Spring homeless lessons

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN May 14, 2022

Homelessness is an all-year thing, but spring brings a relief knowing men and women who are without stable housing made it through winter. I remember in 2009, at Missouri United Methodist Church, there was a short impromptu prayer service to mark the successful season of what became Room at the Inn.

A homeless woman, Liza, who I have seen on the streets within the past year, stood up and spoke strongly and eloquently, thanking the volunteers who helped that year see “that we didn’t lose anyone this winter.”

To the best of my knowledge, “we didn’t lose anyone this winter” thanks to the staff and volunteers at Loaves and Fishes, Turning Point, Harbor House, and Room at the Inn but also to an informal network of volunteers that now goes by the name CoMo Mobile Soup Kitchen.

The CoMo Mobile group pretty much staffed the emergency shelter at Wabash Station, caring for the 15 to 30 people who stayed inside Wabash during the extreme cold and about 10 people currently in that area.

CoMo Mobile Soup Kitchen also regularly serves food and provides necessities to several homeless camps around Columbia where they serve 65 to 80 people per day at least twice a week.

Last week at Loaves and Fishes I helped a guest whom I will call Eddie re-wrap his frostbitten fingers that had been treated and were waiting to be partially amputated.

When we finished with the gauze and tape, I asked him if I could take a photo to post on social media. He approved. I’m glad I did.

I was in a similar situation in March 2020, when I was walking around downtown and I came upon a guy I will call Dan who showed me his frostbitten, damaged, toeless foot that had just received amputation.

I learned some details of gangrene and infections. I asked for permission to take a photo. He approved, but I quickly had second thoughts and withdrew my request because I felt it was an invasion of personal boundaries.

Over those two years I regretted passing up the opportunity to share publicly what frostbite does to some of Columbia’s homeless people.

When I posted a photo of Eddie’s damaged fingers on Facebook, immediately I received a response from a person active in the CoMo Mobile Soup Kitchen group, telling me they have a medical team who had treated him previously and would follow up with him after amputation. Indeed, they did follow up a few days ago.

A second benefit of posting the photo of Eddie’s fingers is informing Columbia about issues the homeless face.

Often citizens think that once a program is started, the problem is solved. Several people reacted saying, “I thought you provided gloves and handwarmers.”

Another said, “Maybe Wabash should be open more.” We often see panhandlers and homeless people waiting at Wilkes Boulevard Methodist Church for Turning Point and Loaves and Fishes, but few directly see people experiencing a drug or alcohol episode. Same with frostbite and insect bites.

Loaves and Fishes is a loosely knit group of volunteers who prepare and distribute an evening meal in the cold, in the rain or in the 95-degree heat 364 days a year.

There were few screw-ups during the pandemic.

I’ve talked often with a guy I met at Loaves and Fishes, I’ll call him Tim, who should have had better housing for at least seven years, but he couldn’t quite figure out how to jump through the hoops. He is headed toward better housing.

Homeless and housing caseworkers can recite program lingo and figures, but it doesn’t always get through to the right person at the right time.

All I did was reinforce a family member’s suggestion of who he should talk with. It was so simple, but it made a difference.

Several homeless service groups let by Randy Cole of the Columbia Housing Authority are currently preparing a plan to use federal money for an emergency shelter of one form or another.

We need suitable, well-located facilities to serve as a day center, soup kitchen, and emergency shelter. We also need more public hygiene facilities downtown and sanctioned campsites for homeless citizen who don’t want to go to shelters for one reason or another.

Whatever plans for future homeless services develop in deciding how to allocate $25 million of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding, it is essential that volunteer opportunities and responsibilities be maintained.

Caring for the homeless and the hungry is a fundamental tenet of most Americans’ religious backgrounds and should not be outsourced to publicly funded agencies.

Caring for the homeless and hungry expands ordinary citizens’ understanding of what some people end up without housing to begin with.

Due to housing shortages and loss of low skill jobs, homelessness will always be with us despite admirable attempts at reducing addictions, eliminating family instability, providing medical services, and organizing job training.

In fact, because of national changes, I expect Boone County homelessness will probably be higher 2025 than it currently is. We need a variety of shelters (e.g. RATI, sanctioned campaign, small houses), but we also need groups of caring volunteers to provide and share food and to interact with homeless people in Columbia.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

Overturning Roe won’t end the politics of abortion

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, May 7, 2022

Protests stoked by the leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, aka the Mississippi abortion case, is a warm-up for more intense protests that will undoubtedly occur if the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is announced this June.

Overturning Roe is expected by almost all observers except Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who say they believed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh’s claim that “Roe was settled law” during their nomination hearings.

Both the Republican pro-choice senators may soon be having second thoughts after confirming the men to the Supreme Court.

For nearly half a century, the politics of Roe has held a chokehold on America. It feels like a bad dream. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, the politics of abortion won’t go away anytime soon because the pro-choice and pro-life participants and the structure of the American political system will keep the pot stirring.

The politics around Roe have prevented policy action on other critical issues because the pro- and anti-Roe coalitions soak up so much time and attention.

The leak of a draft opinion of the Supreme Court, and the inflammatory ideas and expressions contained in it, e.g. “deeply rooted history,” shows the power of the Roe issue to lead the poisoning of the American political system.

While I am not a Supreme Court groupie, I generally advocate following institutional norms and rules for the greater good. Public approval of the Supreme Court declined to 40% last year when it was often more than 60% favorable since 2000.

