Big money dominates Missouri politics. Here in Columbia — and in Boone, Howard, Cooper and Randolph counties — Exhibit A is $50,000. A $50,000 bundle of cash state Rep. Chuck Basye accepted from David Humphreys, the businessman who tried to crush Missouri labor unions.
Basye, a Republican from Rocheport, is an opponent of organized labor. Since 2015, he has consistently voted in favor of so-called “right to work” laws. On Aug. 26, 2016, he received a campaign contribution of $50,000 from Humphreys, the Joplin-based businessman who spent millions of dollars trying to make Missouri a right-to-work state.
Opposing Basye in his bid for re-election in the 47th State House District is Adrian Plank, a Democrat and union carpenter who circulated petitions in the successful drive to overturn the right-to-work law.
The contest for control of the 47th District provides a good snapshot of the current state of Missouri politics. The big bucks that drive the national political scene begin right here at home. On Nov. 6, when voters consider the constitutional amendment (Amendment 1) to clean up state government, the campaign money Basye has accepted is a good example to remember.
Basye, a retired air traffic controller, had never run for political office before when he first won the seat in 2014. He had a lot of help — $300,000 in support from the House Republican Campaign Committee, which wanted to defeat the incumbent, Rep. John Wright, who was considered a rising star in Democratic politics.
Republicans targeted Wright, who had become a voice for ethics reform in the legislature. Six months before the election, Wright wrote an opinion piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explaining how lobbyists had spent nearly $1 million on gifts for legislators.
Basye beat Wright by 261 votes, 5,007 to 4,746. Like this year, that vote count took place in a nonpresidential election in which turnout can make all the difference.
On Sept. 16, 2015, Basye was one of those in the House who tried unsuccessfully to override then-Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a right-to-work law. Nixon said it was unwarranted government interference in the operations of Missouri businesses, that it would be bad for the economy and it would drive down wages.
The next year, Humphreys donated $2 million to Republican Eric Greitens, who had promised to sign right to work should he become governor. Basye was among those who again voted in favor of the law on Feb. 2, 2017. Gov. Greitens quickly signed it.
Two months ago Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected right to work by a ratio of 67 to 33 percent. By then, Greitens had been shamed out of office because of a sexual scandal and charges of official misconduct.
The 47th District combines parts of north and west Columbia with rural voters in Boone, Howard, Cooper and Randolph counties. August primary election results show voters in all those counties overwhelmingly rejected right to work.
The proposed repeal of right to work was originally scheduled to be considered during the November general election. But if that happened, all those pro-union working people could have affected the outcomes of state House and Senate races throughout Missouri. Republicans didn’t want that to happen.
As the legislature neared adjournment, the Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to move the right-to-work referendum to the August primary. Since 1914, there have been 26 similar votes on whether to repeal state law. This marked the first time in which a referendum was moved from the general election to the primary election. Basye voted for that, too.
In fact, Basye has voted for many other anti-worker provisions. He voted to repeal the prevailing wage requirement for public construction projects, he has voted to prohibit local minimum wages, and he has voted to require that public sector employees, like teachers, must sign up each year to have union dues taken out of their paychecks.
And even though voters rejected right to work, there’s nothing to stop the legislature from coming back and passing it again. The only sure way to head this off is to elect people to the legislature who support workers.
Because the legislature considers so many bills dealing with businesses, Basye has been the beneficiary of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from lobbyists and business-related political action committees. He has collected more than $135,000 for this election compared with $21,400 for Plank.
Few people know who represents them in the state legislature. Fewer still have the time to pay close attention to how legislators vote in Jefferson City. Politicians know this; in fact, they count on it. They hope people aren’t paying attention.
On Nov. 6, will voters connect the dots? Will they remember that the ethics reforms John Wright wanted — a ban on lobbyists’ gifts and limits on campaign donations — are encapsulated in Amendment 1?
Will all those pro-labor voters in Basye’s legislative district remember where Basye stands?
Terry Ganey formerly covered politics and government for The Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune.