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POLITICS SOMETIMES
BRINGS CHANGES YOU
NEVER ANTICIPATED

7/23/14

Politics has been known to make for strange bedfellows. And politics sometimes brings out changes that you never anticipated.

I go back to the 2006 election cycle. A visit from the Governor caused a detour in my life that saw me spend most of the next eight months as a single parent and a substantial disruption of my plans, including the cancellation of the 20th wedding anniversary trip that my wife and I had been planning since our 10th wedding anniversary. Sure there was a lot of fun had along the way. There was also some growth from my young daughters, 6 and 9 at the time, as they took on more responsibility and even worked on their public speaking skills. A few regrets, some great experiences, but no matter how you look at it a disruptive – even if mostly positive – eight months.

Well there is one fallout from those eight months that has changed my life. For Christmas in 2006 my wife gave me a CD from Rodney Atkins. A somewhat unusual gift. I grew up on what is considered “classic rock” today – Styx, Journey, Foreigner, etc. But, by soon after law school I moved from 101 the Fox to talk radio – mostly 980 or 810. I had never been big on country music. So, to give me a CD as a gift was a little unusual. To give me a country CD was even more unusual. But, during the 06 campaign my wife had spent a lot of time in the car and had developed an appreciation for a lot of country music so she wanted me to try it.

Rodney Atkins' “If You're Going Through Hell” CD was a pretty good collection of songs. The title track gave a great message of staying true to your faith even in tough times. “These Are My People” and “About the South” were a great tie back to your country roots. “Watching You” was a great reminder that our kids are watching and emulating the good and the bad things we do. And what father of a daughter doesn't absolutely love the lyrics “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” where a father makes sure a boy who wants to spend time with his daughter appreciates how important his daughter is to him as he cleans his gun in the boy's presence. Just a little subtle reminder of how serious dad is about the boy respecting his daughter.

I loved the CD. I wasn't entirely hooked. My wife begged for tickets to a concert to see some fella named Brad Paisley for our 21st anniversary. I bought them, but then tried to convince her to take a friend instead of me by the time the concert rolled around three months later. Boy was I wrong. Paisley is an amazing musician who tells great stories (some funny, some sad) with his music. Now I have seen him six or seven times in four different states.

Now I am fully hooked. My radio in my Silverado crew cab is now always tuned to “The Highway,” the Sirius radio station for new country music. I've been to nine concerts already this year, including seven concerts last month. (I count the Country Stampede as four because it was held over four days in Manhattan, Kansas.) And, I'm road tripping to Nebraska to get that CD I got for Christmas autographed by Rodney Atkins.

Yep. The ‘06 campaign had some incidental consequences that have changed my life. And, I couldn't be happier about it. Thirty, even 20, years ago, I would never have predicted that I would become a pickup driving, boot wearing, country music loving kind of guy. But, sometimes political campaigns happen to change people.

 


IT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
IS ALL THAT AFFORDABLE

7/16/14

The “Affordable Care Act.” That is the legal name for what is commonly referred to as ObamaCare. But, the question is whether “ObamaCare” has made insurance more “affordable.”
According to a study by the Manhattan Institute reported in Forbes, ObamaCare has not made health insurance more affordable. In fact, the study shows that ObamaCare and its multitude of new federal mandates has made health insurance much more expensive for most of the country.
The study shows that the cost of individually purchased health insurance rose dramatically. An initial study looked at a state-by-state analysis. This showed an increase from 2013 to 2014 of 41% in the average state. The study was then expanded to analyze the data on a county-by-county basis based upon 27-year-olds, 40-year-olds and 64-year-olds.

The big “winner” for the greatest increase in insurance prices for men from 2013 to 2014 is our neighbors to the north – Buchanan County. Men their saw an increase in insurance prices of 271% according to Forbes. Ouch!

The women of Buchanan County did not get “top honors” for the greatest increase in insurance prices. That went to the women of Goodhue County, Minnesota, which is located an hour southwest of Minneapolis. These women saw a 200% increase in the cost of their insurance.
While Platte Countians were not hit as hard as neighbors to the north, Platte Countians did not escape unscathed. The increase in insurance costs for women ages 27, 40 and 64 were 70%, 45% and 101%, respectively. The men of Platte County got zinged as well. The insurance costs for men ages 27, 40 and 64 jumped 219%, 127% and 65%, respectively.

Some citizens did see a drop in their insurance costs. This is mainly in states that have some dumb rules about how insurance rates are set. For example, New York adopted a law in 1992 that prohibits an insurance company from having different rates based upon age, gender, health or smoking. The end result is that people who might qualify for lower insurance rates based upon good health or healthy habits are actually paying much higher rates to help out the old, the sick and the smokers.

That is one of the dumbest rules ever made. The cost of insurance is intentionally designed to deal with risk factors (e.g., do you smoke, are you overweight, etc.). Having a policy that ignores these factors is going to increase the cost of insurance.

Government mandates on what health insurance has to cover are dumb. It takes the consumer out of the decision making process. Health insurance should really be set up to cover big stuff. You have an accident. You get really sick (e.g, cancer, heart attack). Health insurance should not cover the little stuff (sinus infection or other things you just need an antibiotic, fluids and rest to recover from). The idea of a doctor visit with a $10 or $25 co-pay is just silly. Let the consumer pay for the little stuff until the little stuff adds up to a few thousand dollars. Then let the insurance kick in. If you do this, the insurance could cost a LOT less.

Men in 91% and women in 82% of the counties in the U.S. have been hit with increases in the cost of insurance. It doesn't sound like the Affordable Care Act is all that “affordable.”

(James Thomas is an attorney who lives in Platte County. He is a veteran of state and local politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DOES NOT DISAPPEAR IF YOU START A BUSINESS

7/9/14

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby and held that the corporation's health insurance coverage did not have to include all forms of Food and Drug Administration approved forms of birth control. As one would expect this decision set off a fire storm of misinformation and manipulation.

The Affordable Care Act (i.e., ObamaCare) included many mandated provisions that needed to be included in employer provided health insurance. It should come as no surprise that ObamaCare included a great deal of liberal overreaching when setting these mandates.

One of these mandates was that employer sponsored health insurance plans had to include all forms of FDA approved birth control. These FDA approved forms of birth control included a few forms of FDA approved birth control that are considered to be “abortion-inducing” medicines as opposed to birth control mechanisms that prevent conception in the first place.

Pre-ObamaCare, Hobby Lobby's health insurance plans covered most forms of birth control. However, Hobby Lobby objected to adding these “abortion-inducing” forms of birth control to its health insurance plan. Hobby Lobby sought a religious exemption from this ObamaCare requirement.

At issue was the application Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The RFRA was adopted by Congress in response to a prior court ruling that refused to recognize that an entity could have religious rights under the First Amendment. In practical terms, the RFRA treats an organization like Hobby Lobby as a “person” entitled to the constitutionally protected religious freedoms under the First Amendment.

A professor from the University of Missouri was involved in the case. He spoke to the Federalist Society in Kansas City a few months ago and pointed out some of the serious problems that the government had with its case. A key element in determining whether the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is whether the government action is really necessary to protect a government interest. Since the Obama Administration has given numerous exemptions and exceptions to the application of ObamaCare to numerous organizations, the government was really hard pressed to support imposing the “abortion-inducing” birth control mandate on Hobby Lobby.

There has been a great deal of misreporting about the position taken by Hobby Lobby and the result of the decision. Many media outlets have misstated that Hobby Lobby was objecting to all forms of birth control being included in its health insurance plans. This is not true. Hobby Lobby's insurance plans cover nearly all forms of birth control. The exceptions are the forms of birth control that are considered “abortion inducing.”

Democrats, such as Senator Harry Reid have started grandstanding and saying “If the Supreme Court will not protect women's access to health care, then Democrats will.” A few folks who consider abortion a method of birth control have taken to picketing at Hobby Lobby. Some media outlets have failed to clearly delineate the subtle distinction between all forms of birth control and the narrow list of forms of birth control objected to by Hobby Lobby. Of course, why let the facts get in the way.

The discussion of the Hobby Lobby case will be distorted in many media outlets by focusing on the fact that the underlying issue was an abortion-related topic. However, the real issue was whether the owners of Hobby Lobby had to surrender their religious beliefs if they operate a business entity. For now the Supreme Court says your religious freedom does not disappear if you start a business.

(James Thomas of Platte County is an attorney who has long been active in local and state politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


MANY GOP CONGRESSMEN
HAVEN’T DONE A GOOD JOB
REPRESENTING GOP VALUES

7/2/14

It has long been true that the voters hate Congress, but love their own Congressperson. Well, recent polling shows a new twist. A poll from Rasmussen Reports shows that only 20% think their representative in Congress is the best person for the job. Even worse, only 25% of voters think their Congressperson deserves re-election.

