If you became homeless would you prefer a shelter or a camp?

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, November 25, 2018

Winter and the holiday season seem to increase the public’s awareness of the homeless among us. While homeless in the summer is no picnic, the thought of our fellow citizens “being out there in the cold” is disturbing.

For Christians, Christmas with its story of two homeless travelers ultimately finding shelter in a manager can be attention getting. And then there is that quote “whatever ye have done unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done unto me.”

A year ago, about this time, I met a young man from outside Jefferson City whose marriage was falling apart. He and his wife had two school-aged daughters, and they agreed it was easier for him to find somewhere else to live. He came to Columbia because it was larger, but he didn’t know anyone.

A few years earlier, I’d met a guy who had been extradited from California, was awaiting trial and had been released on his own recognizance. He had no money, no identification, not even his eye glasses and knew no one in Missouri.

Last summer, a man nearing retirement age lost his apartment because he owed too much back rent. Homelessness had never occurred to him before. This summer I met a young woman working several low-paying personal attendant jobs saving for a car because “it will be her life insurance, someplace to go to be independent and safe.”

There are many routes leading normal, average people to homelessness. Increasingly drug and alcohol addictions will be a serious problem for many families. Few families have the resources or knowledge to know what to do. Often addicts end up in our emergency rooms and on our streets. I met a mother volunteering at a shelter so she could stay in touch with her son whose drug addiction destroyed their family.

Without a stable home, those who don’t want to be totally self-reliant and isolated often choose between a shelter or a camp. They may look the same to us, but they differ in resources, authority, eligibility, governance — and personal freedom.

I have written a play about each of these shelter alternatives. “The Night at the Shelter” was performed in late 2015, and “Chuck’s Jungle: A Night at the Campsite” was performed last week. The plays are inspired by and based on listening to several hundred homeless men and women in Columbia.

Homeless men and women seek a sense of community while struggling for their own survival. Yes, bikes and phones often disappear if left unattended, but homeless guys often give up the last cot at a shelter for someone they thought needed it more. Homeless guys sometimes bicker and fight, yet they protect the more vulnerable among them.

Shelters are organizations with rules. They are usually predictable, clean and stable, but they usually offer little privacy and personal control. They can be bureaucracy with time checks and procedures that a newcomer may not understand and repeat users tolerate. Shelters are often staffed by well-meaning, middle-class volunteers who can be a little too eager and too bossy for guys who have been out in the weather all day. Surprisingly, you’ll sometimes hear a volunteer declare a variation of this: “They should just be glad they have someplace to go.”

Homeless camps are self-governed but unpredictable, usually with hygiene and safety challenges. Often, they are on private property with the tacit knowledge of the owners. These camps need to stay out of sight. If they are noticed, they will get a notice — and, if noticed too often, they may be scattered by the police.

Seniority often matters in camp governance, so a new person must fit in. Prison experience seems to be the bond that ties guys together.

Across the U.S., municipalities have reportedly cracked down on camps, just as they have removed benches in downtown areas. Compared to the romantic idea of hobos jumping trains in the 1930s, there really are fewer places where the homeless can find personal space.

Car camping may be the boxcar for today’s travelers. Several cities are experimenting with dedicated parking lots for car campers.

Certainly, helping the homeless into more permanent housing is valuable because it gets them into a more stable environment, but it is not enough. The causes of homelessness are many, and they often accumulate to make them a difficult population to help.

When previously homeless men and women are assisted into housing, they often find themselves isolated and torn between their old routines and a new start. They can be geographically isolated without adequate transportation. A soup kitchen is not only about the food, it is about social engagement.

Most of us cannot do much individually to help the homeless. But a city, state and nation can do a great deal more to enact public policies to reduce the probability of leading causes of homelessness such as drug addictions, joblessness and mental illness.

This winter, however, we can treat them with dignity and respect. We can learn to share food with them in safe venues, not just behind serving lines. We can talk with them. We can treat them as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters because they probably are.