Roe itself and the topic of abortion are polarizing issues in part because Americans honestly disagree, but also because we talk past each other and see different aspects of abortion.

There are five facts that I wish all Americans recited before entering conversations about abortion:

1. Abortions were performed in about half the states prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and were medically practiced in the early 1900s before the American Medical Association lobbied to force out what we now call “alternative medicine providers.”

2. Public opinion on abortion has been stable in national polls with about two-thirds of Americans favoring keeping Roe v. Wade. However, there is wide variation among the states with 74% of Massachusetts respondents supporting some form of legal abortion at the rate of highest support, and West Virginia the lowest with 35% supporting abortion. Missouri and Texas are tied for 40th place with 45 percent supporting abortion in most cases. This state variation explains why the politics of Roe has reminded polarizing for nearly 50 years.

3. The number of abortions has decreased both nationally and in Missouri. The Guttmacher Institute reports 18% of pregnancies ended in abortion in 2017 with approximately 862,320 abortions were performed in 2017, down 7% from 926,190 in 2014. The decrease is probably due to abortion restrictions, improved sex education and more accessible birth control.

Missouri has not had an abortion provider since 2019 when Planned Parenthood of St. Louis moved to Illinois. The Missouri Department of Health reports that 3,903 abortions were performed in 2017 in Missouri, compared with 19,043 in 1980.

4. Overturning Roe will not end abortion; it will allow states to regulate abortion. Missouri is one of 13 states where prohibiting any abortion would be triggered automatically if Roe is overturned. 16 states, including Illinois, California and New York, have codified abortion as a protected right.

5. There are medical alternatives to dilation and curettage (D&C) abortion, and more are likely to become available. More than half of abortions last year were medically induced. Last December, the Food and Drug Administration approved the distribution of mifepristone without a direct doctor’s visit and prescription. At least 10 states have restricted medical abortions, and its likely other states, including Missouri, would ban them as well, forcing residents to go to a state allowing abortions in order to receive abortion pills even through a telemedicine outlet.

Widespread protests sparked by news of the leaked opinion earlier this week will undoubtedly occur again when the final decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health is announced. After a couple days of protests, protestors should turn their attention to a “post Roe, pro-women” agenda.

Much of the pro-choice rhetoric as reflected in protests signs and media interviews is about empowering women. Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment will contribute to empowering women. The time limit for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment should be extended and Missouri should ratify.

Preventing unwanted pregnancies is the best abortion policy. To that end, sex education and birth control availability should be expanded. Rape and incest laws should be aggressively enforced, including funding for analysis of the backlog of rape kits.

If Roe is overturned, perhaps pro-life groups will become more pro-life by opposing the death penalty, regulating guns that kills people and supporting policies that reduce poverty and homelessness.

Some political pundits anticipate that overturning Roe will affect the 2022 midterm congressional and state elections. After nearly 50 years of abortion politics, I don’t expect much electoral impact of overturning Roe v Wade given voter concern about Trump’s political influence, inflation, Ukraine, COVID-19 and the economy.

The only way abortion politics will move on is for Americans to accept having some states allowing abortion and some states prohibiting abortion. In the present era of the nationalization of news and politics, that’s unlikely, so the politics of abortion will go on.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.


David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

Scouts taught me citizenship and how to learn

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN April 29, 2022

People occasionally ask me where I developed the idea that citizens should be actively involved in American democracy. They may be expecting me to name some political philosophers, but it is more likely that it was my participation in Boy Scouts of America. Scouting was good for me, and I was good at scouting. It contributed to my lifelong interest in government and prepared me for later life.

Scouting is out of style nowadays, and that’s unfortunate. Participation peaked at about 4 million boys in 1973 and currently has about 1.2 million members. The decline is due, probably in large part, to sexual predator cases resulting in the national organization seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020. More than 92,000 former Scouts have reported sexual abuse by members of the organization. Scouting’s popularity decline was also caused by the increased popularity of youth sports and less gender stratification.

Scouting was pedagogically comfortable to me, as school often seemed arbitrary and senseless. The lynchpin of scouting is the merit badge — an individual topical plan of instruction usually with alternative activities presented in a unique booklet, or now online.

I was much better at scouting than I was at schooling. Scouting was real, while schooling often didn’t make much sense. Scouting was hiking outdoors, using a compass and discovering new plants and trees; schooling was just arithmetic, spelling and science. I could never remember my homework but never forgot a Scout meeting. Scouting was becoming a patrol leader and planning a weekend campout; schooling was standing in line, being sent to the principal’s office for misbehaving and waiting for the bus. Perhaps if there had been a merit badge for fractions and long division or spelling I would have paid more attention. I now, of course, see that merit badges tricked me into learning to spell names of plants for the Nature badge and list authors and titles of books that I read for the Reading badge.

There are currently 137 merit badges, of which I earned at least 21. Some were easy for me, like Home Repairs and Physical Fitness, but some were darned hard, like First Aid and Lifesaving. My favorites were the three citizenship badges: Citizenship in the Home (discontinued in 1972), Citizenship in the Community and Citizenship in the Nation. I had to work hard for each of them. Nowadays they “teach” merit badges, but back in my hometown in the early 1960s, we earned most merit badges on our own.