Wow! Imagine if you went to work every day and four out of five of the people that you work for didn't think you were the best person for the job. And, how about if when you went to work three of the four people you answer to thought you should be fired.

Now the results probably aren't quite as bad as this poll. Despite the poll being of “likely U.S. voters,” the questions were still asked in a generic fashion about “your representative in Congress” and not “Congressman So and So.” So, the poll results are certainly skewed lower than if the questions were asked about re-electing a particular Congressperson. And, since an election ultimately comes down to being between specific candidates, folks may not like who they have, but that doesn't mean they will like the alternatives on the ballot any better. But, it is still a troubling development.

Folks in Congress do have some perception problems. Sixty-nine percent think most members of Congress don't care what their constituents think. Fifty-three percent say their Congressperson doesn't care what they think.

Republicans seem particularly disgruntled with their Congresspeople. Fifty-nine percent of Republican voters think their representatives in Congress have lost touch with the party's base. And, only 29% of likely Republican voters think Republicans in Congress have done a good job representing Republican values over the last several years.

Amen to that. Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 because they had become “watered-down Democrats” spending money we didn't have. It only took two terms of Democrat control to realize how bad the out of control spending by Democrats really was and create the Republican wave of 2010, but after their victories Republicans have still failed to hold the line of spending, illegal immigration and a host of other issues important to the folks that gave Republicans a second chance at leadership.

Despite the occasional success of some conservative candidates, I don't have high hopes that enough of the incumbent Republicans are going to wake up and do what we elected them to do. Every time a few Republicans try to hold the line on spending and national debt increases, the Democrats and their allies in the media create an “end of the world” firestorm that makes many Republicans too scared to hold the line on responsible spending practices and debt limits.

As we prepare to celebrate another Independence Day, I just have to think that our Founding Fathers must be ashamed of what has become of America. The “oppressive” taxes that King George imposed were insignificant compared to the tax burdens that those of us who actually pay taxes have to bear. The government intrusions imposed by Parliament were insignificant compared to the regulatory intrusions imposed by the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that exist today.

Interestingly, it was a Democrat, Thomas Jefferson, who said that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Maybe it is simply time for more “blood letting” of the electoral variety at the polls.

(James Thomas, Republican is an attorney who has long been active in state and local politics. Email james@jct3law.com)

 


MISSOURI REPUBLICANS
HAVE LOST A FORMER
POLITICAL POWERHOUSE

6/25/14

The Missouri Republican Party lost a political giant this week. Hillard Selck died Saturday at his Boonville home. Hillard “who?” you might ask.

I understand. Selck was not a famous political figure that most people will have heard of. In fact, except for real political insiders, most people would not have had reason to cross paths with him. Furthermore, he was probably two or three “political generations” ago so those new to the political scene (i.e., only involved in the last 10 years or so) would not have likely ever met him. But, he was a political powerhouse in his day.

I wasn't necessarily a fan of the “older” Selck. By the time I came upon the political scene, he was part of the “old guard” trying to keep the “rebels” from taking over the party. However, I'm pretty sure I would have been right by his side in his early days.

Earlier in his political life, Selck was a member of a group dubbed the “Dirty Dozen.” This bunch were the “rebels” of their day. They stood against their sitting governor, Kit Bond, and sitting president, Gerald Ford, to support another “rebel,” Ronald Reagan, in his 1976 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

This was a HUGE deal at the time. Yes. Reagan was a solid candidate for the presidential nomination in '76. Yes. Reagan got very close to pulling off the nomination at the national convention in Kansas City. And, after Reagan's concession speech at the convention, many a delegate has expressed the comment of “We just picked the wrong guy” when choosing Ford over Reagan. But, the bottom line is that while Reagan was a major political player in ‘76, he was still the outsider and standing with the outsider is a problem if you want to “make nice” with the political establishment.

Selck may not have backed the winner in '76, but his political service wasn't over. After Reagan won in 1980 Selck went on to chair the Missouri Republican Party from 1983 to 1988 and served as Missouri's Republican National Committeeman from 1988 to 1990. He also went to five Republican National Conventions as a delegate.

One of Selck's fights to go to a Republican National Convention is where we first crossed paths. He was fighting to go to another convention. I was fighting to send my friends. It is interesting how things change. In that battle, I was the “rebel” and Selck was the “establishment.” Of course, I know this is how it goes. You are a “rebel” until you win, and then you become the “establishment.” For example, during the 1996 and 2000 Congressional District Conventions, I was one of the “rebels,” but I'm sure I looked like the “establishment” as I chaired the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Congressional District Conventions.

Regardless of the turning of Selck from being a “rebel” to being the “establishment,” I still respect his efforts. He was a “Reagan man” before every Republican started worshiping Reagan. He was a champion against the insiders in his own party for the right guy. I choose to remember Selck as a “rebel” and a champion of Reagan and conservatism. And, at his passing I want to salute his efforts and the efforts of some of the other rebels from '76 like my friend, Ron Muck from Clay County, who nearly 40 years later is still a hard charging political dynamo.

Selck's service to the Republican Party is appreciated. He will be missed.

(James Thomas of Platte County is an attorney who has long been active in state and local politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


REPUBLICANS SHOULD STICK WITH THEIR CONSERVATIVE PROMISES

6/18/14

The big news last week was the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican Congressman in Virginia, by David Brat, an economics professor. Cantor's defeat represents flawed campaign planning and execution as well as some flawed policy positions for a Republican primary.

One of the first steps to start a campaign is to build a vote model that predicts the number of votes that will be cast and where your candidate will get those votes. This is certainly guesswork, but for experienced political operatives it is usually very thoughtful and sophisticated guesswork. Once a campaign has identified its vote model, the next step is to identify the candidate's favorable voters and get them to the polls. It appears that the Cantor campaign took some of these basic campaign considerations too lightly.

Only 65,000 people voted in the Cantor-Brat primary race in a district of nearly 760,000 residents. To put this in context, one media outlet reported that 381,000 people voted in the 2012 Congressional race and 223,000 of those voted for Cantor. Compare that to last week's primary. Only 65,022 people voted in the Republican primary and those voters broke down 36,120 (55.55% for Brat) and 28,902 (44.45%) for Cantor. That means that less than 13% of the people that voted for Cantor in the 2012 general election voted for him in the 2014 primary election.

Now a lot of this is just a simple turnout consideration. Voting in the general election is generally significantly higher than voting in a primary election. Also, 2012 was a presidential election year and 2014 is an “off” year election. But, the bottom line is that Cantor's turn out machine, the most basic grassroots component of a campaign, was unsuccessful at getting Cantor supporters to the polls.

Of course, Cantor's campaign team and policy folks mishandled several things. Cantor's campaign staff offended a pro-Second Amendment group by failing to respond to its candidate questionnaire. Cantor's campaign ran attack ads gave Brat name ID by referring to him by name. And, Cantor created a great deal of policy confusion over illegal immigration by at one point saying he was opposed to “amnesty” while supporting a bill that some say was a form of “amnesty.”

Of course, the biggest downfall of the campaign seems to be one that eventually dooms most Congressmen. Many citizens who were interviewed said that Cantor had “lost touch with the people” and “didn't spend enough time in the district.” In fairness to Cantor, as majority leader, he has to spend a lot of time on the road helping candidates with events to raise money so the Republicans can maintain the majority. However, since Cantor's district in the Richmond, Virginia area isn't that far geographically from D.C., you would think that he would have found the time to make it back to this district more frequently.

Cantor's loss is probably the result of a variety of things: Cantor losing touch with the district, a poorly run campaign and a frustration with the failure of Republican leadership to promote conservative policies. The last is particularly troubling. Republicans gained a House majority with a conservative message, but Republicans collectively don't seem willing to stand up for conservative policies. Maybe Cantor's loss will serve as a reminder to other Republican incumbents to stick with their conservative campaign promises.

(James Thomas of Platte County is an attorney who has long been active in state and local politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


FINAL FOUR WILL BE GREAT MEMORY OF CAMARADERIE AND SPORTSMANSHIP

6/11/14

Took a break from politics last week to focus on high school girls' soccer. The high school team of my older daughter, Shannon, played in the Class 1A final four of the state championship tournament.

Lutheran High opened the season with a loss to Maryville. But, the girls won the next game, tied the next game and then didn't lose or tie until reaching the final four.

What these girls accomplished is a pretty amazing feat. LHS is small: 135 students in the high school. There are only three divisions in soccer. So, even the smallest division of girls' soccer means the schools are typically four to eight times the size of LHS. The team also includes no current club soccer players.

