the SAT would have been $6,716, indicating the fall-short trend. The SAT is the base amount all districts receive per student. The final funding amount includes arcane adjustments such as the Weighted Average Daily Attendance, the Dollar Value Modifier and Local Effort. (Don’t ask how many factors weigh into determining the Weighted Average Daily Attendance, etc.)

The last time I saw an analysis, the Columbia School District receives a middling amount compared with others, but the point here is not to second-guess the formula. I come merely to notice the achievement by our solons in appropriating enough money to cover the formula, whatever it is.

Reports from the Capitol called it a historic moment achieved by a bi-partisan coalition of senators, where passage was most in doubt. The House, more beholden to rural districts, already had approved the full funding.

The accomplishment would be more commendable if the formula still was at its former higher level, but even at the lower 2012 amount it still had been beyond the reach of the General Assembly.

Full funding for next year will be received with gratitude by school superintendents and boards across the state. They won’t suddenly become satisfied with the overall amount of state funding, but they should withhold churlish comments. Ten Republicans joined all nine Democrats to pass the funding measure over the objection of their party leadership. Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said “Doing the right thing is the right thing, regardless if leadership tells you not to. The Senate is a body of equals, not lemmings.”

Giving Silvey full credit for the rebellion of his bloc on this issue, of late his party typically has acted more like lemmings in pursuit of reactionary goals.

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