When I was in sixth grade, I earned two of the Citizenship badges — one approved by a local judge and one by an eighth grade teacher, who also was the assistant principal. I remember visiting the courthouse, city hall and the county jail. The judge had me write my congressman, Frank C. Clark, and the teacher asked questions such as if I would play in the gym with kids from other faiths and ethnic groups. I remember reading the Declaration of Independence to my parents and getting stuck on words like “unalienable,” “usurpations” and “denounce.”

I recently reviewed the current requirements for Citizenship in the CommunityCitizenship in the Nation and the new (to me) Citizenship in the World. The merit badge requirements and worksheets, of course, are now online. I am impressed with the addition of some contemporary topics such as American Business, Digital Technology and Disability Awareness, as well as updates to the citizenship badges. As I did back in the 1960s, and still have my college students do today, the Citizenship in the Community requires Scouts to identify local government and community organizations, but they are also to watch, with their parents’ permission, one of a list of movies demonstrating local government. Options include “Hoosiers,” the classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and grade school favorite “Holes.”

Citizenship in the Nation is probably the most traditional of the three badges, which require Scouts to read historical documents, visit a federal facility and a historical site, read one of 10 famous speeches and examine several news outlets for possible bias. All citizens should be able to satisfy these requirements before voting age.

Citizenship in the World and Citizenship in Society are new badges since my Scouting days. The former would be demanding for most high school students as it requires in-depth knowledge of several countries and international organizations. The latter is contemporary and challenging, and requires the research of timely terms such as identities, inclusion, diversity, discrimination, equity, equality and ethical leadership.

The value of scouting as a supplement or, sometimes, substitute for traditional schooling should not be undervalued. I still don’t know if I am a visual or oral learner, but I know my teaching and learning style is like a merit badge. My college syllabi look a lot like a merit badge.

Scouting, as do all youth activities, requires a great deal of adult and community investment. Scout meetings need to be held somewhere, merit badges need counselors, and troops need leaders and equipment. But the benefits for learning about self-governance and citizenship are real. Scouts learn to organize a meeting or a camping trip, teamwork and leadership, independence and problem-solving and how to get along in a variety of situations. We need to develop those skills to have effective government.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

Rejuvenating Democracy can start in Cities

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, April 23, 2022

With a new mayor, new voices on the City Council, the recently appointed city manager and the waning of COVID-19, Columbia should embrace the goal of being the exemplar of democratic governance for the state of Missouri and America. For many reasons, democracy is performing poorly around the globe. One reason is that the middle class has prospered and grown and are more concerned about their families and material goods than they are interested in participating in self-governance. Consequently, government looks big and messy so we tend to tune out, so voting has generally declined (but it increased in 2020) as have other types kinds of civic and social involvement as described in Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” that became a popular cliché about 20 years ago.

Not too long ago, citizenship meant voting, paying taxes, doing jury duty, reading the newspaper, keeping up on public affairs and answering the call for military duty, if necessary. Citizenship now means “doing your own thing” (that’s from the 1960s) and paying taxes. Most of us only discuss public affairs with our neighbors when issues like roll carts and mask wearing hit close to home.

We need to change local governance and local political culture to increase effective, informed citizen involvement with the goal of improving government performance.

Here are five ideas.

1. Encourage voting

Voting is good. We need more of it. It engages citizens, educates them, empowers them and generates a sense of community. Voters usually end up being more informed about local affairs. I favor universal voting, just like universal jury duty. Voting requirements are set by state law, but Boone County can encourage voting. For starters, reminders to register should be enclosed with the personal and real property notifications sent out by the County Assessor every late November or early December.

2. Adopt ranked choice voting

We need more candidates. They give voters a choice. We don’t have enough of them. It was good to have four candidates on the ballot for Columbia mayor because they presented different ideas and perspectives, but it was risky because sincere voting might result in a less preferred winner. Ranked choice voting allows voters to express their honest preference without fear of “throwing away their vote” or helping a less preferred candidate win. As a charter city, Columbia can adopt ranked choice voting ourselves, as Article XVI, Section 120 of the charter states.

3. Establish a credible quarterly community survey

Columbia has contracted a high-quality random sample survey about every two years since 2003. That’s great, but it’s a little too much information and too late to affect regular decisions. It’s costly and time consuming. It would be helpful to citizens and elected officials if they had more timely citizen responses and opinions about issues. I wonder if citizens really think that the silver globe at Providence and Broadway is a worthwhile government investment? How do citizens feel about roll carts and solid waste issues? I have my impression of public opinion on these topics but I really don’t know.

Over the past two years, I conducted several informal internet surveys. They were pretty good, but their pitfall is not the wording of questions or analysis but sample selection. I tried hard to widely distribute the survey using social media and email lists— but I am uncertain it was adequately representative of the Columbia community. I believe a quality, quarterly, credible community survey can be conducted at minimal cost if the respondent pool is wide and diverse and the survey is done regularly for comparison purposes. This could be accomplished by a sponsoring organization of about five people providing oversight and input.

4. More clearly and completely present government at work

With the decline of the traditional city hall reporters, citizens need help following local governance. Local government should focus meetings more clearly, present relevant and necessary information clearly and make decision processes and alternatives clear. Yes, city council, I’m thinking about you. Often when I think I know what is going on, I ask myself “what the heck are they doing” and “what are they talking about?” Just providing more information is not good government. While is nice that the city website is full of information, it’s unclear what it all means. Responses on the new BeHeardCoMo website should be reported to the public at least quarterly.