Most of the girls are like my daughter. Shannon has no current plans to play sports in college. She has chosen not to focus on playing one particular sport that she can get really good at, but rather to play for her school. I describe it that she plays for the team name on the front of her jersey instead of her name on the back of her jersey. (Our girls' don't really have their names on the back of their jerseys, but you know what I mean.) Our girls played volleyball until the district championship game. The next day they started basketball practice. Our girls played basketball until the district championship game in March. Then two days later (they had Sunday off) they started soccer practice.

The other interesting thing is that many of the girls are also like my daughter in that they have little soccer experience. My daughter had played almost no soccer before she was a freshman in high school. During the spring in junior high my daughter participated in track, primarily the shot put and discus. However, at the end of basketball season of her freshman year the other girls begged her to play soccer so they could field a team. The girls eventually ended up with a roster of 13. Despite her limited soccer experience Shannon played almost every minute of every game during her freshman and sophomore years because the roster was so thin. While she didn't have traditional soccer skills her broad shoulders and her “not going to get pushed around” attitude served her well as a defender.

Since the roster ballooned to 15 players this year, Shannon gave up a little playing time, but still got to start in both final four games. Due to an injury she even had to move up and play an offensive position that led to a shot on goal in the third place game. (She'll probably tell you it was a pass to our star player that she overshot a little bit, but the MSHSAA stats show it as a shot on goal and a save by the goalie.)

It has been a lot of fun to watch the girls over the last three years. I just had no idea how rough soccer is. At the end of her freshman year, Shannon had bruises up and down both arms. She had several new scuff marks after this weekend. This season was a particularly fun ride including regular season wins over Chillicothe, Pembroke Hill, Cameron, Barstow, Savannah and Bishop LeBlond, the district championship win over Barstow, the sectional win over Summit Christian and the quarterfinal win over St. Pius to advance to the final four.

LHS faced a daunting challenge in the first semifinal game facing a team that had been to the final four for the last six years. However, the girls faced the challenge bravely and started quickly. LHS' star player, Sierra Grimm, ricocheted a shot off the post in the first 20 seconds. I'm sure this near miss gave the opposing team a little scare. The girls were within a goal until the last three minutes when the pressure to tie the game left an opening that allowed the other team to go up by two. It was an exciting battle against a team seeking its third title in five years. In the semifinal game they had to face a team in the third place game that had been to the final four for the last three years. They played hard, but just didn't have enough to pull out a win.

Despite the fact that Lutheran High finished school on May 22 I have told my daughter she wouldn't be a senior until soccer ended. Well, as of about 4 p.m. on Saturday, she is now a senior. It would have been a great memory to have fought passed the six consecutive final four team for a shot at a state championship or to have defeated a third consecutive final four team for third place, but just making the final four should still be a great memory of camaraderie and sportsmanship for these girls. I hope they will focus on the season as a whole in the future rather than the two tough losses to end the season. They represented the school well not only with success on the field, but, more importantly, a consistent display of good sportsmanship. Congratulations to them on a great season!

(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in state and local politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)


 


THE BIG NEWSPAPERS
AND THEIR WEB SITE
PAY WALLS

6/4/14

Big newspapers have been struggling. Fewer and fewer people subscribe to daily newspapers and more and more people are getting their news on-line.

(This hasn't impacted small newspapers like The Landmark the same way because The Landmark offers unique coverage that you don't get anywhere else. Just try to find hardly any Platte County-related news in the Kansas City Star.)

Some newspapers responded to the on-line preference by forcing potential readers to pay a fee to access news content. Other media outlets flood their on-line access points with advertisements.
This created an interesting problem for political junkies. Those interested in politics and particularly state-wide politics can't really rely on The Kansas City Star for coverage. Their coverage is intermittent at best.

Most folks interested in state-wide politics check johncombest.com on a daily basis. John Combest does a huge favor for Missouri's political junkies by pulling together political stories from newspapers from all over the state. This is an amazing service because coverage by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Columbia Missourian, Jefferson County News Tribune and Southeast Missourian are far more extensive than The Star's limited covering of what happens in Jeff City.

There was a time right after these bigger newspapers began putting up their “pay walls” to limit on-line access without a fee that daily readers of johncombest.com had less news available. However, most of these newspapers either decided to give access to readers through a link on johncombest.com or to at least to give readers a free opportunity to read a limited number of stories.

Well the johncombest.com link to the Columbia Missourian has revealed a new plan. Instead of making readers pay a fee or sit through an advertisement video, the Columbia Missourian will now have a survey before a reader can access a story. (Those who continue to pay the $5.95 per month fee will not be subject to these surveys.) These surveys are conducted by Google. Apparently Google collects 10 cents from market research firms for every completed survey. Google then pays a nickel to the newspaper for each of these surveys. Then, the newspaper gives the reader “free” access.

I appreciate that a newspaper is a business just like any other. The newspaper has to bring in revenue to be able to pay the reporters that research and write the stories or there will be no stories. Like any other business, a newspaper has to have enough money to pay for the operating costs and leave some profit for the owners who invested their capital in the business. However, despite my appreciation of the business purpose of the “pay walls,' I would just choose to not read a story when I hit such a roadblock. I always thought that the newspaper needed to find a way to make sure people were still reading their news stories – even if only on-line and free – if the newspaper was going to remain relevant.

The Columbia Missourian is not one of the sources I would go to very often. I certainly wasn't going to pay a subscription to read their stories. (The Southeast Missourian actually has some of the very best Jeff City coverage in the state.) However, if these surveys aren't too onerous, I might go there more often. I guess we'll have to wait and see whether this new money making scheme works out.

(James Thomas of Platte County is an attorney who is a veteran of state and local politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)


YOU CAN BREATHE A LITTLE EASIER, BUT ONLY A LITTLE

5/21/14

It's over! The Missouri legislature has concluded its regular session. You can breathe a little easier, but only a little.

Like most legislative sessions this one saw a wide range of bills work their way through the legislative process and on to the governor's desk. Many of the bills that were passed still have to be signed by the governor before they will become law.

One of the big issues before the legislature was how to deal with the “school transfer law.” A law was passed several years ago that lets students from school districts that have lost their accreditation transfer to another school district and have their home school district pay the tuition to the other school district. In some ways this makes logical sense. If the student's home school district has lost its accreditation it is obviously not doing its job. If “free public education” is going to mean anything, a student needs to be able to attend an accredited school. However, it is an expensive proposition when an entire school district of students has a right to pack up and go to school outside the home district and have the unaccredited school district foot the bill. In working through this issue, the legislature passed a bill that actually may add new controversy. The bill that has been passed allows a student to transfer not only to a nearby public school, but also to a private school. The public education establishment will go crazy over this. So, the fight is certainly not over yet.

On another education note, a bill was passed that will set up a panel to rewrite the student achievement standards for English, math, science and history. This is in response to the outrage over the Common Core Standards. We'll have to wait and see how this plays out. It is very possible that these new standards will simply be the Common Core Standards with a different label.

Another education bill creates a two-tiered funding plan for education in the 2015 budget. The plan includes a $115 million increase and potentially a $278 million increase in state revenues assuming that the State's revenues reach Governor Nixon's projections. Of course, since no matter how much of an increase in funding the public education advocates get it is never enough, this may not be happily accepted by the public education establishment.

A major event was a massive rewrite of the criminal code. I haven't paid much attention to this because I don't practice that kind of law. However, lots of lawyers who are experts in criminal law have been working on this project for years.

Some important legislation did not get addressed. Those wanting to bankrupt the state with more government handouts failed to get an expansion of Medicaid through the legislature. Neither making Missouri a right to work state nor requiring unions to get annual written consent to the automatic paycheck deduction of union fees passed. Attempts to require a photo ID to vote didn't pass either. (I'm not sure why the Democrats are unwilling to show idea to vote. Oh, wait. Now I remember.)

A “biggie” that did pass is the putting of a three-fourths cent statewide transportation sales tax on the ballot. More on that later.

For now, you don't have to hold on to your wallets as tightly, but do be vigilant. Those in government still think your money is their money.

(James Thomas of Platte County is an attorney who has long been active in local politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 

FEAR THE LEGISLATIVE TORNADOES

5/14/14

As tornadoes touch down across the Midwest there is another whirlwind you need to be worried about. This week is the last week of the Missouri General Assembly's legislative session. As usual, there is a whirlwind of activity as legislators rush to pass or kill bills as the close of session approaches on Friday.

Last week's big news was the legislature's override of Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the tax cut. The tax but bill may have been a strong political gesture, but the new tax rates do not take effect until 2017 are phased in over five years so no money will show up in taxpayers' wallets for a while. Also, the tax cuts are subject to certain conditions precedent that have the potential to never cause the tax cuts to take effect. However, the passage of the tax cuts, although watered-down, futuristic and uncertain, was certainly a symbolic gesture.

The legislative sessions typically runs into the wee hours of the morning during this week. In fact, one of my friends told me he stayed in the Senate gallery until they closed Monday's session at around 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The debate on Monday was over a bill to extend the abortion waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours. The Democrat Senators apparently ended their opposition in exchange for Republicans dropping their voter ID and paycheck protection efforts. It is interesting that Republicans, who have an overwhelming majority in the Senate, couldn't get enough votes together to “call the previous question” and end debate on the abortion waiting period bill.

A lot of important issues are still being debated as the clock winds down: revisions to the 1993 school transfer law, a statewide transportation sales tax, tax credit reform, and restoring caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

My greatest fear is actually the last minute passage of bills without them being thought completely through. One particular example was a campaign finance bill rammed through by Senator Charlie Shields at the very end of the 2010 legislative session. Many very knowledgeable folks tried to point out defects in the bill to Shields even as late as the day before the last day of session. However, Shields was adamant that he wanted to pass some form of campaign finance reform whether flawed or not. In fact, Shields commented that “we'll fix it later.” (Of course, he was at the end of his term and not running for re-election so he wouldn't have been part of that “we” that would be fixing anything.) The end result was that a flawed bill was passed at the very end of the legislative session and that bill was later thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court as unconstitutional. This was clearly a problem that could have been avoided with more thoughtful drafting and less of a last minute rush to pass something notwithstanding its obvious flaws.

This time of year we need to fear not just the real tornadoes, but also the legislative tornadoes that come as the legislative session comes to a close. But, to fight the legislative cyclone, don't hide in your cellar. Instead, pick up your phone and keep pressure on your legislators to pass good, common sense laws or, maybe more importantly, not to pass dumb laws.

Our efforts don't always work, but, if you do nothing, who knows what we'll get.

(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in politics in Platte County and throughout the state. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


TAX CUT BILL GOES THROUGH, WILL THE WORLD NOW END?

5/7/14

As has long been anticipated, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the legislature's tax cut bill last week. It was thought that the Republican-led legislature might not have enough votes to override the veto. However, the Senate voted 23-8 and the House voted 109-46 to override Nixon's veto this week.

Don't get too excited. Most of the tax cut bill provisions are phased in so it will be a while before you can keep more of your money.

The tax cuts are phased in from 2017 to 2021. The highest individual rate is currently 6%. This rate will apply through 2016. Then, starting in 2017, the rate is slated to come down slowly: 5.9% in 2017, 5.8% in 2018, 5.7% in 2019, 5.6% in 2020 and 5.5% in 2012.

Missouri actually has a relatively flat set of tax brackets. Taxpayers reach the highest bracket with taxable income over $9,000.

The tax cuts are not automatic. Before the tax rate adjustments will take effect, the state's revenues must increase by at least $150 million a year compared to the highest revenue amount in the previous three years. So, there is certainly a risk that the lower rates will never take effect.

While any tax savings is nice, it isn't a huge savings to any individual taxpayer. For example, a taxpayer with $100,000 of Missouri taxable income would see the Missouri income tax bill drop from $5,775 to $5,320 as a result of the rate adjustment. The extra $455 isn't going to make a huge difference to a taxpayer, but every little bit helps.

The more significant tax savings will be for taxpayers with income from sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations. If the revenue growth trigger is met, a taxpayer with this sort of income can exclude 25% of income from these sources. This exclusion is actually phased in so the exclusion is zero through 2016, 5% in 2017, 10% in 2018, 15% in 2019, 20% in 2020 and 25% in 2021. So, a taxpayer with $100,000 of income from a sole proprietorship in 2021 would see a savings of about $1,375. Once again, not earth shattering, but it sure is better for the taxpayer to have money in his pocket rather than forking it over to the government.

The tax cut law also increases the personal exemption amount for low income taxpayers. Currently, the personal exemption is $2,100 per person. The personal exemption will increase to $2,600 for taxpayers with Missouri adjusted gross income of less than $20,000.

I was a little surprised the veto was overridden. In a previous legislative session. a tax cut bill was vetoed and the legislators could not get enough votes for an override. The groups that fought that previous bill have been putting on a full court press claiming “the world will end” if the state income tax rate is reduced. Okay. Maybe I have exaggerated their position a little. But, those groups that spend our tax dollars have been saying that they can't live without more.

There is an interesting twist in the works. While the income tax cut has been pushed through, there has simultaneously been a proposal to create a state-wide sales tax to fund transportation improvements. So, while the legislature has been trying to let us keep more of our money with one hand, the legislature has simultaneously been working to take more of our money from us.

(James Thomas is a Platte County attorney who has long been active in state and local politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


WHAT DOES 'PROFICIENCY' REALLY MEASURE?

4/30/14

One of two things is true: Either American's public education system is awful or the mechanisms for reporting the measurement of student performance is awful.

What caught my eye this week was a story about the best and worst states for public education. The article examined a variety of factors in ranking public education in each state. One of the factors was the performance of students on standardized tests.

The national average for the proficiency of fourth graders in reading is about 35%. In the best states in the country for public education, the proficiency of fourth graders in reading is about 45%. The proficiency rankings in mathematics for fourth graders and eighth graders are about the same. The national average is about 35% proficiency with the best states reach into the 40 to 45% proficiency range. The worst states for public education tended to be less than the 35% proficiency rating in math and reading.

Something is terribly wrong here. If only 35% to 45% of public school kids are proficient in math and reading, what does that say about the other 55% to 65% who are NOT proficient?

There should be near 100% proficiency. Of course, maybe the education system is using the wrong nomenclature. Does “proficient” not mean “meets the minimum standard” for the particular grade level? Does it mean something else?

I was strongly opposed to President Bush's “No Child Left Behind” initiative. I wholeheartedly supported Bush's idea that every single kid in America should get a certain minimum level of education from the public education system. My objection had to do with whether this was a federal issue or a state issue. As Governor of Texas, Bush had some responsibility for the performance of public education. However, when he became president, Bush was no longer responsible for elementary and secondary education. These are state issues and not federal issues. But, the concept, while contrary to notions of federalism, was a good one. Every kid needs to meet the standards of proficiency for a particular grade level before being promoted to the next grade level. And, schools, that don't see that students meet the standard should lose their funding until they do help students meet the standard.

“No Child Left Behind” was sadly an example of “you just can't help some people.” Bush pushed through greater increases in federal funding for public education in his first two years in office than Clinton did in all eight years in office. Bush tried to make education a priority. He even reached across the aisle to partner with ultra-liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy to push this initiative. What thanks did he get? Bush was ridiculed by the liberal left for promoting minimum standards of achievement for students and for not giving enough money. Thus, he again proved that you simply just can't help some people because even if you give them more than they have ever gotten before, you can never give them enough.

But, I digress. My key concern is that there are tests out there that establish a measurement of “proficiency,” which is implied to be the minimum standard of performance, but the average proficiency is in the mid-30 percent range. If this means that only this dismal percentage of students is meeting the minimum standard of performance, then that is awful. If it means something else, then the education establishment needs to provide some clarity on what “proficiency” really measures.

(James Thomas, Republican, is an attorney who is active in local politics. Email james@jct3law.com)

 


HOW TO DEAL WITH
STUDENTS WHO ARE
‘NOT LAWFULLY PRESENT’

4/23/14

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick of Shell Knob (i.e., southwest Missouri) is drawing fire over his proposal to require Missouri's public colleges to charge students who are “not lawfully present” international tuition rates. The question that first comes to mind is “Why aren't Missouri's public colleges already doing that?” Well that is really the second question that comes to mind. The first question that comes to mind is “How are students who are 'not lawfully present' even enrolling in Missouri's public colleges?”

No. Seriously! How is a student that is “not lawfully present” able to enroll in any college in Missouri?!

If a student is not lawfully in this country, shouldn't the student be expelled from the country? How can someone who is “not lawfully present” not only be allowed to continue to be “unlawfully present,” but also be allowed to attend a publicly funded college?

Don't get me wrong. I am a huge advocate for LEGAL immigration. We are essentially all immigrants whether we or our ancestors came here after we were born or whether our ancestors came to America in the 1600s. America is a nation of immigrants. America is made better by its diverse mix of people from a variety of cultures. (Of course, in the past what has made the diverse mix work is that the immigrants want to become “Americans” and not “hyphenated Americans” whose loyalties first lie to what is before the hyphen rather than what is after the hyphen, but that is a subject for another day.) It is a huge compliment to America that people want to come here. We should be proud and welcome those who come here legally.

