Too close to call


Kansas City:



By Jack Cashill

Courtesy of - October 2000

This year, as of this writing, Missouri is a battleground once again - too close to call in the presidential election, the senatorial, the gubernatorial, and the critical 6th Congressional District on which the eyes of political America are focused.

On the Kansas side there is not as much action. Kansas is no one's idea of a bellwether. Unless he starts telling racial jokes or debunking Darwinism during a presidential debate, Bush will win the state.

But what action there is in Kansas is riveting: in particular, the 3rd Dis- trict Congressional race between Democratic incumbent, Dennis Moore, and former state Rep, Phill Kline (the younger one, with two "ll's.")

All of these races will be played out on Kansas City TV throughout the month of October and into November. So please do take advantage of our scorecard here to better follow the races.

In addition to the campaigns for elected office, there are also a wide variety of ballot issues for voters on both sides of the state line to sort through, some critical, some mundane, some fairly amusing.

Oh, by the way, in case you think we forgot, 1956 was the year Missouri almost blew its bellwether reputation. Inexplicably, Missourians chose Adlai Stevenson over popular incumbent Dwight Eisenhower, one of the few states to do so beyond the then Democratic Deep South. Even in retrospect, it is hard to account for this bit of errata. Now, on to the races.


We'll leave predictions to other folks, but we would like to alert Missourians in particular that the presidential contest is an eight-man race. Most folks beyond the candidates' families would be hard pressed to recognize half of them. David McReynolds, Socialist? I thought that party ended with the passing of Eugene Debs.

Missouri, famously holding court as the Show-Me State, will this year once again vote for the presidential winner. The winner will not, however, carry all of the state wide office seekers of his party to victory. Let's leave the predicting at that.

U.S. Senate, Missouri

If all the Senate races across America this year were arranged as a boxing card, the contest between Mel Carnahan, the Democratic candidate, and John Ashcroft, the Republican, would be the main event, a heavyweight slugfest that is just beginning to heat up.

Ashcroft, the incumbent, has won five statewide races in Missouri. Carnahan, the challenger and current second term governor, has won four. Given the high visibility of each, there are not that many undecideds. For the record, Ashcroft has been consistently running stronger in Missouri than Bush or Talent, the Republican candidate for governor.

Missouri Governor

This promises to be another tough, close race for an open seat. Jim Talent, a Republican Congressman from the St. Louis suburbs is taking on Bob Holden, the Democratic State Treasurer from Springfield. Talent runs strong in the eastern part of the state, Holden runs strong in the West. The winner will be the guy who wins the hearts and minds of those in the middle - in every sense of the word.

Missouri statewide

I can not imagine that there are 100 Missourians outside of state government who could name the current major officeholders in the state. I suppose this is a shame, but I'm not sure why. Nor is it about to change.

Old Republican warhorse Wendell Bailey has come out of pasture for one more lap around the track. His Democratic opponent is Joe Maxwell, a state senator from Mexico To continue to whip this metaphor, the contest should prove to be a real horse race. It matters a little more than usual because the state senate may well end up as a 17-17 split between Democrats and Republicans, and the Lieutenant Governor gets to break the tie.

The State Treasurer race holds some interest locally because the Republican candidate, Todd Graves, is a local boy - barely 30 something - made good as Platte County prosecuting attorney. A farmer in real life, Todd is running against Nancy Farmer, a St. Louis Democrat and the only woman on a statewide ballot. The magnetic Graves has attracted a good deal more campaign cash and will probably run the strongest of the all the statewide Republican candidates.

Jay Nixon, a two term Attorney General running for his third term, will most likely run the strongest of all the Democratic statewide candidates. If his hopes for Senate were dashed by Kit Bond, he should be able to exact some measure of revenge on the relatively unknown Republican candidate, Springfield Attorney Sam Jones.

In other items, the Democrats will hold the Missouri House, but the Republicans could regain the Senate for the first time in living memory, but this is hardly guaranteed.

U.S. Congress, 3rd District, Kansas.

The last Democrat to win this seat for two consecutive terms did so by grasping on to FDR's coattails in his historic 1936 landslide. At this juncture no pundit is predicting such coattails for Al Gore other than the Star's starry-eyed national reporter David Goldstein ("Gore' coattails becoming major factor in campaign" - September 23). Moore is going to have to win it on his own.

Moore's best allies in his quest are the moderate Republican power brokers who have been warring with their conservative brethren since seemingly forever. The moderates tend to see Kline much as they saw Vince Snowbarger, whose candidacy they sunk, but conservatives tend to see Kline as something of a moderate. (You ever wonder how George W holds all these people together?) Jan Meyers has endorsed Kline, which helps, and Governor Graves has done so as well but without fanfare. Kline will need Graves' help.

Moore is running as a maverick Democrat tax-cutter. If, however, Democrats retake the House, New York's Charles Rangel will head up Ways and Means, the committee that manages the budget, and he would sooner cut off his left leg than cut taxes. This may concern some of the fiscally conservative moderates. Should be interesting in any case.