5. Establish a citizen forum or local think tank

Citizens need to create and control this so it focuses on what citizens experience and need. There are dozens of organizations and people in Columbia who know a great deal about a slice or a sliver of our town, but there is no credible group keeping an eye on broad trends and future problems that may confront us. We need a broadly-based community forum to review government, follow up on previous decisions, anticipate future challenges and inform citizens and policy makers with credible information. I suggest that all former candidates for elected offices get involved because they learned a great deal about Columbia by running for office. The citizen forum should digest all the specialized reports other groups prepare for use by citizens, not to push a particular issue.

City leaders should challenge other Missouri cities in a contest to improve the quality and quantity of citizen involvement. That would be a race that could benefit the whole state.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

Blunt should show bipartisan support for Supreme Court nominee

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, April 15, 2022

Sen. Roy Blunt disappointed me last week. I’m sure we have often disagreed on public policy before. He has lots of diverse opinions and interests to represent. I generally give elected officials a wide path if they stay in the middle. I get over policy disagreement the next day; disappointment takes longer.

The cause of my disappointment, however, is really important. Blunt chose to go along with most of his party and allow the most recent Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court justice to continue its bottomless slide into hyper-partisanship. It was a disappointment to see his response about the latest nominee to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Most media and public attention about her nomination was because she is an African American woman, but most observers agree she is well qualified. I doubt that race and gender were the chief considerations of the opposing senators. The same group denied nominee Merrick Garland, a white male, even a vote in 2016. What mattered most to them is that she was nominated by a Democratic president. Blunt joined 46 other Republican senators continuing the circus of partisan rhetoric that dominates the chamber’s proceedings.

For as much as Senate Republicans preach about “strict constructionism” and “originalism” approaches to interpreting the Constitution, few of them have apparently read it earnestly. Article 2, Section 2, provides that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States.” While reasonable people may differ on the extent of active involvement implied by “advise and consent,” it’s unlikely that a faithful interpretation would permit blocking a nominee from even getting a Senate vote because it was politically advantageous.

As recently as the 1960s, Senate confirmation of justices was often by a non-conflictual voice vote. The contentious nature of Senate hearings began with several of President Richard Nixon’s nominees’ hearings in the 1970s, but really took off with the Robert Bork hearings in 1987. The Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 chaired by then-Sen. Joe Biden and involving a sexual harassment allegation by Anita Hill seems to have institutionalized nastiness and rancor.

After nationally televised Senate hearings were re-opened, Thomas was confirmed 52-48. The Senate has seldom gotten back to its traditional role since. Now, both Democrats and Republicans get ready to battle even before a nominee is selected.

Blunt certainly didn’t start this slide, and I don’t believe that he directly contributed to it. But, he could have slowed the erosion. He didn’t.

He took the path of least partisan resistance and voted “No.” In this case, Blunt said Jackson “is certainly qualified” and has a “great personality,” but that he would not be able to support her because he disagrees with her “judicial philosophy.”

That is disappointing because Blunt missed a leadership opportunity to put the brakes on the antics of at least three of his colleagues — Sens. Hawley of our state, Cotton of Arkansas and Cruz of Texas — who kept the Senate confirmation hearings at their low level by reading the nominee children’s books and focusing on a narrow range of her sentencing decisions.

To reach a new bottom, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, chose to cast their votes from the Senate cloak room because they were knowingly in violation of the coat-and-tie rule to enter the Senate chamber. Such behavior is viewed as a sign of disrespect. Unless assertively reversed, this decline in Senate norms and performance will continue with no end in sight.

Blunt is very capable of being a compromiser and a mediator. Throughout his long House and Senate service he has held high positions of Republican leadership. He was outstanding as chair of the Joint Committee on the Inauguration for the most recent presidential inauguration, and gave exemplary welcoming remarks.The best of them: “This is not a moment of division, it is a moment of unification.”

Let’s imagine that Blunt continued to pursue a “moment of unification” as it pertains to judicial appointments. He could have sat down with a couple of his veteran colleagues, several of whom worked with Biden when he was in the Senate, and agreed to “a smooth nomination and confirmation.”

Blunt could have said “Look, we know that you Democrats have the votes on this one, just as we will have the votes someday in the future, but we need to stop this nonsense.”

Either of the two ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, or Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, could have chimed in and said, “The two of us will be talking with our friend, the president, this afternoon and we will tell him: “Send up a name we can support, and all will be dignified.”

The other would say, “We will even go further, tell us in advance who you will nominate, and we will make sure it is not another circus.”

Durbin, a Democrat, might say: “We know what Joe said in the campaign. He will nominate a qualified African American woman.”

In my imaginary world, Blunt would speak up and say, “That’s fine. It might be a tough vote for her because of my Missouri folks back home, but I want to be sure the hearings are as dignified as the inauguration was.”

An old-timer, perhaps Feinstein, D-California, or Grassley, might have seconded Blunt’s suggestion with, “Yes, that’s what we need. A dignified Senate confirmation process that restores the trust and confidence of the American people in the Senate and in the Supreme Court. Let’s just do it.”

If Blunt would have acted to encourage a new Senate tradition for the next generation, he would have earned his name on a new building or bridge.