Furthermore, there needs to be a serious discussion about the process to legally immigrate to America. I absolutely do not support amnesty for any illegal immigrants. However, I would be open to a discussion of a less strenuous entry process that give folks here illegally a modest window (say 90 to 180 days) to exit and re-enter legally. However, in exchange for giving an easy re-entry process I would expect the laws and the enforcement process to deal harshly with anyone caught here illegally after that reentry opportunity. I know forcing illegal immigrants to leave and then letting them almost instantly come back might seem trivial, but to me it is what is necessary to satisfy the requirement of “legal entry.”

I am also sympathetic to the fact a lot of the students who are “not lawfully present” must have been brought here by their parents when they were small children. It is not their fault that their parents smuggled them across the border from their native land. You don't really want to punish these kids for the crimes of their parents, especially when the parents were probably just trying to make their kids' lives better. However, the problem remains that the students we are talking about are “not lawfully present.” How can someone who is “not lawfully present” be entitled to any government benefits, including in-state tuition at a public college?

The immigration issue is a difficult one. We want America to continue to welcome immigrants and be the place where people come to escape oppression and build better lives for their families. BUT, we still need to uphold respect for the law. If someone is not “legally present” he or she should not be entitled to the benefits set aside for those are “legally present.”

(James Thomas, an attorney, is active in local Republican politics. He can be reached at james@jct3law.com)

 


IT TAKES A LOT OF MONEY FOR CANDIDATES TO REACH THE VOTERS

4/16/14

Last week Dave Helling from the Kansas City Star wrote a column bemoaning the role of “big money donors” in the political process. He does make some very good points, but he also misses the point that money is spent on politics because the media typically does such an awful job of giving important information to the voters.

Helling wrote:

The biggest threat to democracy may be unlimited campaign donations, but the best defense is an energetic, informed electorate making up its own mind.

I would wholeheartedly concur with Helling that “an energetic, informed electorate making up its own mind” is the best defense to any threats to democracy. The problem is that candidates end up having to raise lots of money to share their message with the voters because the media typically does such an awful job of giving important information to the voters.

The cost to reach the voters is very expensive. Big races use TV to reach the voters. A statewide TV buy with decent penetration will cost $500,000 or more a week. In a more local race, such as a county office, a candidate will spent $5,000 to $10,000 on a countywide mailer. The bottom line is that it takes a lot of money for candidates to reach the voters with a message. To fund a one week $500,000 TV campaign requires 20,000 $25 contributions. To fund one $10,000 countywide mailer requires 400 $25 contributions.

Don't get me wrong. I love $25 contributions. A person that parts with 25 of their hard earned dollars is absolutely with your candidate. However, $25 only pays for five yard signs or five thousandths of one percent of one week state-wide TV buy. The only way to hit the campaign budget is to get lots of $25 contributions and some much larger contributions.

One question Helling doesn't address is whether his criticism of “big-money donors” also extends to labor unions. Unions force workers to give them money to spend on candidates that large portions of their membership (about 40% according to most polls) don't support. I find that process far more offensive than a person giving his or her own money to support candidates with similar ideas.

Sadly, Helling criticizes patriotic campaign donors and fails to discuss the role the media plays in this whole process. The media has the ability to make the TV ads funded by “rich guys' cash” irrelevant by simply providing more, better and fairer information to the electorate so that they can be informed. If the truth is out there, no TV ad or piece of junk mail will overcome the truth. However, one of the key problems is that many media types are not neutral sharers of the truth. Many media types have an axe to grind or a particular political leaning that comes through their “reporting.” (I actually have rarely seen that from Helling, but I'm talking about the media-types as a collective.) This failure by the media is why candidates have to raise lots of money to share their own message.

Helling is right. An “energetic, informed electorate” does control the outcome of elections. The problem is the media has failed to keep the electorate informed. So, candidates have to raise lots of money, including both lots of small contributions as well as larger chunks from a few donors, to be able to share their message with the voters.

(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him by email to james@jct3law.com)

 


WE ALL SHOULD LOBBY FROM TIME TO TIME

4/9/14

Lobbying. Some people think that is a dirty word. Generally, I disagree. Lobbying is simply communicating with an elected official or governing body about some topic up for consideration. There is certainly nothing wrong with lobbying. In fact we all should lobby from time to time.

I know I have “lobbied” (not in a legal sense, but in a practical sense) from time to time. When former Rep. Tim Flook and former Sen. Charlie Shields were working on campaign finance reform, I tried to explain to them the meaning of the words in the bill they had proposed and the practical implications of the language in the bill. They refused to listen and rushed the bill through the legislature without proper consideration. A few months later the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the bill based on the concerns about which I tried to warn them. (This wasn't really lobbying, more like “constructive commenting,” but you get the idea.)

The point is that sharing information with our elected officials is not a bad thing. We all should do it. How will our elected officials know how we feel if we don't talk to them? However, what can be a problem is when a very small group lobbies for something and thereby exerts an inordinate amount of influence over our governing bodies.

One particular instance caught my eye this past week: the bicycling lobby. Yep. Those irritating people that drive their bicycles on roads MADE FOR CARS have a very vocal and active lobbying group even though they are a very small percentage of the population.

Right now the Missouri General Assembly is considering a state-wide sales tax to fund Missouri's transportation needs. One legislator proposed an amendment that would prohibit using any of this sales tax money for “bicycle” transportation. That brought the bicyclists out of the woodwork. Yep. They want money that is supposed to be used for roads to also be used for bicyclists.

I am not sure how much clout the bicyclist lobby really has in Jefferson City, but I can tell you that they have WAY too much clout in the City of Kansas City. The bicyclist lobby wanted a dedicated crossing of the Missouri River and the City Council gave it to them! Where did this come from? A car lane was eliminated from the Heart of American Bridge. Yep. That's right. There are fewer driving lanes to cross the Missouri River so the bicyclists can have a dedicated lane.

This is where lobbying can be a bad thing. The bicyclists in Kansas City are a tiny portion of the population, but they got a huge concession because they are extremely vocal. Did the City Council consider the overwhelming majority who would oppose losing a car lane across the Missouri River? No. They never heard from us.

Just be glad that the bicyclists didn't get the last thing they wanted. When revisions to the planning codes were being discussed, the bicyclists were wanting the code to mandate that bicycle parking spaces and shower facilities be part of the code. Bicycle parking is so burdensome, but shower facilities? Are they nuts?!?!?

No. Lobbying is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when a small group becomes a vocal lobbying force and the vast majority of us are silent, the results of lobbying can be bad.

(James Thomas, a Republican, has long been active in Platte County politics. Lobby him at james@jct3law.com)


 


AN HONEST DISCUSSION
ABOUT FIXING POVERTY
IS NEEDED

3/26/14

Poverty in America is a tragedy. We are the wealthiest nation in the world. To have poverty existing in America is a sad state of affairs. However, it is almost impossible to have an honest discussion about fixing poverty because certain interest groups have a tendency to get their noses out of joint. Of course, when tiptoeing around such a sensitive area, it is really important to choose one's words carefully. Congressman (and 2012 vice presidential nominee) Paul Ryan failed to do that recently.

Ryan recently said that “there was a tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of work.”
As you might guess, the Congressional Black Caucus was upset with him.

The Congressional Black Caucus said the remarks were “highly offensive.” Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California said Ryan's remarks were a “thinly veiled racial attack.” Lee stated in a press release that “Let's be clear, when Mr. Ryan says 'inner city,' when he says 'culture,' these are simply code words for what he really means: 'black'.”

Ryan's inclusion of a reference to “the inner cities in particular” was probably not the best choice of words. He tried to backpedal a little bit to address his less than ideal word choice. He issued a follow- up statement in which he said “I was not implicating the culture of one community, but of society as a whole. We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities. The predictable result has been multi-generational poverty and little opportunity.”

Ryan's follow-up comments are certainly a little more delicate way of addressing the issue. But his reference to “the inner cities in particular” seemed to be supported by reality. Kansas City is a prime example. The once proud core of Kansas City has been in steady decline for generations. And, if it wasn't for the massive land grab by Kansas City that makes Kansas City both the inner city and the areas stretching all the way to Platte City and down into Cass County, Kansas City would be losing population and its tax base.

Poor people aren't just in the inner city. In fact, a study would likely find more poor people in rural America than in the inner city. However, with the inner city there is a concentration of poverty that you just don't see anywhere else.

This isn't an easy problem to fix. In fact, it can never be entirely fixed. “The poor will always be with us.” Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7 and John 12:8. However, “. . . the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.” Psalm 9:18.

