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Missouri Right-to-Work Initiative Defeated by 2-to-1 Margin

By Christopher Chesny

Journal Record Legislative Report

August 8, 2018

The expansion of right-to-work laws to more states suffered a major defeat on Tuesday in Missouri. In the election, the law, named Proposition A, which was put on the ballot by union activists, was repealed by a 67.5-32.5 margin. Losses were widespread across the state, with only 15 counties of 114 supporting it. The only major metropolitan area to support it was Joplin, and the only other areas of note to support it were Branson and Cape Girardeau, the childhood home of Rush Limbaugh.

This was a high-turnout election, as well, with 33.5% of all registered voters coming out to have their say, and just shy of 1.4 million in total. The most surprising statistic was the amount of Republicans who came out in opposition to it. 664 thousand voters took a Republican ballot, while 604 thousand voters took a Democratic one, with 120 thousand taking only a Non-partisan ballot with Prop A on it. Assuming all Democrats and Non-partisans voted no, about a third of the Republican voters, at least 211 thousand, opposed the proposition, showing significant dissatisfaction with the policy initiative that had become a core part of the party platform in recent years.

Unions were ebullient about their successful efforts in the campaign to defeat it. For them, it was strike back after multiple attempts to hurt their cause over the past decade. For supporters, however, it lead to defiance, reflection, or resignation.

The defiant voice came from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which released a scathing press release against out of state groups sending their money in to keep Missourians funding their coffers and to play politics with their money. They held fast to the economic data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis they claim supports the initiative, and that their release was not a concession at all. At the end, they promise that the policy will remain one they support going into the future.

Patrick Ishmael was much more circumspect. As an employee of the conservative Show-Me Institute, he would not venture into the strategies of either side with how their money was spent. That said, he was not surprised by the vote totals, given the polls he had seen. The loss was a perfect storm expected by most supporters of Prop A. He also said that many legislators had specifically seen the writing on the wall earlier this year and moved the election to August to save themselves from tough general elections; it was not to give the “yes” side a better chance to win, as many believed. As for the issue itself going forward, Ishmael said work for proponents must further undertaken on the issue, especially in promoting how it works at the level of the worker and at the macro level creating positive economic impact and competitiveness with other states.

As for legislators who are heading back to Jefferson City next year, many expect that given the scale of the loss, the effort will not be brought up again next year, and possibly longer, especially with the presidential election two years from now. Bill White, a Republican from Joplin, will file a bill for it but does not expect it to come out of committee. Kathie Conway, a representative who was opposed to the effort and is term-limited, thought it was a bit short-sighted to move the vote as it deprived the “Yes” of three month of education efforts for their side.

To close this column, I want to show two maps comparing the vote from 1978 to the vote yesterday. Both referenda resulted in losses for the RTW side, but there were some significant changes. The first thing to note was the 1978 election took place at the general election, not the primary. Beyond that, however, the only metropolitan area to switch from “No” to “Yes” forty years later was the Joplin area. Most every other county across the state remained at about the level they were in 1978, or grew more opposed as time went on. The most notable flips to opposition came from Jefferson City (Cole County) and Colombia (Boone County), which were the two of the most pro-RTW counties in 1978, but became at least moderately opposed in the case of the former, and very opposed in the case of the latter. The St. Louis Metro became more opposed, especially in both the county and city, but the biggest change came in the Kansas City Metro, where the opposition relatively moderate in 1978, became greater than the statewide average this time. The 2018 results are on top, and the 1978 results are on bottom.







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