Afterthoughts by the numbers at Columbia’s recent election

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, April 9, 2022

We often remember names from campaigns, but numbers are important in seeing and remembering the big picture of a particular election. Here are nine important numbers from Tuesday’s election in Columbia.

1. Third Ward tie

Few active citizens will forget the 1102 to 1102 vote tie in the Third Ward between Roy Lovelady and Karl Skala. I’m sure there are Third Ward residents who planned to vote but forgot it was Election Day. That will teach us that, every now and then, your vote might determine the outcome. The tie will likely be broken when military and provisional ballots are counted within a week, so no coin-flip or runoff election will be necessary.

2. Mayoral results

Barbara Buffaloe was elected mayor with 8,538, or about 43%, of the 19,857 who voted. There were four moderate, articulate, informed candidates for mayor on election day. None were extremist or flame throwers. Randy Minchew was somehow tagged as the conservative candidate and received 39% of the vote. The other three were moderates and split 61% of the vote. Without a credible voter survey, we will never know for sure, but several David Seamon and Tanya Heath supporters told me they would vote for Buffaloe so they would not be spoilers. A change to rank choice voting would better reflect true citizen preference by reducing the need to vote for a candidate other than your favorite.

3. Voter Turnout

As an election junkie, the single most surprising number is the increased voter turnout of 7,715 voters, or 35%, compared with the Boone County election in 2019. Population growth was about 3%, so other influences were at work. My first thought is the increase is partly due to the competitive Third Ward where, in 2019, Skala ran unopposed and received 1,394 votes, where the total Third Ward votes increased by 873 or 62%.

Only 19,857 of Columbia’s 100,000 citizens over 18 years old voted for mayor. That’s only about 20% of adults voting for mayor. Buffaloe, the winning candidate, received 43% of the votes— but that’s actually 8.5% of the total adult population. That’s not the candidates’ fault, but it’s embarrassing for advocates for democracy. We need more voters.

4. Campaign Spending

Based on a report about campaign contributions occurring eight days before the election required by the Missouri Ethics Commission, the leading candidates generated about the same amount of contributions. Buffaloe reported $64,746 plus a late contribution of $15,772 while Minchew reported $84,802. I expect both of these numbers to increase in the required final report due 30 days after the election. This approximately $85,000 for Buffaloe and Minchew is less than the $129,873 received by Mayor Brian Treece in 2019 but more than his opponent Chris Kelly’s $57,461.

In the Third Ward tie, spending does not appear to be a critical factor. Skala received $8,043 and Lovelady $7,230 as of eight days before the election. If there is a runoff in this tied election, watch out! Spending will take off.

5. Two Use Tax Issues and a School Bond Passed

Proposition 1, a sales tax on internet sales, passed in Columbia with 58% approving and in Boone County with 54%. The result is to level the playing field for brick-and-mortar merchants competing with out-of-state merchants by collecting a 2% tax on remote sales in Columbia and a 1.75% tax on remote sales for Boone County. Ashland voters defeated their use tax proposal. The Columbia Public Schools Bond issue passed with 76%.

6. Columbia School Board election

This election seemed surprisingly without conflict given the past two years of often rancorous debates about COVID masks and school closings. The only incumbent seeking re-election, Blake Willoughby, won with 27% of votes and a newcomer, Suzette Waters, did a bit better with 30%. Interestingly, Willoughby and Waters, who reported campaign receipts of $3,425 and $8,565 respectively, were outspent by the two losing candidates Andrea Lisenby’s $12,180 and Adam Burke’s $13,430.

7. Withdrawal of Maria Oropallo

The single most important person, other than the candidates, was Maria Oropallo a fifth mayoral candidate, who withdrew March 12 when she accepted that she made a late start and would most likely not be successful. Her withdraw drew attention to the problem of having multiple candidates in a single vote election. She is also recognized for focusing on bus transportation as economic development issue, like the airport, and not as a public works concern, like street maintenance.

8. Number of polling places and poll workers

According to Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, there were 42 polling places across the county requiring 200 election judges. An election costs about $225,000 to administer. Lennon said that one of the most difficult tasks is recruiting election judges because both Democrat and Republican judges are required at every polling place.

9. Number of candidates

This election saw five candidates for mayor, two for the Third Ward, two for the Fourth Ward, and four for Columbia School Board. That’s 13 citizens who sought elected office, along with which comes remarkably long meetings, upset citizens, media commentary and potential electoral defeat. We should give them our thanks, attention, respect and scrutiny.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.


Winners in Tuesday’s election will have work to do

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, April 2, 2022

Hank Waters I am not, so don’t look for any candidate endorsements here. The late Waters was the long-time publisher of the competing local paper who interviewed each local candidate and often endorsed those he found qualified.

Instead I will propose a “to-do list” for whomever is elected mayor, to the City Council and to the Board of Education on Tuesday. Turnout is likely to be in the 18% to 20% range. Be sure to vote.

I paid moderate attention to this spring’s campaign, but probably not as much as I have in previous years. My hunch is that I am not alone. While there were many candidate forums, most of us seem to still be in COVID-mode, lying low and staying away from public events. Overall, I think the candidates compare well with previous years. Together the mayoral candidates identify an accurate array of issues facing Columbia, but I can’t identify any central campaign themes in either the city or school board campaigns that will focus this coming year’s policy calendar.