Ryan wants to work toward a solution that truly reduces poverty. The problem is that the Congresspeople who happen to have a lot of poor people in their districts aren't willing to get over being offended and have an honest discussion about solutions to poverty.

Sadly, the losers as a result of these Congresspeople's indignation are those people that Ryan is trying to help. Of course, if the constituents of these offended Congresspeople did get out of poverty, they might stop being Democrat voters. The offended Congresspeople certainly wouldn't want that.

(James Thomas is an attorney and a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


PROPOSAL WOULD MOVE PRIMARY ELECTION FROM AUGUST TO JUNE
3/19/14

Poverty in America is a tragedy. We are the wealthiest nation in the world. To have poverty existing in America is a sad state of affairs. However, it is almost impossible to have an honest discussion about fixing poverty because certain interest groups have a tendency to get their noses out of joint. Of course, when tiptoeing around such a sensitive area, it is really important to choose one's words carefully. Congressman (and 2012 vice presidential nominee) Paul Ryan failed to do that recently.

Ryan recently said that “there was a tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of work.”
As you might guess, the Congressional Black Caucus was upset with him.

The Congressional Black Caucus said the remarks were “highly offensive.” Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California said Ryan's remarks were a “thinly veiled racial attack.” Lee stated in a press release that “Let's be clear, when Mr. Ryan says 'inner city,' when he says 'culture,' these are simply code words for what he really means: 'black'.”

Ryan's inclusion of a reference to “the inner cities in particular” was probably not the best choice of words. He tried to backpedal a little bit to address his less than ideal word choice. He issued a follow- up statement in which he said “I was not implicating the culture of one community, but of society as a whole. We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities. The predictable result has been multi-generational poverty and little opportunity.”

Ryan's follow-up comments are certainly a little more delicate way of addressing the issue. But his reference to “the inner cities in particular” seemed to be supported by reality. Kansas City is a prime example. The once proud core of Kansas City has been in steady decline for generations. And, if it wasn't for the massive land grab by Kansas City that makes Kansas City both the inner city and the areas stretching all the way to Platte City and down into Cass County, Kansas City would be losing population and its tax base.

Poor people aren't just in the inner city. In fact, a study would likely find more poor people in rural America than in the inner city. However, with the inner city there is a concentration of poverty that you just don't see anywhere else.

This isn't an easy problem to fix. In fact, it can never be entirely fixed. “The poor will always be with us.” Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7 and John 12:8. However, “. . . the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.” Psalm 9:18.

Ryan wants to work toward a solution that truly reduces poverty. The problem is that the Congresspeople who happen to have a lot of poor people in their districts aren't willing to get over being offended and have an honest discussion about solutions to poverty.
Sadly, the losers as a result of these Congresspeople's indignation are those people that Ryan is trying to help. Of course, if the constituents of these offended Congresspeople did get out of poverty, they might stop being Democrat voters. The offended Congresspeople certainly wouldn't want that.
(James Thomas is an attorney and a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


PROPOSAL WOULD MOVE PRIMARY ELECTION FROM AUGUST TO JUNE
3/19/14

The Missouri General Assembly has reached their spring break. It seems a little odd that a group that didn't start work until after the first of the year is already taking a week off, but when we are talking about a group of people looking for new ways to spend your money, it isn't a bad thing that they don't show up for work for a few days. I know I breathe easier when the legislature is out of session instead of in session.

As always, there are lots of bills working their way through the legislative process. Some of the bills that come up have no real prospect of becoming law, but instead are merely an attempt to get opposing legislators on the record as being for or against something. Other bills are serious discussions of policy issues.

Of course, many bills have the potential to get through the legislative process only to face a likely veto by Gov. Jay Nixon. For example, various tax cut bills have being proposed. However, none of these bills seem to be something that Nixon will approve.

There is one interesting bill that does not seem to be a burning hot issue, but is at least something worthy of debate. State Rep. Tony Dugger (R-Hartville) has proposed that the state primary elections be moved earlier in the year.

Currently, the primary election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August. Since the general election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, this means that the time between the primary and the general election is typically only about 12 weeks. Rep. Dugger is proposing to move the primary election up to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June. That would lengthen the time between the primary and the general election to around 20 weeks.

I'm not sure how I feel about this proposal. In some ways having more time between the primary and general election is good. Sometimes there are post-primary clean-up items (e.g., a meaningless recount) that it would be good to have more time after those are resolved to move forward with the general election.

Also, if you are in a bigger race (e.g., a down ballot state-wide race) that needs to raise $2 million for TV for the last four weeks before the election, the extra approximately eight weeks cuts your weekly fund raising goal from $166,000 per week to $100,000 per week. Still a hefty goal, but an easier goal to reach. However, the current situation is that the big push to November typically starts after Labor Day.

Would moving the primary earlier mean the big push starts even earlier and drags on longer? Also, would the June primary simply move the pre-primary process up earlier? Would the filing period need to be moved up earlier because the time from the close of filing until the primary was just shortened by eight weeks?

I don't have a strong opinion on this proposal yet, but this is a good issue to debate around the dinner table or over your favorite adult beverage. It is certainly a “more friendly” debate topic because it doesn't involve social or fiscal issues.

Maybe you could kick the idea around while you watch NCAA Tournament games this week.

(James Thomas has long been active in local Platte County politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


SOMEONE WILL NEED
TO RESCUE
FUTURE GENERATIONS
3/12/14

The end is near! America is doomed!

Okay that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but America is on the wrong path. A January poll by Rasmussen Reports found that only 34 percent think America's best days are still to come. Forty-six percent think the nation's best days are in the past. Twenty percent are unsure.

There is a certain amount of pessimism to any generation, but a look at a Pew Research Center study of the millennial generation does indicate there are strong reasons for concern. The study identifies the millennial generation as those who are now between ages 18 and 33. The study indicates that the millennials and all of their friends are on Facebook and don't think twice about posting a selfie on Instagram. (If I didn't have two teenage daughters I would not know what “Instagram” or a “selfie” are.)

Interestingly, the typical millennials do not have a college degree, but they do have $27,000 in student loan debt. Ouch! A majority of millenials are white, unmarried, but hoping to get married someday.
Their social values lean liberal. Sixty-eight percent support gay marriage. A majority support legalized marijuana. Eighty percent favor citizenship for illegal immigrants. Interestingly, the study shows that 19 percent of the millennials “can loosely be characterized as an immigrant.”

They generally claim to be independent, but lean Democratic. They prefer more government spending to fewer government services and think the government should be spending more money on them. However, they seem somewhat suspect about ObamaCare. They also don't think Social Security will be around for them.

If you look at all this data, it certainly appears that America -- or at least America as our parents and grandparents knew it – will soon – in the next generation or two – be coming to an end. As the millennials become the primary working age generation and their children and grandchildren develop even more liberal values, the decline will continue. Not only will America look very different in the future with liberal values spreading, such as pot smokers sitting around everywhere, the work ethic will continue to decline with the future generations sitting around with their hands out waiting for the government to send them money.

Or course, what the liberals just don't seem to understand is that the government can't spend money it doesn't have forever. Eventually the system will collapse on itself. Endless handouts are just bad policy. It is simply a math problem.

Just as the legalized pot craze spreads across the country, America is going to pot. With some real leadership we might reverse ourselves from this downward spiral. However, given the pool of leaders we have seen in the last few years, it doesn't seem promising.

My only hope is that a lot of parents have read The Lorax to their kids and that those kids have taken the words of Dr. Suess, as conveyed by the Once-ler, to heart:

“But now," says the Once-ler, "now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

Looking at the collective data on the millennials, the future looks dim. But, maybe, enough of those millennials will heed the “UNLESS” call and rescue the future generations.

(A veteran of local politics, James Thomas can be reached via email to james @jct3law.com)

 


SOME THOUGHTS ON
CONTRIBUTION LIMITS
ARE SIMPLY MISGUIDED
3/5/14

Once again, there are rumblings in Jefferson City about putting caps on campaign contributions. However, some of the thoughts on contribution limits are simply misguided.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch, which is a big fan of contribution limits, had an article this week that analyzed the contribution history from 2011 to 2013. The article said there were more than 150,000 donations to Missouri candidate committees and ballot measure committees. However, the article bemoans that a “tiny percentage” of the contributions has accounted for an “outsize (sic) share of the money raised.” The article claims that more than half of the money raised came from donations of $5,000 or more despite those contributions representing 2.8% of the total contributions raised. The article further claims that contributions of more than $10,000 account for roughly 42 percent of the amounts raised although these contributions constitute only 1.1 percent of all contributions.

