© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Nation & World

Republican Missouri Legislators Aim To Curb Voter Initiatives

NOEL KING, HOST:

People in Missouri voted in a ballot initiative to expand access to Medicaid, but the state's Republican-controlled legislature says it won't provide the money to do that, even though - one more time - it is what voters voted for. Here's Jason Rosenbaum from St. Louis Public Radio.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Last year, Missouri voters approved a ballot initiative bolstering Medicaid in the state. Advocates for that change were ecstatic, but the GOP-controlled legislature had other ideas. It's refusing to fund expansion. Mallory Rusch of the anti-poverty group Empower Missouri, says the Republican intransigence on Medicaid is part of a deeper issue - the hostility to voter initiatives. She said this to a crowd at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MALLORY RUSCH: Legislators are inside, trained to subvert our will and deny funding to implement expansion.

(BOOING)

RUSCH: This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need a strong initiative petition process.

ROSENBAUM: With Missouri becoming more Republican-leaning, progressive groups have turned to the state's initiative petition process. But GOP lawmakers like Representative Justin Hill argue that his legislative colleagues need to act as a backstop against ideas that may seem good in a television commercial but have long-term negative public policy consequences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTIN HILL: So I am proud to stand against the will of the people who were lied to 'cause that's our job. We took an oath to protect our citizens.

ROSENBAUM: But Missouri lawmakers aren't just trying to undo particular ballot initiatives. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft wants to make it more difficult for constitutional amendments to pass in the first place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAY ASHCROFT: The people elected the legislators to represent them. We are not a democracy. We are a constitutional republic. The very same people that vote on these things elected overwhelming majorities of legislators that tend to agree that legislation and amendments to our Constitution should go through the legislature.

ROSENBAUM: Missouri is part of a red state trend. Idaho increased the number of signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot. And Florida is also debating a similar restrictive measure. But making it harder to amend the Missouri Constitution will energize progressives who have used it to pass the initiatives. Conservative Carl Bearden doesn't like this approach either. He says Republicans should instead focus on defeating ballot initiatives they don't like.

CARL BEARDEN: You can beat a lot of these things if you have opposition to them. And so when people think that these left-leaning things are passing because that's what the people of Missouri want, it's because there's been no two-sided argument.

ROSENBAUM: Missouri voters like Autumn Stultz (ph) are closely watching what the legislature does. She would qualify for Medicaid if expansion is fully implemented. And she says Republicans who don't respect voter sentiment could face consequences at the ballot box.

AUTUMN STULTZ: And they're not listening to the Missouri voters. They're not listening to their constituents. And it's really ticking a lot of people off, to be brutally honest, that it's all about them when it's not.

ROSENBAUM: Still, the Missouri legislature remains solidly in Republican hands. So unless voters like Stultz elect more Democrats or independents, legislative leaders here aren't likely to stop trying to make it harder for ballot initiatives to pass.

For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOUSE ON THE KEYS' "PRAXIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.