Campaigns in a democracy are more than just a horse race; they are an opportunity for citizens and candidates to hear ideas and to educate themselves with the goal of bringing about good public decisions. Unfortunately, paid candidate advertising via multiple mail brochures, social media and radio spots play an oversized role in candidate name recognition. The Missourian devoted enough space to candidate profiles and questionnaire responses to satisfy most interested citizens’ information needs.

For the past few months, candidates understandably focused on getting elected, so they said nice, noncontroversial things and project pleasant personalities. What voters really need to know are (1) how well will the elected candidate, a.k.a. officeholder, interact with his or her new colleagues and (2) will they be speaking up at the critical moment and make a difference? Both of these traits are hard to detect ahead of time. We know from sports scouting and reporting that some excellent players just don’t seem to be near the ball when the game is on the line. People are hard to predict in that way.

A high priority for both the City Council and the School Board is to reflect on the level of trust in local officials. Quite frankly, in the past couple years, even before the pandemic commenced in 2020, my impression is that both elected bodies spend too much time on public posturing and going through the motions of hearing public opinion for the sake of hearing public opinion. Governance is decision-making, not decision-watching.

The Board of Education misspends a great deal of meeting time recognizing great achievements of CPS students, staff and faculty. Better to have board members visit some of the struggling schools and report back to their colleagues what they have found for themselves rather than all recognizing a few of our all-stars during official meeting time.

For the new mayor and the newly formulated City Council, I wish that they will accept the responsibility of active, assertive leadership and propose to the city manager and to Columbia where they want to go.

Hearing long lines of similar five-minute speeches about how to spend the $25 million American Rescue Plan Act money has quickly diminishing returns. Similarly, the council needs to achieve a common understanding of its rules and procedures and adopt the goal of making decisions in a timely fashion.

A key takeaway of the mayoral campaign is the importance and significance of viewing bus transportation as an instrument of economic development, like the airport, rather than a public works project like filling potholes. Columbia has been struggling with operating an efficient and effective transit system for years. The routes don’t go where potential riders want to go; the service shuts down too early in the evening to be useful transportation for those going downtown or to campus for evening entertainment; and some areas — the Highlands neighborhood, for example — get no transit service at all.

It’s been hard to hire and retain drivers, and purchasing buses is not easy due to environmental goals and federal subsidies. Many college towns have an integrated campus-city system that seems to be reliable and profitable. Why can’t CoMo?

Hopefully, roll carts for trash service will be decided by the existing council on Monday. Moving that issue off the council’s agenda will be a gift to the next council members. Like affordable housing and homeless issues, roll carts have taken up too much oxygen over the past five years. My preferred solution — privatization, allowing residents to contract out for either cart pick-up or bag-pickup — sits on an academic bookshelf.

The long-term financial soundness of the city and local economy deserves more candidate attention. Yes, both the county and city Proposition 1 adopting the use tax should be passed, but utility, infrastructure and renewable energy compliance will almost certainly be more costly in the near future.

School Board candidates and administrators talk gently and politely about equity in schools. While the pandemic reduced equity in study performance, CPS, and most school districts, have only moved the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Someday, maybe candidates will yell and stomp their feet calling for adopting policies that address the consequences of underlying, persistent societal inequities.

Finally, elected official should take a new look at ranked-choice voting. It would increase the number of candidates, reduce “strategic voting” and allow candidates to be more courageous and broaden their appeal to voters.

All city and School Board candidates expressed their love for Columbia. Most citizens feel that way, too. The best way to show that love is to vow to pay more attention to local government and to vote on April 5.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

‘Fiddler on the roof’ is vantage point to see social change

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 25, 2022

“The Fiddler on the Roof” was performed at MU Jesse Concert Series last week as a live production by a traveling professional theatre company. It was dedicated by the cast to the people of Ukraine suffering from the Russian invasion this past month. Their dedication is more appropriate than I realized that evening, for there is a village named Anatevka in Ukraine on the outskirts of Kyiv named after the village from the musical. It was founded in 2015 by Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, primarily as a refuge for Jewish families displaced by Russia’s five-year war against Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced even more in the country’s eastern region.

The 1964 Broadway musical and the 1971 film are set in antisemitic pre-revolutionary Russia in the fictional village of Anatevka, Ukraine, in 1905. The central theme is shown through the poor milkman Tevye’s struggle to accept his rapidly changing world, which includes having five daughters leave home one by one. The 1964 musical was well received,  nominated for 10 Tony Awards, nine of which it won, and was the first musical to achieve 3000 performances. The 1971 movie won Oscars for best song, sound and cinematography.

“Fiddler on the Roof” is a somber but delightful portrayal of an Orthodox Jewish family living in a small community as Russian authorities are moving them out. The father, Tevye, aims to be true to his religious traditions by asking God for personal direction when the village matchmaker suggests his eldest daughter marries the older, wealthier town butcher, whom she rejects. Tevye supports his daughter’s wishes and, resisting tradition, helps his daughter marry a man she prefers.

Social change has a way of speeding up and Tevye is next confronted with his second daughter’s marriage to a man that she arranged all by herself. His third daughter marries a man he disapproves of because the man is of a different faith. The family’s story ends tragically as the Czar’s troops evict the Jewish community from Anatevka and they emigrate to Poland or the United States. History repeats itself.

