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Missourians back Clean Missouri, minimum wage hike, medical marijuana; reject gas tax hike

Benjamin Singer, communications director for Clean Missouri, announces victory in the contest to pass Amendment 1 to supporters at Flamingo Bowl in St. Louis.
File photo I Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio
Benjamin Singer, communications director for Clean Missouri, announces victory in the contest to pass Amendment 1 to supporters at Flamingo Bowl in St. Louis.

Missouri voters approved a sweeping overhaul of state legislative redistricting, raising the minimum wage and legalizing medical marijuana, but rejected a gas tax increase.

Of all of the initiative petitions on Tuesday’s ballot, the most contentious was Clean Missouri — on the ballot as Amendment 1. Voters approved it by a wide margin — 59-40, with close to 60 percent of the votes reported — a result propelled by a well-organized and well-funded campaign. Passage is a huge victory for Democratic activists seeking to advance their party’s state House and Senate prospects after the next census.

"Missourians are sick and tired of all the corruption and secrecy in Jefferson City. We're ready to clean it up and that's what we did tonight with Amendment 1," said Clean Missouri spokesman Benjamin Singer.

Clean Missouri focused most of its message on its ethics changes, including curtailing lobbyist gifts and making legislative emails open records. But both Republicans and Democrats acknowledged the biggest impact was revamping how state House and Senate districts are drawn.

After the 2020 Census, a demographer nominated by the state auditor will have immense power to draw state legislative districts — with an emphasis on a map that ensures partisan fairness and competitiveness. Primarily Democratic proponents contend the current system that focuses on compact districts creates uncompetitive elections.

While Democrats wrote the initiative and helped provide millions of dollars in funding, the measure did get support from Republicans like former U.S. Sen. John Danforth and state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

Primarily GOP detractors contended the initiative would create unwieldy districts that snake through large amounts of terrain. That’s because most Democrats in Missouri live in St. Louis and Kansas City, while Republicans are dominant in the suburban and rural parts of the state. While Clean Missouri backers denied this would happen, they never produced a sample map of what districts would look like.

Some African-American officials and groups also opposed Clean Missouri, arguing it would reduce the number of black legislators. Proponents point to language the initiative aimed at protecting minority representation. They also noted support from civil rights groups and black elected officials like St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones.

"The rich and the wealthy and the influential control the scene in Jefferson City. Ordinary people don't have a voice, so Amendment 1 gives a voice back to the people who elected."

Tuesday’s vote may not be the end of debate over Clean Missouri.

That’s because Republicans, who control the General Assembly, may place another constitutional amendment on the ballot that renders the new redistricting process inoperable if the demographer isn’t funded. State Rep. Dean Plocher proposed such a plan earlier this session.


Medical marijuana passes

Missourians also voted to become the latest state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

There were three separate proposals on the subject. Amendment 2 passed, while Amendment 3 and Proposition C both failed.

Amendment 2 would impose a 4 percent tax on marijuana sales. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would be in charge of implementing the program. That would include the licensing of medical marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries.

The money raised by the tax Amendment 2 would go to the state to pay for regulating the program. Any money left over would go to the Missouri Veterans Commission.

“In becoming the 31st state to allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients with serious and debilitating illnesses, Missourians showed that increasing health care treatment options for patients and supporting veterans are bipartisan Missouri values," said Amendment 2 spokesman Jack Cardetti.

For the most part, there was no opposition arguing against the idea of medical marijuana. The idea has gained bipartisan traction over the past few years, as evidenced by how the GOP-controlled House passed a medical marijuana program earlier this year.

But backers of Amendment 2 did attack Amendment 3, a proposal that Springfield attorney Brad Bradshaw bankrolled. That initiative would have placed a 15 percent tax on medical marijuana, and used the proceeds for a medical research facility looking into cures for cancer.

Proposition C was pitched as an alternative to the two constitutional amendments, which the General Assembly cannot alter. Because Proposition C is a statute, lawmakers would be able to make changes to the program.


Missourians back minimum wage boost

For the second time since 2006, Missouri voters backed an increase to the state’s minimum wage. They approved Proposition B, which will boost the minimum wage from $7.85 an hour to $12 an hour by 2023.

It marks a victory for activists and elected officials who have sought to raise minimum wages in places like St. Louis and Kansas City. Lawmakers ended up nullifying minimum wage boosts in those cities in 2017.

There was little doubt that Proposition B would pass. Proponents were able to raise millions of dollars, while critics of minimum wage increases chose not to run an opposition campaign.

Still, the proposal was not without detractors. Some business groups believe the minimum wage increase could lead to businesses or jobs for employees. Others were critical of how the committee promoting Proposition B took millions of dollars from groups that refused to disclose their donors.

Because Proposition B is a state statute, it is possible that lawmakers could alter the proposal.


Voters reject gas tax

Missourians rejected a plan aimed at bringing in more money for transportation projects.

Proposition D would have gradually raised Missouri’s gas tax by 10 cents over a four-year period. Drivers pay 17 cents a gallon in state tax in Missouri, among the lowest in the nation. It would have risen to 27 cents by 2022.

Once fully implemented, Proposition D was forecast to raise about $400 million a year for state and local road and bridge projects, and for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The language would have sent some of the money to the Highway Patrol, with the idea that such a move would free up money for road and bridge projects.

Gov. Mike Parson made passage of Proposition D a major priority of his nascent administration. Other Republican and Democratic political officials also backed the proposal, which came more than four years after the failure of a sales tax increase for transportation projects.

While there was no organized opposition spending money against Proposition D, some conservative activists criticized the measure as an unnecessary tax increase. And left-of-center elected officials expressed wariness that the measure sent money to the Highway Patrol.


Reporters Shahla Farzan and Eli Chen contributed to this article

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Shahla Farzan is a PhD ecologist and science podcast editor at American Public Media. She was previously a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.