U.S. Congress, 6th District, Missouri

Like the Kline-Moore race in Kansas, this race is attracting national attention. It is one of the few real races for Congress. In most Congressional district the incumbents use the power of their office to cakewalk home to victory. This will certainly hold true in Missouri's 5th District where Democrat Karen McCarthy will have no trouble with Republican Steve Gordon and in Missouri's 4th where veteran Ike Skelton will easily dispatch Republican James Noland.

In the 6th, however, the race is wide-open. As long as Pat Danner, a popular Democrat more conservative than many Republicans, stayed in the race, no serious Republican was about to challenge her. When she dropped out, her son Steve Danner jumped in, and so did Sam Graves, Todd's older brother.

The two candidates have a good deal in common, at least superficially. Both grew up on farms. Both served in each of the two houses of the Missouri General Assembly. And both, of course, hail from political families. Sam Graves, a state senator from Tarkio, is a conservative who has tried to portray Steve Danner as a "tax and spend liberal," fightin' words in the 27 county northern expanse of the 6th District.

It should prove to be a hard fought battle down to the wire between two candidates who know what it takes to win. Much may depend on which way the coattails are blowing come November.

Ballot Issues

Missouri's Proposition A

There can be no doubt as to which is the most visible issue on anyone's ballot this November. And that is Missouri's Proposition A. Billboards from one end of the state to the other proclaim that Proposition A will hurt small business, and they may well be right. What is beyond doubt is that the business Proposition A will hurt most is the billboard business.

If passed, the proposition would lead to a prohibition on the "construction of most new outdoor advertising." It would also lead to a further restriction on most existing outdoor advertising and an increase in authority to local government to regulate the same. Curiously, it would also prohibit "the removal of trees and vegetation" located on public rights of way save for safety or aesthetic reasons.

Those who are advancing this proposition fall on either side of the political aisle. The same is true for those opposed. It is the kind of proposition that makes the statement "politics make strange bedfellows" seem sensible.

Missouri's Proposition B

Who could object to a tax increase of 1/100th of a percent, especially if it applies only to the annual franchise tax levied on corporations valued at more than $2 million? The Missouri Chamber does and does so vigorously. In fact, the Chamber would like to see the tax eliminated.

On the other side, radical groups like ACORN and several out-of-state organizations are pushing for the increase. These Proposition B supporters claim the measure will raise $13 million annually. This money in turn will be distributed to political candidates who meet certain criteria. What these criteria might be is not much more clearly stated than "various requirements regarding campaign contributions and finances." The effect of these requirements will be to limit campaign spending and the use of personal funds.

Candidates will also have to "obtain certification from the Missouri Ethics Commission." Fairly enforced, this proposition has the potential to de-people Jefferson City. In any case, its very passage promises to make Missouri somewhat less attractive to present and future corporate citizens.

Question, No 1. Kansas City, Missouri

Rather than wrestle with him in court, the Kansas City council decided this time to honor its own laws and put Clay Chastain's proposals on the November ballot. As far as such questions go,Question 1 is nicely straightforward. It calls for a 20 year 1/2 % capital improvement sales tax to finance the construction of a citywide light rail system.

Question 1 even tells us where the rail will go. The north-south route will run from Waldo to the Plaza to downtown and on north to KCI with a quick east-west jog along 12th street on the way. As designed, it would spend most of its route going through parks and existing right of ways. The east-west route would run along Volker Boulevard from the Plaza to Bruce Watkins Drive. It also provides for the construction of a new transit terminal connecting the city's light rail to proposed light rail from Johnson County.

The system would have a length of 32 miles and a $980 million price tag. City planning types are, as always, miffed at Chastain's presumptuousness. But truth be told, for light rail fans this plan seems to make as much sense as any others we've seen. The real questions for voters might be - does light rail make any sense for Kansas City?

Question 2. Kansas City, Missouri

This proposition may well represent the first time in American history that voters are asked to approve the construction of a Ferris Wheel. Ah, democracy! The measure would authorize the renewal of the 1/2% Liberty Memorial sales tax for a period of 18 months to fund the revitalization of Penn Valley Park, a park that could definitely stand some revitalization.

In addition to the Ferris Wheel, the plan calls for an aerial gondola connecting the park to Union Station as well as multi-tiered rock gardens and waterfalls. No one has ever accused Clay Chastain of lacking imagination. If the measure passes, the park should surely be renamed in his honor. If either measure passes, however, Mayor Kay Barnes will not be amused.

Johnson County, Questions 1-3.

In Johnson County, Kansas people still care about local government so these questions excite more interest than they might elsewhere.

These measures call for the creation of a Home Rule Charter. The first question, the most critical, asks the voters to approve the appointment of a County Manager and the conversion of the County Clerk, register of Deeds, and County Treasurer from elected positions to appointed ones beginning in 2004.

The second question, which hinges on the passage of the first, calls for an increase in county commissioners from five to seven. The third calls for the non-partisan elections of all commissioners.

That these kinds of issues still matter is a testament to the continued good health of the American democratic experience. That the other races are so tightly contested and deeply felt is a tribute to the same. May the day never arrive when we don't care at all.



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