The timeless popularity of “Fiddler on the Roof” stems from the universal struggle to adopt and accept social change. While the 1960s and ‘70s in America were full of such struggles because of the Vietnam War, rock music and newly discovered social freedoms, all generations deal with social, economic, and technological changes. Smartphones have affected matchmaking, family dinners, and parental authority. “Fiddler” is very popular in Japan, where social change seems to be particularly hard.

Last week’s performance was practically sold out. To be sure, it was an older audience but there were lots of multi-generational families and a few groups of Mizzou students. It was my first live production, but I remember the 1971 movie and the popularity of many of the songs. “Sunrise, Sunset” must have been played at practically every wedding in the 1970s and ‘80s. I was surprised by the number of specific demonstrations of religious faith in “Fiddler.” Tevye routinely asked God for personal direction and the community song “Sabbath Prayer” is a moving request for God’s protection and blessings, including biblical references that my baby-boom generation would probably recognize. That got me thinking about the decline of public, cultural, and social displays of religion in America today.

A majority of American high school students cannot name the 10 Commandments with only 45% recalling the commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Belief in God declined from 90 percent in 2001 to 79% in 2017. A 2022 Marist Poll asked the question differently and found that overall 54% “believe in God as described in the Bible” differing a great deal by generation. The poll also found that 69% of respondents over 60 believe in God as described in the Bible with percentages declining in younger generations. Forty percent report attending church services at least once or twice a month, down from 52% in 2011.

The implications of changing religious beliefs for the future of our society are mixed. Across all demographic groups, 87% of Americans think it is important to be part of a close-knit community. About half of the country say their religion plays a role in their personal relationships, with Republicans twice as likely to say so as Democrats. However, 54% report that religion plays no part in their political identification. About 70% of Americans think the nation’s moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction, regardless if they practice a religion or not. Overall about two-thirds of Americans do not think being religious is necessary in order to live a good life.

The durability of “Fiddler on the Roof” may be due to the long menu of memorable songs, but the struggle to hold on to traditions in a challenging world is universally gripping and heroic.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

Danforth and McCaskill not giving up on democracy

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 18, 2022

Former U.S. Sens. John Danforth and Claire McCaskill discussed the lack of bipartisanship in American politics Monday night at Stephens College with President Dianne Lynch serving as moderator.

McCaskill, a Democrat, and Danforth, a Republican, talked for an hour during a Zoom conference arranged by a group called the Unnamed Committee of Boone County for Open Minds in Politics.

Danforth began the evening’s discussion saying that for two centuries we believed the national motto “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “Out of Many, One” suggesting that despite party disagreement, the goal of national unity was always present.

It’s hard to see that we still act like that. Danforth observed that the main value politicians agree on is how to get elected by appealing to, and growing, “the base.” Danforth said he believes the many Republican candidates sound the same because they constantly use the word fight.

McCaskill was asked about the current political climate and replied, “things are bad, really bad. We demonize the other side.” Danforth referred to a poll of Missourians where 80% say the “the political system is broken.” I agree with them, but it is disappointing that I’ve heard this since at least the late 1990s and not much corrective action, a.k.a. “reforms,” have been adopted.

The two former Missouri senators agree on several causes of our hyper polarization and even on some reforms. For starters, they agree that the primary election process allows party extremists greater influence than they deserve.

Secondly, they agree that the traditional Senate procedure called “regular order ” is no longer used. That’s the process we learned in school about “how a bill becomes a law.” Danforth said that nowadays, major bills are drafted in the White House, the Speaker’s office or the Senate majority leader’s office, rather than in a committee resulting with most senators not having an opportunity to amend the bill as it makes its way through the chamber.

Danforth and McCaskill agree most senators have only a single up or down vote on a finished bill consisting of complicated subsections, so senators end up preaching partisan speeches to the empty Senate chamber rather than working out a compromise that improves the bill.

Danforth briefly referred to his recent search for a centralist Republican to run as an independent who, once elected, could avoid being stuck in the same party adding to the nastiness of modern day poor institutional performance. Danforth said he expects there would be ample campaign funding made available for such a person, but, so far, a suitable candidate has not been announced.

I like the idea and wish it well. It reminds me of the “No Labels” national movement that makes sense in its quest for solutions to tough problems but seems to be stuck in neutral.

Both Danforth and McCaskill called for making politics and the Senate more human. Danforth recalled that his friendship with fellow Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton, of the other party, began when Eagleton commented to Danforth at an early social event after Danforth had just been elected that “I know you wish your father was here.”

Danforth characterized Eagleton’s thoughtfulness as a fundamental human response that led to them having cordial conversations about political issues. McCaskill added that she had a similar relationship with her fellow Sen. Roy Blunt.

Both former senators agreed that reform ideas have to be actionable, not just a “pie in the sky” proposal. They had several ideas they agreed on. They both criticized gerrymandering and endorsed rank-choice voting — an idea I wrote about several weeks ago at the local level.

The senators disagreed a bit when it comes to campaign finance reform, a topic McCaskill said they had discussed with one another before. Danforth is less enthusiastic about the benefits and feasibility of campaign funding reform than is McCaskill who is mainly concerned with the flow of “dark money,” which is money donated without disclosing the donor’s name.

One topic not mentioned during the Zoom conversation was the news media. I have accepted the reality that (1) few citizens want to watch CSPAN-type programming every day and (2) that the economics of the media will always favor “expert” interviews rather than deep documentaries.