At first blush this might sound bad. However, it isn't really all that surprising. I love small contributions to campaigns. A person that writes a $25 check may only be funding five yard signs, but that person is committed to your campaign. But, while I love those $25 checks, it takes 200 $25 checks to raise $5,000, which isn't enough to send even a single county-wide mailer in Platte County. So, while $25 checks are greatly appreciated, it takes far more of them than exist to fund a campaign.

The fact that a few contributions make up the bulk of the dollars raised really should not come as a surprise. It is as true with charitable fundraising as it is with the political campaigns.

When I put together a fundraising plan for the gym floor and basketball and volleyball equipment for my kids' school gym, I developed a tiered funding plan to raise the $55,000 we needed. I projected one donor at approximately $13,000, three donors at $2,000, ten donors at $1,000, 15 donors at $700, 20 donors at $350, 25 donors at $175, 50 donors at $70 and 50 donors at $7. I REALLY wanted the $7 donors because I wanted as many people as possible to have a sense of ownership and pride regarding the gym improvements. However, while those $7 contributions made up 28% of the desired contributors, they were projected to make up less than 1% of the amount of dollars we needed to raise.

The $1,000 and up donors were projected to be less than 9% of the donors, but over 50% of the amount to be raised. Sadly, we didn't have nearly as many small donors as we hoped and ended up raising the bulk of the money we needed in $1,000 to $5,000 chunks.

Political fund raising operates much the same way as charitable fund raising. There tend to be “chunks” of money raised from a relatively few donors while lots of donors give small amounts. That's just the way it is. The Post Dispatch's study overlooks this reality. However, the study does have one really cool aspect: The Post Dispatch staff was able to research this story by using on-line reporting tools.

There is one important thought that seems to be overlooked by those complaining about money in political campaigns. Money doesn't always win. I have seen lots of candidates whether at the county level or state-wide outspend their opponents and lose.

An honest debate about campaign finance laws is appropriate, but ‘caps for the sake of caps’ doesn’t really make sense.

(James Thomas is a veteran of politics in Platte County. Reach him at james@jct3law.com)

 


THINGS ARE DIFFERENT
NOW, THANKS TO THE
‘GARY WITT RULE’
2/26/14

Filing for state and local offices opened this week. There is always a great deal of anxiety among political officeholders, candidates and activists from the date of the opening of filing through the date of the close of filing in the last week of March. Politicians and political junkies are always wondering about what candidates will “come out of the woodwork.”

Some of this is a real concern. There have been candidates that have just showed up on the last day of filing unrecruited and unannounced who “throw their hat in the ring.” On a few occasions these surprise candidates build a team and go on to win the election. But, some of this is just silly. Most serious candidates – even those running for smaller offices such as county offices or state representative – started raising money and putting their infrastructure in place weeks ago. Their candidacy should be a surprise to no one.

Candidates running for bigger offices really need to start much earlier if possible. If a candidate is running for governor, they will need millions of dollars for TV and radio buys, printing and postage. A candidate just can't raise five or six million dollars in the period from the opening of filing until the November election date. The candidate has to start months or even years before filing opens. The new trend seems to be to start more than two years before the election date.

Even candidates for county offices or state representative could really use a few more weeks to raise money, put a team together and do the work to build a successful campaign. But a county or state representative race is still small enough from both a geographic and population standpoint to allow a last day filer to be successful.

Regardless, there are usually a few surprises as filing opens and even a few more surprises as filing closes. However, those surprises at the end of filing have become fewer since the adoption of the “Gary Witt Rule.” It used to be that a few incumbents would say they were running until the last day of filing, withdraw on the last day of filing and then have their preferred successor file at the same time. This left members of the opposing party no time to find a replacement.

After Gary Witt pulled this stunt to end his career as a state representative, the legislature adopted a new law (a statute that I like to call the “Gary Witt Rule) that extends filing for a few days if there are these last minute withdrawals. So, at least there are a few days to find another candidate if there are last minute withdrawals.

What looked like a quiet election cycle has developed at least a little excitement over the last few weeks. New presiding commissioner candidates have announced their candidacies. The fact that at least one of Platte County's state representatives is not running for re-election has gone from quiet backroom talk to public knowledge. I'm sure more interesting news will become public as the filing deadline approaches.

For now, if you want to make an incumbent sweat, ask them “Did you hear that 'such and so' is thinking about running against you?”

Well, don't really do that. It would be kind of mean.

(James Thomas is a local political veteran who can be reached via email to james@jct3law.com)


LOOKS LIKE GOP LEADERSHIP
HAS THROWN IN THE TOWEL
ON SLOWING SPENDING
2/19/14

Do you remember that old anti-littering commercial from the 70s with an Indian with a tear slowly rolling down his cheek as he looks out across a littered landscape? Well, America had a similar tearful moment last week as Congress passed an increase in the debt ceiling for the federal government.

For all practical purposes, the federal government had to increase the debt ceiling to keep pace with its out of control spending. The difference between this debt ceiling increase and some of the more recent debt ceiling increases is that the federal government's borrowing limit was raised without any conditions. Placing no conditions on the debt ceiling increase seems to indicate that Congress – at least the Democrats and the Republican leadership – have “thrown in the towel” on slowing the growth of the size of the federal government.

Some pundits have praised the raising of the debt ceiling to a level that should be sufficient to March of 2015 as a brilliant strategy to take away the negativity created for Republican Congressmen/women and Congressional candidates that arises from a potential shutdown of the federal government. The New York Times had this quote from Senator John McCain “It was not an easy exercise, but it keeps the focus on the issues we want to be on . . . We dodged a bullet here.” McCain argues that avoiding a pre-election fight over the debt ceiling robs Democrats of the opportunity to portray Republicans as reckless.

McCain's position leaves me scratching my head. What bigger issue should Republicans want to talk about than curbing the out of control spending by the federal government? What bigger issue should Republicans want to address?

Just look at who praised the Republicans' “courage” in passing a debt limit increase. The White House press secretary issued a statement saying raising the debt ceiling “is a positive step in moving away from political brinkmanship.” Democrat Senator Harry Reid said “We're happy to see the House is legislating the way they should have legislated for a long time.”

It would be nice if Congress operated in a cordial and professional manner with our representatives debating issues in an intelligent, well thought-out manner rather than merely engaging in a war of sound bites. Courtesy in the debate process is not only appropriate, but it should be heartily encouraged.

However, when those with complete opposite political ideologies start rolling out the platitudes for you, you really should re-think your strategy. Is giving your political opponents everything they want without a fight a good strategy?

I have wanted a balanced budget amendment since Reagan ran for president, but I am not totally naive. The debt ceiling was going to have to be increased. We can't stop the deficit spending overnight.

However, to allow the deficit spending to go on with no attempt to reign in the magnitude of that spending is simply irresponsible.

Some pundits think the Republican Congressional leadership has made a brilliant move that will free Republicans of the debt ceiling/potential government shutdown debate and make it more likely that Republicans can hold the House and win back the Senate. I don't share the opinion of the pundits. I think the Republican leadership just told their fiscal conservative base that we don't care about you so don't bother working to get us elected/re-elected because we'll only disappoint you. And that is why this debt ceiling vote leaves me with a tear slowly running down my cheek.

(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


POWER STRUGGLE
UNFOLDING IN
JEFFERSON CITY
2/12/14

A power struggle started unfolding in Jefferson City last week. Missouri government has a lot of boards and commissions and department heads that are appointed by the governor. However, these appointments frequently require the consent of the state senate. Last week a key appointment was blocked and new legislation proposed.

Typically if the governor wants to appoint someone to a position, the governor's office will clear the appointment with that person's state senator. The person's state senator will then sponsor that person through the approval process. If the state senator doesn't approve of the proposed appointment, the governor will typically withdraw the proposed appointment, but most appointments go through without a lot of controversy.

That was not the case this week. Gov. Jay Nixon had nominated Tim Dollar to be added to the Conservation Commission. Some of the state senators balked at this appointment because the governor had supposedly made a commitment that the next appointment to the Conservation Commission would be from northern Missouri. Typically when an appointment is not going to be approved by the state senate, the governor will withdraw the nomination. However, in this case, the state senate held up action on the appointment until the governor's right to withdraw the nomination expired. The blocked appointment leaves Dollar banned for life from serving on the Conservation Commission.

After blocking Dollar's appointment, the state senate adopted new legislation that would limit the amount of time temporary leaders can head state agencies and that would force the governor to call special elections to fill vacant seats in the legislature within 30 days. Both of these issues have been a real problem.