The blue wave was bigger than I thought it would be

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, November 11, 2018

Perhaps because I was viewing the midterm elections from a Missouri perspective, I was slow to see that the blue wave was substantial. If it had not been for Republicans flipping the Senate seats in conservative Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota, it may have been a Category 5, certainly a Category 4, hurricane.

While some observers see the national results returning us to “divided government” and “gridlock,” others see a return of checks and balances that will increase congressional oversight of the executive branch. America is a moderate nation, seldom swinging wildly to one side or the other. After the most expensive campaigns in history, Election Day 2018 turned out to be a textbook midterm referendum on the president.

Two competing forces were dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump’s personal style, and reactions against the Senate Democrats’ handling of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. Together they resulted in record turnouts.
Nationally, the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives by picking up 30 seats, some in districts favorable to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but some clear defeats of Republicans happened in largely suburban districts, such as Johnson County, Kansas.

Looking beneath those numbers, estimates are that the average House district moved about 10 percentage points to the Democrats. Even so, the actual shift in seats to the Democrats was smaller than the one in 2006, the last time Democrats flipped the House. And it was half the size of the most recent Republican wave in 2010, when House districts shifted more than 19 percentage points to the Republicans. The likely explanation is that partisan gerrymandering saved some Republican-held seats.

The historical impact of the 2018 elections may be that more than 100 women candidates, rather ethnically and occupationally diverse, were elected to Congress. Many of these women and their campaign volunteers reportedly were recruited to run back in early 2017 while attending the Women’s March that spread across the country.

Americans are not inherently Republican or Democrat, but they are innately “anti-government.” The part of President Trump’s appeal to blue-collar workers, including union members, that many liberals do not seem to understand is that most voters want to be “anti-government” even when they support government programs that affect them.

Part of the Democrats’ continuing branding problem is that they having trouble sounding anti-government. Health care expansion is a manifestation of this challenge. That’s why Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is easily painted as a San Francisco liberal, is not a good look for the future of national Democrats.

In Missouri’s two statewide contests, Republican Senator-elect Josh Hawley won convincingly over the moderate Democrat incumbent Claire McCaskill, but incumbent Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway won by six points over the weak campaign of Republican Saundra McDowell.

Bucking the trend of Democrats picking up more than 325 state legislative seats, the Missouri state legislature showed no change, leaving the Senate Republicans a 24-10 supermajority and the House being Republican controlled 45-16. The 2011 Missouri gerrymandered map has held strong.

Nationally, Democrats picked up seven governorships but lost Ohio and maybe Florida — two prize states for the 2020 presidential election — but knocked off Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Democratic nemesis.
Democrats picked up state attorneys general, secretaries of state and held liberal and moderate judges.

The biggest news in Missouri, and several states, may be the success of what some people call “progressive” ballot measures.Voters approved gerrymander reform, medical marijuana and minimum wage increases, but defeated a gasoline tax increase to fund state police and highways.

To call these ballot measures “progressive” is to misunderstand Missouri voters’ intent with the result contributing to confusion about American politics.The gerrymander reform, medical marijuana and minimum wage increase ballot measures are anti-government. Increasing the gasoline tax is pro-government and thus was soundly defeated by Missourians.

The most surprising election results may be in Boone County, where turnout was 70 percent of registered voters compared to 43 percent in the last non-presidential election in 2014. Democrats won all county seats, performing very well. An example of Democratic success was Nora Dietzel as Recorder of Deeds, who won by nearly 8,000 votes compared to her 400-vote margin in 2014 over the same candidate Lisa Ballenger.

Democrats in the U.S. House must resist the need to overreach. They should adopt a clear policy agenda for the first session of the new Congress, including an effective transportation and pollution control infrastructure plan, health care cost controls, immigration reform, voting rights guarantees and increasing the federal minimum wage. The House Democrats should resist the urge to investigate Trump and should allow special counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 elections.

Politics is never over. Congressional leaders are pretty much the same, the president is the same, lobbyists are the same, the news media is the same.It’s likely that the results will be the same. Not much will be done in the next two years to address real policy problems.