The media is ratings-driven and subscription-driven, so many of us know who AOC, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Marjorie Taylor Greene are but probably can’t place the name Dick Durbin. This is no way to inform a democracy.

The fault ultimately lies with us — the voters. Not only are we not as well informed as we could be, many of us don’t vote and many are single-issue voters when we do.

McCaskill said she told her staff “if a constituent calls thanking me for compromising on an issue, come and get me immediately.” She reports she was never interrupted for that reason.

Danforth proposed, and McCaskill endorsed, “taking a person of the other party to lunch and getting to know them as a person.” To that end, I invite the first Republican and the first Democrat, who I don’t yet know, to contact me for lunch (on me).

We will not immediately discuss politics, per se, but will learn about each other as just as fellow humans. Who knows, maybe we will do it twice and move toward a humane conversation about some current political issues.


David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

Peter Hessler comes home to Columbia to give lecture at MU

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 12, 2022

Peter Hessler, a 1988 grad of Hickman High School, returned last week to his hometown to deliver the Lloyd B. Thomas Lecture and Performance Series lecture that marks the annual Arts and Science Week at MU.

Previous notable scholars brought to campus for the lecture include documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Truman biographer David McCullough and author Bill McKibben.

Hessler’s extraordinary four books and numerous writings on China, and more recently a book on Egypt deservedly places him in that august group. This was actually his second visit back home to receive an MU award. He was awarded the School of Journalism’s Honor Medal in 2018.

Because of his family, I was aware of Pete’s academic record since the late 1990s. For some reason, news about grand academic awards spreads fast, even before the advent of social media. While aware of his writing achievements, I didn’t really read deeply his work until 2014 when I discovered his three books on China, and his wife Leslie Chang’s “Factory Girls,” while I was teaching in South Korea and making side trips to Thailand, Japan and China.

I was immediately absorbed by Hessler’s skill at examining single people and events and projecting their broader meaning.

I “met” Pete a year ago for a Zoom interview for the Boone County History and Culture Center. He was cooperative, punctual and easy to interview. Very down-to-earth for a person of his achievement. I am a late-coming fan of Pete, for he has received a Rhodes Scholarship, a MacArthur Fellowship, and many book awards over the past 30 years, increasing my confidence in elite selection processes.

Hessler’s Thomas Lecture this week was a 20-year retrospective of his observations about Chinese life that began in 1996 when he joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Fuling, a small city in southwestern China, to teach English.

That experience resulted in “River Town,” which he wrote upon his return right here in Columbia. He most recently taught English at Sichuan University in 2019 and was The New Yorker’s major writer on China until he departed in July 2021.

In an hourlong lecture, Pete pulled together many observations perhaps best captured by the theme of China’s transition from rural to urban society, but that is too simple. Pete described the changes in his students’ families due to the one-child policy, better nutrition due to the internet and increased mobility. Most importantly, he used surveys of his students to capture Chinese attitudes toward their parents, Chinese leaders and the intense competition in education and business practices he called “the gray market.”

Overall, I heard of a younger Chinese generation that, while independent thinkers, have tended to find a niche in jobs and society and accepted it. When most Chinese students see unfairness in their communities or the political system, they tend to accept it as being “the way life is.”

Perhaps the easiest entry point into Hessler’s method and work is “How China Controlled the Coronavirus,” in the Aug. 17, 2020 issue of The New Yorker. In it, Hessler recounts significant aspects of his new daily life teaching 55 students creative writing without ever meeting them in person.

Hessler recalls the personal restriction on his physical movement, but also how existing neighborhood groups, some affiliated with the Communist Party, were used effectively for contact tracing and played an important role in keeping China’s COVID fatality rate low.

Pete has developed a unique anthropological approach that is skillfully organized and creatively expressed about basic social phenomenon, which he artfully links to the larger picture. In short, he intuitively learns what he wants to look for, and he knows why it is important. That style of orientation promises to make deeper and richer the social science of voting behavior and policymaking that I have followed for 40 years.

Imagine if Pete changed his focus from China and Egypt to American society. He could spend some quality time in Columbia applying his same skills of observation to a medium-sized Midwest American city in preparation for an imaginary book titled “Hey, I Made it Back Home Again.” He could tutor at Grant School once again and teach a course on China in each of our high schools.

As a runner, he would marvel at our world-class cross-country creek and might join several workouts with MU and club runners, picking up changes in athletic priorities and training over the past 35 years. Pete would spend days at the Farmers Market learning about planting trends and the place urban agriculture plays in the 21st century. As he did in China, Pete would listen and observe American Midwesterners’ attitude toward complying with COVID-19 precautions of vaccinating and mask-wearing. In the process, Hessler would undoubtedly make insights into the breadth and depth of so-called grassroots support for former President Donald Trump and gauge the likelihood of a Trump return to presidential politics.

As he has done with his Chinese students, Pete would survey American students about their attitudes toward American society, their understanding of social change, their attitudes toward government and towards the future.

Finally, I should share my admiration that Columbia turned out several world class scholars and authors in the mid-1980s. I have written elsewhere about Harvard professor Walter Johnson’s several books on American slavery and civil rights in St. Louis.

The fact that they grew up a couple blocks apart and that their siblings played together in the Stewart Road neighborhood blows my mind, as we used to say. Hessler and Johnson received the best Columbia has to offer and found their niches along the way.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.