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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prop B Opponents Trying to Rewrite History

Just days after a majority of Missouri voters approved Proposition B to crack down on puppy mill abuses in the nation’s largest puppy mill state and while provisional ballots are still being counted, a few Missouri politicians have pledged to work to overturn the initiative and to substitute their own judgment for the wisdom of the people. There is talk of a flurry of bills to be introduced in January to repeal the law. Some of them, like Sen.-elect and current Rep. Mike Parson, even say they “understand the will and the vote of the people” as they’re working feverishly to undo it.

Missouri puppy mill It’s as arrogant and obnoxious an idea as they come. We live in a country where democracy matters, and votes count. But this attack on Prop B is not only unfair and undemocratic, it’s also based on faulty assumptions. As Wayne Pacelle wrote in his blog yesterday, the Missouri Farm Bureau ran a scorched-earth campaign of fear-mongering and false rhetoric, trying to persuade voters that Prop B was about more than just establishing common-sense standards for the care of dogs at large-scale commercial breeding operations. They said it was about ending livestock agriculture and pet ownership, and while that line of argument fooled some of the people of Missouri, it did not carry the day with the majority.

Now that the votes have been tallied and the race is decided, they’re shopping for new arguments. They’re saying that the vote shouldn’t count because Prop B was only approved in urban and suburban areas, and disfavored by most rural counties. And the margin was so close, they caterwaul, with 51.6 percent of voters statewide approving Prop B and a majority of counties opposing it, that it counts as a loss. But that isn’t how elections are determined. Every vote counts, and the election judges don’t weigh the votes of people more heavily in some communities than others.

The politicians making this argument think it’s just fine to operate by majority rule for their own elections, but apparently not so when it comes to the mistreatment of animals. Prop B won by 61,000 votes, and it got about 52 percent of the vote. In Missouri, which has a history of close elections, many candidates are elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. No one suggests these people should not serve in office, just because they failed to get a majority instead of a plurality, because the vote was pretty close, or because they won in some precincts or counties but not others.

In fact, several lawmakers elected last week in Missouri received less than 52 percent of the vote. That includes two members of Congress, Rep. Russ Carnahan and Rep.-elect Vicki Hartzler; several state legislators, Sen. John Lampling and Reps. Jay Swearingen, Ron Scheiber, and John McCaherty; and the new state auditor, Tom Schweich, who received fewer “yes” votes statewide than Prop B did. Missouri, of course, has a history of close elections, especially in statewide races. In 2002, Jim Talent was elected to the U.S. Senate with 49.8 percent of the vote, and he was defeated in 2006 by Claire McCaskill, who won with 49.6 percent. These votes are close, but nobody questions the outcome and nobody asks for a do-over.

Another flawed assumption is that the vote on Prop B fell along partisan lines, with Democrats favoring it and Republicans rejecting it. We can compare the vote on Prop B, however, to another statewide race on the same ballot, between Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Robin Carnahan for U.S. Senate. Prop B won in ten counties that were carried by Blunt—Buchanan, Cass, Clay, Dunklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Pemiscot, Platte, St. Charles, and St. Francois—and these ten counties had a significant impact on the election, cumulatively favoring Prop B by a margin of 109,012 votes. Most of these are historically Republican-leaning counties, with eight of them favoring John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, and only two—Jefferson and Buchanan—won by Barack Obama with razor-thin margins in a strong year for Democrats. Even in dozens of counties where Prop B lost last week, the ballot measure outperformed the Democratic candidate by an average of 10.83 percent.

Perhaps even more to the point, Prop B won in a majority of state House and Senate districts, and most of those districts elected Republicans to the legislature. It’s this same group of lawmakers who will now have to decide whether to respect the will of the people and help to enforce Prop B, or to tell a majority of Missouri voters—both Republicans and Democrats—that they didn’t know what they were doing.

In an election year when much of the narrative was about returning government to the people, let’s hope they get the message. In the last few days, several Missouri newspapers have called out these politicians and urged them to trust the voters, and here’s what these editorials had to say.

From the Kansas City Star:

During the campaign, a preposterous story line took hold that the move to regulate dog breeding operations was the first step in a calculated attempt to drive animal agriculture out of Missouri. Legislators would be very deceitful to use such unfounded fears as a basis to repeal Proposition B.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Missouri lawmakers should respect the will of the voters on puppy mills, even if they disagree with what voters had to say. Anything less damages democracy and insults voters.

From the Independence Examiner:

This would never have gone to the ballot at all if state legislators at some point could have bestirred themselves to enact at least some of these reforms, but, as with other issues, they took a pass. They’ve had their chances. It’s a little late now to suddenly show concern because an election went the wrong way.

Paid for by Missourians for the Protection of Dogs/YES! on Prop B, Judy Peil, Treasurer.

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