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.

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.

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.

Russian invasion of Ukraine is jolt of history

David Webber Columbia MISSOURIAN, March 5, 2022

The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution “steadfastly, staunchly, proudly and fervently” in support of Ukraine the day after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech.

The Senate is likely to adopt a similar non-binding resolution as it negotiates a supplemental funding bill that would expend about $6 billion for military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

That’s all well and good, especially if it includes members of Congress educating themselves and their own constituents about the real dangers of today’s international climate and motivates them to reduce their partisan rhetoric. Doing so will give Americans a clearer view of the risks and consequences of the Russian invasion.

The world is rightfully shocked by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin invading a neighbor and ordering nuclear forces to be on alert. He presents the world a clear and present danger to international order and peace.

A nuclear war can never be won, and Biden and NATO leaders have no other choice but to take a cautious, indirect response of economic sanctions that will take longer than anyone wishes to have an effect. Even then, the Russian people are more likely to be hurt than is Putin.

One of the blessings bestowed on the United States is that we are largely geographically protected from foreign invasions, allowing us a level of security not known in most other countries. Along with it has come a limited understanding of human history.

War and disease have plagued human history, but we have embraced global economic networks and national sovereignty without vigilance and skepticism. So here we sit in 2022 with a superpower invading a neighbor amid a global pandemic.

I, and most baby boomers, thought the U.S. had brought Cold War threats pretty much under control since World War II ended. Yes, America dealt with the Vietnam War, several Mideast conflicts and decades of pursuing the Taliban and ISIS, but conflict with Russia seemed to have disappeared with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the USSR on Dec. 25, 1991.

Or so we thought.

We thought we won the Cold War; Putin apparently viewed it as only halftime.

Putin’s indiscretions in the 2008 war with Georgia and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, related to Ukraine’s political instability and street protests in Kyiv, as well as his sending Russian troops into Syria in 2015 in support of Bashar Assad’s regime drew some international condemnation that now seems mild. In hindsight, we should have done more. Several presidential administrations and hundreds of congressional leaders missed opportunities to send clear signals to Putin, and the Russian people, that Putin’s imperial expansion would be confronted.

One key tenet of U.S foreign policy in the post-World War II era, is the benefit of “mutual assured destruction (MAD).” This is the doctrine that a country, knowing that an adversary can instantly retaliate in-kind against a nuclear attack, would refrain from launching a nuclear attack in the first place. Mutual assured destruction assumes that all adversaries are rational actors, not mad. Now we are discussing if Putin qualifies as a rational actor. His aspiration to restore the greatness of Russia is likely to have the opposite result.

A popular idea among international observers is often referred to as the “democratic peace.” This is the widely confirmed argument that democracies never fight each other. The implication is that if Russia was a full-blown democracy and not under the thumb of a tyrant then the invasion of Ukraine would be inconceivable.

A democratic Russia would have hundreds of citizen organizations that would have objected to sending their sons and daughters, or themselves, to die in a foreign land for the sake of Putin’s expansionary vision. American “soft power” should have been used to convert more Russians into democratic activists so that political protests would be a force constraining Putin.

In that light, Russian violations found by drug testing of Olympic athletes, for example, should have been upgraded and increased, and all Russians should have been prevented from competing. The governing bodies of the world and European soccer games have excluded Russian teams from this year’s championships. By allowing individual Russians to compete as the “Russian Olympic Committee” without official Russian affiliation circumvented a path for citizens expressing their views to their government.

Because Putin has ordered the destruction of purely civilian targets such as schools and hospitals, the International Court of Justice needs to prosecute Putin for war crimes. A small gesture, for sure.

Reportedly, economic sanctions and businesses, such as Apple, withdrawing from Russia is having an economic impact on Russia. The single most effective thing American citizens could do to support Ukraine is to refuse Russia oil and gas. This will of course increase the price of gas at the pump because of the simple, wrong-headed way we calculate inflation. A gallon of gas from a dictator should not be measured the same as a gallon of gas a trusted friend.

It is unclear how the Ukraine military invasion will end, but it won’t be good for either Ukraine or Russia. It is hard to imagine Putin will give orders to turn his troops around. What is likely is millions of horrors and atrocities, including possible nuclear waste released from existing nuclear plants, leaving behind a desolate Ukraine and a totally impoverished Russia. I expect Ukraine will be virtually wiped out, leveled, and Russia to be stone cold poor for generations.

Congress and American citizens need to learn once again that the world is a dangerous place and recognize that a democratic peace requires a strong democracy at home that “steadfastly, staunchly, proudly and fervently” supports democracies against tyranny around the world.

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.

Columbia’s mayoral race is an accident waiting to happen

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, February 25, 2022

Ranked-choice voting should come to Columbia when the April 5 mayoral race goes the way I expect, and we elect a candidate with less than majority support.

That race could be another data point showing that simple voting is simply not giving voters the most preferred candidates. This is one of those “academic” ideas that has been around for decades but doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It matters.

It’s likely Bill Clinton would not have been elected president in 1992, nor George W. Bush in 2000, if we had ranked-choice voting. This is not a partisan idea.

Most elections in America are determined by which candidate gets the most votes. That’s fine if there are just two candidates because the top candidate will have a majority of the vote — 50% plus 1. If there are three or more candidates, things get interesting with the winner receiving only a plurality of the vote. It’s possible that the “most preferred” candidate does not win. In a democratic election, the candidate with the strongest preference should be elected, not the candidate who slips by because the other candidates split the vote.

Let’s say there are two alternatives for deciding a school, or retirement center, song: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and a short version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Pretend the sophisticated student body is learning toward Beethoven, with 60% to 40%. But I, a devoted Springsteen fan, convince the principal that Beethoven’s Fifth should also be on the ballot. The Beethoven devotees might split their votes with 30% for the Ninth Symphony and 30% for the Fifth and Bruce wins with 40% of the vote. Good for Bruce fans, but the majority of the school preferred Beethoven over Bruce 60 to 40.

Often people realize this situation in organizations to which they belong. I realized it in eighth grade when I persuaded a student to run for student council president because the two acknowledged favorites, who were cousins, would split the vote and “my candidate” would win. That’s what happened.

When I shared this story in my Mizzou political science classes over the years, heads nod and students say, “We did that, too.” I told them “Yep, it happens all the time.” Often in schools it’s a gender thing — two boys running against one girl in junior high increases the odds for the girl.

A solution is “ranked-choice voting,” where, rather than just selecting one option, voters rank all the candidates in order of most preferred to least preferred.

If no candidate wins a majority, the candidate who finishes last is eliminated and their votes are distributed according to the voters’ preference. In my silly Beethoven-Springsteen contest, it’s likely that Beethoven devotees would rank the Fifth and the Ninth symphonies their top two choices and Springsteen in third place. Springsteen would be eliminated and the votes he received would then be distributed according to his voters’ next preference.

Ranked-choice voting is a better alternative than a runoff election because it requires only one election, saving administrative and campaign costs, and maintains voter interest.

I’m not the first Missourian columnist to write about this. Last August, Joshua Holzer asked: is it time for Missouri to adopt rank-choice voting and in 2016, Steve Spellman argued that reform in city elections could solve a number of voter dilemmas.

Back more than 20 years ago, a local resident, Henry Lane, conducted his own campaign for “instant runoff voting.” He often set up a table at the Earth Day festival and other local events asking citizens to fill out a sample ballot and demonstrated how to drop the least favorite candidate and distribute that last place candidate’s vote to the remaining candidates in order of the voter’s preference.

Lane did his demonstration with pencil and paper but now, of course, computer programs can do the job in a jiffy.

This idea for voting reform is catching on across the nation. Ranked-choice voting was used in the recent New York City mayoral race and has been adopted in 50 jurisdictions, including Alaska, Maine, and Washington, D.C.

There is now a national organization, Fair Vote, that is having a free online webinar, “How will we win in 2022” at 4 p.m. CT this Monday. 

This gets us back to Columbia’s April 5 mayoral election. There are five candidates on the ballot: Barbara Buffaloe, Tanya Heath, Randy Minchew, Maria Oropallo and David Seamon. With five nonincumbent candidates, the chances of a majority winner is slight.

Moreover, based on the 2020 presidential vote in Columbia, the city is about 60% Democrat and 40% Republican. To the extent that at least three, and probably four, of the mayoral candidates seem to lean Democratic, it’s likely they will split the 60% Democratic vote.

