ELECTION-YEAR POLITICS FIGURE TO SHAPE 2016 SESSION
The 2016 legislative session begins at noon on Jan. 6, with election-year politics expected to figure prominently as Republicans seek to protect their supermajorities in the General Assembly. As a result, issues designed to appeal to the conservative base, such as additional restrictions on abortion access, the expansion of gun rights and providing special interest tax cuts, likely will take precedence over solving politically difficult problems like fixing the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, improving accountability in the criminal justice system or addressing the more than $400 million shortfall in public education funding.
Republicans outnumber Democrats 117-45 in the House of Representatives, which also has one independent member. Given that nearly all of the House seats Democrats currently hold have heavy concentrations of Democratic voters, Republicans have few opportunities to further build their numbers in November. But with a number of swing districts currently in Republican hands, Democrats have a strong chance to pick up enough seats to deprive the GOP of the 109-vote supermajority necessary to override a gubernatorial veto.
In the Senate, Republicans hold a 24-8 advantage, with two vacancies, one last held by each party. Of the 17 Senate districts on the ballot in 2016, a few Republican seats are potentially within reach for Democrats, but there probably are no realistic chances for Republican pickups. Republicans must retain at least 23 seats to maintain a veto-proof supermajority.
While Republicans will play defense in legislative races, Democrats will work to protect their dominance in the executive branch. Of the five statewide elected executive branch offices up for election in 2016, Democrats currently hold four. All five of those offices with be open with no incumbents seeking re-election.
Gov. Jay Nixon and State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, both Democrats, are nearing the end of their second terms and are barred by term limits from seeking re-election. Two other Democratic incumbents, Attorney General Chris Koster and Secretary of State Jason Kander, are running for governor and U.S. Senate, respectively. The lone Republican statewide officeholder, three-term Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, is part of a crowded field seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Candidate filing for the Aug. 2 primary elections opens on Feb. 23 and runs through March 22. The legislative session ends on May 13.
RESISTANCE TO REAL ID COULD SOON HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Missouri’s exemption from following requirements of the federal Real ID Act will expire Jan. 10, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security informed the state Department of Revenue in a Dec. 21 letter. As a result, a Missouri driver’s license soon won’t be considered valid identification for the purpose of boarding a commercial flight or entering some federal facilities.
A Republican-controlled Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it was signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush. The law imposes stricter requirements for obtaining state-issued IDs, such as requiring applicants to provide proof of identity and legal U.S. residency, and mandating that IDs include certain security features.
Missouri is one of several states to resist implementing the new law, which opponents say imposes substantial cost on states and erodes the privacy of citizens. In 2009, the Republican-controlled Missouri General Assembly enacted legislation prohibiting state agencies from implementing Real ID. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, signed the measure into law.
If Homeland Security does begin enforcing Real ID, it will give residents of non-compliant states at least 120 days’ notice before barring them from flights, according to a Dec. 23 story by The Associated Press. A U.S. passport, however, is an acceptable alternative to a non-compliant state ID for those who have one.
Some lawmakers believe the federal government is bluffing and that it won’t take the drastic step of essentially shutting down air travel in certain states and note that the enforcement of the law repeatedly has been delayed over the decade since its enactment. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Dec. 29 that Nixon and state legislative leaders are open to addressing any specific security deficiencies Homeland Security believes exist with Missouri driver’s licenses.
NIXON PICKS JEFFERSON COUNTY JUDGE FOR APPEALS COURT
Gov. Jay Nixon on Dec. 22 appointed Jefferson County Circuit Judge Lisa Page of Festus to the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District. Page, a graduate of St. Louis University School of Law, was elected circuit judge as a Democrat in 2006 and re-elected in 2012.
Page replaces Judge Clifford Ahrens, who retired in August after more than 24 years on the court. Ahrens was the last appointee of Republican former Gov. John Ashcroft remaining on the appellate bench. With the appointment of Page, 25 of the 32 judges on the state Court of Appeals have been appointed by Democratic governors, with 14 of those picked by Nixon. All seven Republican appointees remaining on the court were selected by former Gov. Matt Blunt, who served from 2005-2009.
Under the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, an independent nominating commission submits the names of three finalists to fill vacancies on the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The governor is obligated to appoint one of those nominees or forfeit the selection to the commission. The other finalists to replace Ahrens were Joel Ferber, the director of advocacy for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, and Benjamin Lipman, an attorney in St. Louis.