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Editor's Weekly: A Hand For Missouri Voters

at the polls
Rachel Heidenry | File photo | St. Louis Beacon

Whether or not you like the results of Tuesday’s election, you might find some bright spots in what it revealed about voters.

At least in St. Louis County, voters showed up in higher than expected numbers. Across the state, voters proved resistant to the influence of money. And voters even found some common ground across the rural-urban divide that often immobilizes the state.

Of course, turnout for the primary was far from stellar – about 25 percent overall. But in St. Louis County nearly 30 percent showed up – substantially more than the 20 percent predicted.

John Temporiti, an adviser to County Executive Charlie Dooley, attributed the surprisingly high turnout to interest in the transportation tax, the question that drew the most votes statewide. Temporiti may have been making a convenient excuse for Dooley’s unexpectedly poor showing. The Democratic county executive contest between Dooley and Steve Stenger was probably at least as big a factor in attracting voters. But whatever the reason, voter participation in a quiet August primary is a sign of civic health.

So is voter independence. In several contests across the state, citizens acted contrary to well-funded interests. Dooley lost despite prolific support from Rex Sinquefield and his wife, Jeanne, Missouri’s biggest political donors. Four Republican state representatives won their primaries despite being targeted for defeat by Sinquefield for their role in sustaining a veto of tax cuts.

The so-called Right to Farm amendment won, but barely, despite its funding advantage and snappy name. Maybe voters are actually more discerning than political strategists think.

Credit Image by Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

The highest profile David-vs.-Goliath contest was the transportation tax. Though final totals aren’t yet in, they are expected to show that proponents spent about $4 million, opponents about $25,000. Yet the tax lost heavily, not just in the St. Louis area but in counties across the state. You can see the picture in Brent Jones’ map of the county-by-county vote breakdown.

Brent’s maps on this and other questions showed that the urban areas around St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia generally stand apart, reflecting the urban-rural split that characterizes state politics. Yet rural and urban voters saw eye to eye in defeating the transportation tax and in supporting privacy protection for electronic information.

As candidates and causes mobilize for November, voters will again be challenged to look beyond the rhetoric and determine what’s really at stake. This week, political reporter Jo Mannies began to explore the differences and similarities between Stenger and his Republican opponent, Rick Stream. Dale Singer explained the arguments for and against a marquee November ballot measure on teacher evaluation.

We hope coverage such as this will help Missouri voters see through the political maneuvering and make up their own minds about how to vote. This week, Missouri voters showed they are capable of doing so.

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.