My hunch is that no candidate will receive 40%, probably not even 35%. As this is a nonpartisan election, there is no party primary and no political party official endorsement to rank these five candidates. I have seen no voter survey, but my hunch is this is a wide-open race. That may be good for NCAA’s March Madness or a horse race, but “good government” requires a little more thoughtfulness and order and less chance.

The most immediate implication of having five candidates for mayor is that whoever is elected will likely start as a minority mayor with more votes against than for. That leads to more criticism, more distrust and more cynicism.

We should have a voting system where the most preferred candidate wins, not one where the number of candidates affects the outcome. It’s the electoral system, not the candidates, that is the problem.

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.

Columbia Public Library Union: Yes or No?

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, February 19, 2022

Columbia Public Library, officially a branch of the Daniel Boone Regional Library (DBRL), is a long-time cherished local institution. It was surprising to learn DBRL employees are in the midst of organizing a union.

DBRL is unique in important ways. It is one of 15% of American libraries that are “independent.” It has its own source of revenue, the local property tax, and its own board of trustees. DBRL is not part of the city or county government, although the heads of those governing institutions do name the board of trustees, who serve three-year terms.

I was honored to serve on the DBRL Board of Trustees from 2007-2013, the last year as the board president. It was certainly my impression that the library was a happy place to work.

I recall much staff, administrator and trustee interaction. I don’t recall, however, any “official staff advisory council” that provided feedback to the library board of trustees. During my board experience, DBRL had a stable, long-time senior staff and accommodated many part-time employees.

I deliberately chose not to talk with any DBRL employee or trustee about organizing a union since the announcement on Feb. 4. I’ve read the DBRL Workers United website, listened to the six speeches at the beginning of last week’s Board meeting, and read several related news articles. I will certainly be looking for conversations as this issue is resolved.

Several things have changed in the nine years since I was board president. DBRL has grown from 124 employees to 190 in four different branches — Columbia, Fulton, Ashland and Holt Summit — in the past decade. There is a new director and assistant director, and most department heads have turned over due to retirements. There is more information technology and there is COVID-19, COVID-19 and more COVID-19.

Outward signs are that DBRL is still a nice place to work. Just in the past few months when local business struggled to fill job openings, the public library had no trouble staying at full strength.

I am generally pro worker organizations but am uncertain about DBRL employees’ affiliation with a national union. DBRL is a 190-employee local organization, mostly located in one building, with diverse worker responsibilities ranging from circulation and re-shelving to IT consultants, reference librarians and organization support such as public relations and human resources. In Columbia’s economy, DBRL is more like MU’S College of Business or School of Law than it is Columbia College or certainly Veterans United or Shelter Insurance.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the American economy and society has been searching for an appropriate way to address the expectations and needs of Gen X and Millennial workers. Whether it is Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, congressional staffers or MU graduate students, service employees in a gig economy with critical worker shortages need some form of association to have their shared interests represented.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is trying to organize cultural workers in libraries, zoos and museums. To date, they show no unionized libraries in Missouri. Why should DBRL be the first?

DBRL employee affiliation with a national union will likely increase non-local interests and issues into a local organization. The proposed affiliation with AFSCME will add an organization concerned with its own image and promotion. They are already using DBRL employees to promote their cause, rather than the interests of citizens of Boone and Callaway counties.

Additionally, formal representation in the collective bargaining process is bound to increase bureaucracy and likely to increase labor costs. If, at some point in the future, DBRL employees have second thoughts about a union, a decertification election under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board could be held. Because DBRL is solely funded by local property taxes, its overall financial situation could change quickly.

The DBRL Workers United mission statement lists three primary concerns:

Equitable pay; parental and sick leave; and affordable health care and benefits.

Professional and interdepartmental development; and opportunity for career advancement for all employees.

Safety, security and healthy practices at our workplace that protect both our physical and mental well-being.

DBRL has existing policies about patron behavior. If they are lax or inadequate, I expect the board would welcome improvements. Similarly, a cursory comparison of DBRL’s leave policies finds they are in step with two major COMO employers, the City of Columbia and Mizzou, and that it is based on the federal Family and Medical Leave Act providing up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protection and requiring the employee to use accrued leave before requesting additional unpaid leave.

Several speakers before the DBRL board and in an op-ed disagreed with the tome and tenor of DBRL Worker United claims and surrounding media coverage. One speaker described the previous week as the most conflictual of her DBRL career due to union organizing with a union organizer adding workplace stress while collecting union supporting signatures.

