The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 13

Another court calls out Missouri’s stifling of abortion-rights efforts

Once again, a court has seen through Missouri Republicans’ campaign to prevent the public from challenging the state’s draconian new abortion restrictions. A circuit judge ruled earlier this month that the set of laws Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft used to stymie a referendum effort are in fact unconstitutional. The ruling comes too late to save the referendum, but it exposes the depths to which the GOP has sunk in its quest to ensure its radical anti-choice agenda isn’t subjected to public review.

The law that Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed last year bans abortions at eight weeks into pregnancy, a point at which some women don’t even know they’re pregnant. It makes exceptions for medical emergencies but not for victims of rape or incest. It’s one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America.

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and others last year sought a referendum to repeal the restrictions before they went into effect, a process allowed in Missouri. The problem was, a section of the abortion law that required two-parent consent for most minors to obtain abortions was deemed by the Legislature to be an “emergency,” which put that part of the law immediately into force. Ashcroft, a Republican whose office administers referendums, used the emergency designation to claim the rest of the law couldn’t be challenged by referendum, either.

A three-judge state appeals panel last summer disagreed and ordered that the referendum effort could move forward. But Ashcroft reached back into his bag of tricks to keep blocking it. Getting a referendum on last year’s ballot required 100,000 signatures, which organizers couldn’t start gathering until Ashcroft certified the referendum. While the court said he had to certify it, he didn’t have to do so immediately. So he dragged out the process, leaving organizers just two weeks to gather the signatures in time to get on the ballot — an impossibly short time frame.

The Dec. 4 ruling by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem found that the state laws Ashcroft relied on to stall the referendum-certification process were in violation of the state constitution. Ashcroft has maintained he has merely followed state laws, but what these cases have shown is how easy it is to twist those laws to partisan agendas. Beetem’s ruling should make that kind of partisan gaming of the system more difficult going forward.

What is it about a public vote on abortion rights (and expressions of the people’s will in general) that scares Missouri’s ruling Republicans so much that they would go to these lengths to prevent them? Perhaps they understand their extremism on this issue is out of step in even this generally conservative state. The effort to return the basic rights of self-determination to half the citizens of Missouri now hinges on a pending federal suit. The state’s leaders certainly can’t be counted upon to prioritize those rights.

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The St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 11

We all remember poor Charlie Brown running at top speed to finally kick the football that Lucy was holding. We all know what happened next.

Eric Schmitt, are you following this?

Missouri’s attorney general found himself in the spotlight this week when he led a coalition of 17 attorneys general that joined a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in four battleground states. If successful, that lawsuit would swing the election to Donald Trump.

Until now, Trump’s legal odyssey only served to underscore two points: One, it’s easy to make allegations on social media but a different thing to prove them, under oath, in a court of law. Two, Trump dearly needed an attorney with the stature of a James Baker, the former secretary of state who represented George W. Bush in 2000, rather than the buffoonery of Rudy Giuliani.

Trump gets stature with Sen. Ted Cruz, who clerked for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and promises to argue this current case in the Supreme Court, if it gets that far. The question is whether Cruz, a Texas senator who happened to be the target of some of Trump’s nastier campaign comments in 2016, has much to work with on behalf of his old nemesis.

Schmitt, in a release, outlines examples of mail-in voting fraud and claims that four states — Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin — illegally expanded absentee voting and failed to enact critical safeguards to ensure election integrity. But none of those examples involved the four states singled out in the lawsuit. One, in fact, was centered on a 2018 ballot tampering scandal that attempted to swing a congressional election to a Republican candidate in North Carolina.

Schmitt will attract criticism for his involvement in a case that seeks to overturn an election that an arm of Trump’s Homeland Security Department called the most secure in history. William Barr, hardly a Democratic operative, also failed to come up with examples of widespread fraud.

Maybe this is just the way of the world: Bank robbers rob banks, lawyers file lawsuits and conservative attorneys file amicus briefs with other Republican attorneys general.

At the very least, Schmitt should be willing to call this what it is, less of a smoking gun and more of a Hail Mary. If unsuccessful, he should be prepared to affirm the integrity of the U.S. election system and the competence of elected officials and volunteers who oversee it.

It’s assumed, if Schmitt wants to run for election again, he’ll need to do so with the support of voters and not Ted Cruz or judges.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Dec. 13

Empathy, and increased pay, for our educators

While we’ve rightfully praised our health care workers during the pandemic, we’ve sometimes taken for granted another segment of front-line workers: teachers.

They, too, are risking the health of themselves and their families to accomplish a task we as a society haven’t always valued enough: educating our children. This year, they’ve done it amid routine handwashing, increased cleaning, temperature checks, masks and trying to social distance children, which is likely akin to herding cats.

We need to show appreciation for our teachers because it is right but also for a practical matter: We need to keep them.

Studies show students don’t learn as well through distance learning as they do through in-person classes.

But keeping schools open requires keeping teachers, and that hasn’t been easy during the pandemic.

Jefferson City School District’s middle and high schools switched to distance learning Nov. 16 due to a staffing shortage. They’ve since returned to in-person classes. Some other schools have gone to distance learning at times this year.

Beyond showing our appreciation to teachers, what do we need to do to convince them to continue accepting the increased risk of getting COVID-19 and possibly bringing it home to their own families?

The Blair Oaks R-2 School District is on the right track. Its Board of Education approved a substitute pay increase from $75 to $80 a day in August. Now, it has voted to pay substitute teachers $80 for the first 10 days they work and $85 every day after.

Superintendent Jim Jones recommended a pay raise as a thank you to substitute teachers who are willing to work as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“This is a token of appreciation,” Jones said. “This says, ‘Thank you for your commitment to our kids.‘”

Granted, it’s perhaps more of a symbolic gesture than anything. Ultimately, like at all schools, the law of supply and demand will determine whether it’s enough.

But other schools should take a cue from Blair Oaks. To make teachers and substitutes (who often are subbing for teachers who are sick) feel safe and valued, schools need to keep up their safety protocols, but they also need to make it financially worth teachers’ while.

Another way to keep our teachers is to prioritize them among the first to receive access to the vaccine, along with health care workers. We support members of Congress who are making such a push.

They, like health care workers, are front-line workers who are putting them and their loved ones at risk.

To put our children and their education first, we need to also put our teachers first. We ask area schools to do what’s needed to accomplish this.