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

Study the candidates. Examine the issues. Vote on Tuesday.

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, November 4, 2018

The 2018 midterm elections come at a time when checks and balances are desperately needed at the national level and the integrity of Missouri’s political process must be improved. Yet it has been a campaign marked by more external chaos and tragedy than thoughtful discussion of pressing policy issues.

Along with the dozens of candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, the Missouri House and half of the Missouri Senate, and scores of local judges and country officials essential for the smooth functioning of government, Constitutional Amendment I and several ballot propositions deserve voter attention and support.

The quality of Missouri’s political system has been neglected for decades. Citizens need to step up, become informed and vote on, or before, Tuesday.
The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Claire McCaskill, Democrat, and challenger and current Attorney General Josh Hawley, Republican, is center stage in Missouri this year. For voters who are genuinely not straight party voters, their knowledge of the candidates probably comes from the dozens of negative TV ads shown on Missouri airwaves since last year.This race is one of about five being watched nationally for its impact on party control of the U.S. Senate.

As a citizen you owe it to yourself to quietly listen to the McCaskill and Hawley ads and ask, “is this really what a democracy looks like?” Apparently, there is no end to the slide into the muck and slime of negative advertising.
Those TV voiceovers always sound so seductive. Dark money darkens politics, blinding voters to the distortion of campaign influence and information. Democracy requires completive, and fair, elections.

Unfortunately, due to several decades of gerrymandering the U.S. House districts in Missouri, there is little suspense about who will be the election-night victors. Our political system needs competitive elections for voters to have an effective way to hold our representatives accountable.

Nationally, the U.S. House of Representatives appears to be a competitive toss-up. Historically, the party of the president loses seats in the midterm election, but it is unlikely that 2018 will have the historical impact of say 1994, when Newt Gingrich-led Republicans gained a majority in the House or in 2010 when, in President Barack Obama’s words, “Democrats took a shellacking” at the local, state and national levels.

Several projections have Democrats picking up positions as state governors and state legislatures. Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to become the House majority. It seems likely they will pick up 14 seats with another 29 rated as “toss ups.” Many of the toss-ups are in white, suburban, conservative districts where Republican women may determine the outcome.

In Missouri, Amendment I is an opportunity for citizens to impose reforms on the established political order. Amendment I will establish campaign contributions, delay former legislators from serving as lobbyists, ban gifts to legislators over $5, but more important, change how state legislative districts are drawn after reapportionment.

Amendment I does not change the redistricting process to a citizen or judicial commission but to a state demographer who would propose a new redistricting map based on the traditional concepts of equal size and compactness but adding fairness without diluting ethnic integrity.

Amendment I is supported by a diverse and varied list of political groups, including the Republicans for Amendment Coalition, led by former U.S. Sen. John Danforth and several Republican state senators who have written op-eds in Missouri newspapers supporting the proposed redistricting changes.
Election 2018 has not been a policy issue-driven campaign due to the amount of dark money and other campaign contributions, accusations of voter suppression, the impact of the Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and the distractions of pipe bombs and Pittsburgh synagogue shootings.

When all is said and done, my hunch is that the U.S. House will be Democratic, the U.S. Senate will remain Republican and that Amendment I will be adopted in Missouri. The Senate race is just too close to even guess. Nationally, Democrats will pick up several high-profile governorships (probably Florida and Wisconsin). Sadly, I do not expect an increase in civility and compromise. The big winner of the 2018 congressional election may be the new senator for Utah, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

If there is a Democratic House and a slim Republican majority, Romney will be well-positioned to be a voice of reason and moderation. Romney’s advantage over other Republican senators is that he already has a national reputation, and his new home state of Utah is largely critical of Trump, so Romney can be as independent as he wants to be.

Collective we deserve more deliberation and civility, collectively we have no one to blame but ourselves. Few candidates are perfect and neither is Amendment I, but all voters can do at this point to become informed and make the best choice from the alternatives we are offered.