The DBRL Board should hold a public meeting to hear detailed support for the requests for equitable pay, safer working conditions and related concerns after asking if all other means to address their concerns have been exhausted.

Additionally, the Board should examine the experience of other library districts that have unionized. Then the Board should carefully consider if unionizing will improve services to the DBRL public.

_______________________

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



We’ve lost control of our politics

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, January 16, 2022

“The Great Hack” is a 2019 Netflix documentary about how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to target “persuadable” voters in toss-up states to win the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump.

“The Great Hack” is not about Trump — he is hardly mentioned. It could have been about almost any campaign. While I recall many of the details of those events during the media’s coverage of the Mueller investigation, seeing it all again in under two hours was a bit overwhelming.

The film retraced the threat of big data for undermining our political system. We citizens have lost control of campaigns and elections, and thereby, our democracy. My reaction is mostly resignation and sadness.

Realizing that nothing significant became of the Mueller investigation weakens my view of the ability of the political system to take corrective action. Moreover, the current congressional debate about voter suppression seems old school; data mining for the purpose of invisibly influencing the election is new school. Few members of Congress seem to understand the difference.

“The Great Hack” captures how the many strides in computer technology and data analysis now allow a massive, global expansion of a new type of social manipulation that is reshaping the world in a particular image. Traditional advertising for almost a century has influenced our choice of soap, toothpaste and beer, but now the stakes are global and political.

The documentary focuses on David Carroll, former business development director for Cambridge Analytica, Brittany Kaiser, and British investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr. Their stories interweave to expose the work of Cambridge Analytica in the politics of various countries, including the United Kingdom’s Brexit campaign and the 2016 United States elections.

Kaiser, a former intern for the Obama campaign, comes up with the idea to work for Republican candidates in the 2016 election, because, unlike the Democrats, they were more risk takers with the truthfulness of what they used online.

At its peak, Cambridge Analytica, held up to 5,000 data points about each of the Americans in its databases. This information was used to paint profiles of different types of voters, with an eye to identifying and later manipulating “the persuadable,” i.e. on-the-fence voters. Using the collected data, Cambridge Analytica set out to create fear and/or apathy to achieve the results of the political parties that hired them.

The sharpest application of Cambridge Analytica’s method described in the “The Great Hack” was in Trinidad and Tobago, where social media was flooded with catchy graphics and slogans designed to foster apathy in those likely to vote for the candidate not hired by Cambridge.

The “Do So” campaign made it seem cool not to vote at all, so many young people did not. As with the American campaign, the bombardment of ads and demonizing and false news stories was relentless.

Political parties for years have collected information about voters. In 1972, I worked for one of the parties, going door-to-door with hopes of having a conversation with voters and scoring them 1 (never) through 5 (certain) on the likelihood of supporting that party. Even back then, voters scoring 3 and 4 would receive extra attention, and 1 and 2’s would be forgotten about.

On one hand, all that Cambridge Analytica did was to take that to a much higher level, sort of like the difference between a stream and the ocean. Not only do parties and candidates have access to more more precise data, they have sophisticated ad campaigns of false information that only experts can verify.

Most of us are passively cooperating in allowing data harvesters to use our personal data, which allows political manipulation to thrive.

Just last week, I watched another documentary titled the “The Secret Lives of Cruises.” The next day, I received emails from three cruise lines inviting me to sail away with them. This invisible and unauthorized use of consumer’s personal data has been widespread for more than a decade.

“The Great Hack” raises questions about political consultant responsibility and our own ability to be manipulated. While Cambridge Analytica did lie to cover up its involvement with Facebook and Wikileaks, they did not actually steal the personal data. They simply made good use of data that was “unprotected.”

Kaiser is the major focus of “The Great Hack” and has written a memoir, at the age of 32, “Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower’s Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again.” She has started the Own Your Data Foundation to promote the right of citizens to own their personal data. My intent is not to criticize, or to defend, her but to identify how her ambition, her values and her opportunism should serve as a caution for protecting American democracy.

The most direct path to preventing more political manipulation is to make our personal data our personal property. That way internet companies could not track our interactions without our knowledge and permission.

Had he not gotten involved in Jan. 6 activities, it is possible that Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, and his book “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” might have spearheaded congressional action to consider ways to prevent information technology firms use of personal data. As it is, American political polarization goes on as threats to democracy persist.

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.