This has been a source of great frustration for me. As regular readers know, I've been pro merger, in many ways the guts of what Better Together is talking about, for about five years. And in the days leading up to the Better Together rollout, I was writing positive columns about the plan. But I didn't know about the Stenger as King provision. I didn't know how much power they would give Stenger to write and approve the charter. I understood a statewide vote, but didn't know what a massive backlash that would cause and listened to people who really felt that it would make them disenfranchised. I saw a path to compromise but the Better Together folks didn't seem interested in compromise. Then there was the John Gaskin debacle, in which they tried to buy the head of the county branch of the NAACP just to say they had support in the black community. It was deeply offensive and it backfired.
So what do I want? I still think a merger is a good idea, but it has to have wide local support. It has to be a coalition. Look at what we are learning from the Stenger indictment about unchecked power. I can't get over the fact that most of the Better Together folks were or are also Stenger folks. They can't just simply disconnect themselves.
One of the things that Better Together has accomplished is this: There seems to be widespread consensus building about the city reentering the county. Tishaura Jones is for it, so is municipal league, and Mantovani, and many black leaders. Even though I long believed a full city-county merger was a better long-term solution, why not start with something where consensus can be built? Have the city reenter, get rid of the duplicative county offices, change the dynamics of the county executive race, and see where that leads us. Will reentry lead to more consolidations, of police, of fire? Will it lead to a serious discussion about schools? I don't know, but it seems to me that if the region can build consensus around that idea, perhaps that's where we should head first.
If I were Mayor Lyda Krewson and her advisers, I'd be worried. Not about the investigation, but about how directly she tied herself to Stenger, over and over again, on Better Together, on Metrolink, on so many issues, seeming to defer to him and not being aware of what that would eventually do to her reputation and independence. Now she's going to have to deal with those consequences. This is the thing: It's not like Stenger's pay-for-play reputation developed overnight. Those around him knew exactly what was going on and they played along or looked the other way.
There really is a lot of pay for play in Missouri politics, and a major culprit is that our laws basically allow it. There is so much dark money being used in Missouri politics these days, and it's a shame. Clean Missouri will help with some accountability, and lawmakers are already running from it. The dark money is the biggest scourge. Because it lets politicians hide who is trying to influence them and makes it next to impossible for voters, taxpayers, reporters to track the money and add context to public votes.
a couple more and we'll wrap up around 1.
This is something that we get asked all the time. Let's be clear; The editorial board issues endorsements, and they are entirely separate from the news room. It's ridiculous to label news reporters (or columnists) with bias or whatever label because of pieces written by the editorial board. It was true when I was on the board and is true now. The editorial board can answer for their previous endorsement of Stenger if they wish, but it has no effect on the reporting that goes on in the newsroom.
The irony of this is I'm a big step guy. I've been critical of the St. Louis tendency to move very slowly. In my gut I believe a big merger might have more long-term success. But the voters matter and they must endorse it. Some of the other mergers in other cities took multiple votes. But the more I listen to people and see how badly Better Together has botched this process, I lean toward a baby step, so some level of increased regionalism can at least be accomplished.
Thanks for the chat and all the kind words. You can always reach me at tmessenger@post-dispatch. And thank you very much for subscribing and reading the Post-Dispatch. Until next time ...
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