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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

As lawmakers mull changing voter-approved proposals, right to work appears to be off the table

Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel signs a poster urging voters to repeal right to work on August 7, 2018.
File photo David Kovaluk I St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel on Aug. 7 signs a poster urging voters to repeal right to work.

Since the end of the 2018 election season, lawmakers from both parties have openly discussed trying to alter ballot items that voters approved this month — especially a constitutional amendment overhauling state legislative redistricting.

But legislators appear to have little appetite to revisit right to work, which voters overwhelmingly repealed during the August primary.

That includes recently-elected Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz. During a candidate forum in Union this fall, the Sullivan Republican was asked if he would be interestedin trying to implement a law barring unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment.

“I think the issue’s over,” Schatz said. “I think the voters have voted. I don’t think there’s any shape, form or fashion where the legislature would attempt to bring this up. With the results that we’ve seen from that, there was a very effective campaign. And the voters spoke and obviously I believe that’s the end of it.”

Nearly 67 percent of voters decided this summer to repeal right to work. The initiative, known as Proposition A, sparked higher-than-normal turnout in a primary election — and gave Republicans who support right to work a glimpse of what happens when unions are mobilized and focused.

Without right to work on the general election ballot, members of organized labor didn’t appear as organized at defeating people who supported the measure. Only one incumbent lawmaker who supported the policy, state Rep. Mark Matthiesen, R-Maryland Heights, lost re-election.

Senate Minority Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said she doubts Republicans want to reawaken organized labor by passing a right-to-work law again next year. A number of GOP lawmakers have opposed right to work, especially in places where a large amount of organized labor members reside. That doesn’t mean the issue won’t be introduced or even debated, but Walsh doubts any legislation will go very far.

“The governor said his focus is on jobs and infrastructure. And I don’t think you’ll see it back for awhile,” Walsh said. “Now could you see a bill? Will you see it get a hearing? Will you see it get to the floor? Maybe. I wouldn’t want to venture down that path of trying to push it through again if I was in the seat to do so.”

Redistricting restructure

Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, was a major supporter of changing St. Louis County's sales tax distribution system.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, will take over as Senate president pro tem once the 2019 session begins in January.

Schatz’s hesitancy to renew right to work is in contrast to legislative sentiments on Clean Missouri, a multi-faceted constitutional amendment that includes major changes to how state legislative districts are drawn.

While emphasizing that his caucus hadn’t decided on a specific proposal, Schatz called Clean Missouri’s redistricting alterations “a major concern” for the GOP majority. Among other things, Clean Missouri gives power to a demographer to draw districts based on competitiveness and partisan fairness. Proponents haven’t shown what districts would look like under the new system, but both parties believe it will lead to more Democratic-leaning seats. 

Republican lawmakers have been more united in their opposition to Clean Missouri's redistricting changes. And some African-American Democratic officials have also come out against the proposal, contending the new system could lead to fewer black lawmakers. So it’s very likely that legislators could send a proposal to voters before lines are drawn in 2021. In fact, a group called Fair Missouri formed last week to help move such a campaign along.

And that’s mobilized some organizers and proponents of Clean Missouri to point out how the initiative passed in most of the state’s counties. Others contended that any lawmaker seeking to overturn parts of the measure could face an electoral backlash.

“A repeal would mean an awful lot of legislators voting against their constituents,” said Richard von Glahn with Jobs with Justice on Twitter. “Probably not a good strategy if you want voters to trust you.”

There is at least one structural difference in terms of altering Clean Missouri or reinstating right to work. Since Clean Missouri is a constitutional amendment, voters would have to ratify any changes to the redistricting portion. So in some respects, lawmakers can't actually change Missouri's new state legislative redistricting system — they can only give voters a chance to make such a move.

By contrast, nothing within Proposition A precludes lawmakers from sending a right-to-work bill to Gov. Mike Parson's desk. But while Parson favors the policy, some union leaders, such as Mark Dalton of the Carpenters Union, have speculatedthat the governor will not push the issue after the voter repeal. Parson needs to sign off on implementing right to work, but not any changes to Clean Missouri.

On the Trail, an occasional column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.