Some departments are often headed by “acting directors” for a substantial period of time. Under the proposed legislation, an acting director could lead an agency for no more than 120 days. This time limit could be a little bit complicated because the state senate is only in session from January through May. However, the state senate proposes to fix this problem by implementing a constitutional amendment that would allow the lieutenant governor to fill vacancies in state boards and departments if the governor doesn't fill the vacancies within 90 days.

The long delay in calling special elections to fill vacancies in the legislature is a trick that has been used for a long time. A governor will “pick off” a legislator from the opposing party by appointing that legislator to a cushy state appointment. Then, the governor will take a long time to call the special election to fill that vacancy so that the opposing party has one less person on its team. This has been particularly important for Gov. Nixon because his team is dramatically outnumbered in the state legislature. Nixon has manipulated this process well by waiting until earlier this month to call a special election for August 2014 for a House seat that has been vacant since June of 2013. Nixon also set August 2014 as the election date of two other long-vacant House seats. Conveniently (for Nixon), this date is months after the end of the session.

The state senate's “muscle flexing” is just that at this point. The proposed legislation and constitutional amendment have to go to the state house for approval before they can progress further towards becoming law, but it appears that the state senate is “ready to rumble.”

(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)


RONALD REAGAN’S
WORDS ARE STILL
INSPIRING TODAY
2/5/14

February 6 is a great day for America – Ronald Reagan's birthday.

Reagan gave many great speeches in his day. One of those great speeches was given at the CPAC Convention in 1977 and typically referred to as “The New Republican Party.” In that speech, Reagan talked about how conservative ideals were held by a large majority of Americans with only 18% of American identifying themselves as liberals. He also called for a merger of the “social conservatives” and “economic conservatives” into “one politically effective whole.”

Another memorable Reagan speech called “A Time for Choosing” was a televised speech given by him in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. Reagan talked about how the choice was not about choosing “left or right,” but instead about choosing “up or down” as in “Up to man's age-old dream--the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order--or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”

His speech pointed out many flawed policies such as the misconception that government can do more good than the private sector or the flaw of a radically progressive tax structure. He implored Americans to study the issues and choose wisely. He pleaded:

“Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community? Realize that the doctor's fight against socialized medicine is your fight. We can't socialize the doctors without socializing the patients. Recognize that government invasion of public power is eventually an assault upon your own business. If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he'll eat you last.”

I don't have the word count flexibility to give you the whole speech, but you can find it here:

http://reagan2020.us/speeches/A_Time_for_Choosing.asp. Let me just share his closing:

“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”

I only met the man in person once and that was actually in a room at the White House with 103 other high school seniors, their military chaperones and members of the Hearst family. But the man has inspired me with his writings and televised speeches since he first ran for president in 1976.

So far, we have failed in the mission to re-direct America away from its downward path into “a thousand years of darkness.” America is worse off today than it was 40 years ago. But, there is still at least a glimmer of hope. Maybe. Just maybe. Enough people can be inspired by this great man so that “. . . with God's help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us.”

I sure hope so.

Until then, let me just say “Happy birthday, Ronald Reagan.” Even a decade after your death, your words are still inspiring.

(James Thomas is an attorney who is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him at james@jct3law.com)

 


WE ALL NEED TO HOLD THE POLITICIANS' FEET TO THE FIRE
1/29/14

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one hundred percent.”

This chorus from Horton Hatches the Egg has always been one of my favorite lines from Dr. Seuss. Despite a substantial amount of adversity, Horton the elephant stands firm in his commitment to protect the egg of Mayzie, a lazy bird who convinces Horton to sit on her egg while she takes a “short break,” which turns into a permanent vacation in Palm Beach.

Unfortunately so many politicians just don't understand the very simplistic concept of meaning what they say. Just last week the newly-elected Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, who just took office less than two weeks ago, came out and said that despite the fact that he campaigned on and previously voted against gay marriage, he was not going to uphold Virginia's ban on gay marriage.

I feel differently than Mr. Herring on this issue. However, that isn't the point. This column isn't about the appropriateness of gay marriage. No. This column is about politicians saying one thing on the campaign trail and then doing exactly the opposite of what they said once in office.

Mr. Herring isn't the first politician backtrack on a campaign commitment. One such instance that I remember well is Bill Clinton's campaign for the presidency in 1992. Many of the things Clinton talked about on the campaign trail almost made him sound like a conservative Republican. For example, a key element of his campaign platform was a “middle class tax cut.” Unfortunately, between the day he was elected President and the day he took the Oath of Office, his middle class tax cut disappeared and was replaced by one of the largest tax increases in history. Of course, Clinton is well known for being loose with the truth – even when he is under oath. So, I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

Democrats aren't the only ones to go back on their stated positions. For example, President George H.W. Bush pledged “Read my lips. No new taxes” in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention. But, early in his term he was pressured by the Democrats in Congress to agree to some significant tax increases in order to keep funding for the Gulf War in place. Sometimes you have to give a little to get what you want, but in this case Bush's giving on this issue severely undermined his credibility and probably cost him his re-election bid.

Frustration with politicians who aren't true to their word is enough to make people want to completely “wash their hands” of the political process. But when you feel that way, try to remember another line from Dr. Seuss. At the end of The Lorax, the Once-Ler tells a young boy “Now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

So the next time a politician goes back on his word, it is up to you to “hold the politician's feet to the fire.” If a politician tells you one thing, but does the opposite, encourage that politician to remain true to his or her word. If they refuse, make it your mission to throw that person out of office because “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

 


BEING GOOD AT CAMPAIGNS IS DIFFERENT THAN BEING GOOD AT PUBLIC SERVICE
1/22/14

Why? Why? Why?

Why do officeholders' staff and sometimes the officeholders themselves do stupid things?

The latest fiasco involves New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in what the media is calling “Bridgegate.” (A name that is a throwback to one of the all-time stupid decisions: the Watergate break in followed by the Watergate cover up.) The facts are still being gathered, but essentially what is believed to have happened is that Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, sent an e-mail to David Wildstein, a political appointee of Christie at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that included the phrase “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein responded “Got it.”

Then, apparently as a “we'll show you gesture” to the Mayor of Fort Lee who had refused to endorse Christie's re-election campaign for governor, a previously unscheduled traffic study was commenced on a very busy bridge during the first week of school. This study closed lanes of traffic and caused massive traffic jams.

Three problems here: First, like Nixon back in 1972, Christie was wildly popular and almost certain to win re-election in a landslide. So, why do something stupid? Second, how does this really hurt the mayor of Fort Lee? Sure it means phone calls to his office from angry citizens, but at the end of the day, the mayor can deflect these phone calls to the Port Authority. So, why do it? All it does is create a hacked off citizenry who wouldn't necessarily even be hacked off at your target. Third--and this is a biggie–why do you ever put your vindictive political attacks in an e-mail that can easily be traced back to you? The actions of Ms. Kelly were clearly wrong and she should not have done them, but at least if you are going to do something wrong (and incredibly stupid), don't leave a clear trail back to yourself.

Do I think Governor Christie was personally involved in the decision to create traffic jams on this bridge? Absolutely not! I can't believe he would be that stupid.

Do I think Governor Christie should be responsible for the actions of his staff? Yes, to some extent. But, a governor runs a huge operation. That size of an organization is bound to have a few folks who “get off the reservation.” A governor needs to react responsibly to dumb things people under his control do, but the governor's political career should not be ended by such staff errors.

Governor Christie's real failure here is in who he has chosen to put around him in important positions. I don't know for sure that Ms. Kelly was a campaign staffer prior to being on the official staff, but my guess is that she was. This happens all the time. A candidate wins and his or her political campaign staff becomes his or her governing staff. However, what so many politicians seem to miss is that folks that are good at “political campaigns” are not necessarily good with “public service.” The necessary skill sets and appropriate temperaments for getting the job are very different than those for doing the job.

Will this end Christie's bid for president in 2016? Maybe. Regardless, I'm sure Hillary Clinton isn't shedding any tears over the stupidity of Christie's staff.

(James Thomas is a veteran of local GOP politics who can be reached at james@jct3law.com)

 


IT’S NOT THAT THEY’RE
MILLIONAIRES, BUT RATHER
HOW THEY BECAME MILLIONAIRES
Posted 1/15/14

Rasmussen Reports did a poll to gauge reaction to a new report that says for the first time ever, more than half the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are millionaires. Seventy percent of those polled thought it was bad for the country that most members of Congress were millionaires. Only four percent thought having millionaires make up a majority of Congress was a good thing. Another twenty-one percent did not see that a majority of Congress being millionaires had any impact on the country. My reaction to this report is driven more by how did so many in Congress become millionaires rather than the fact that they are millionaires.

As a starting point, someone being wealthy isn't necessarily a bad thing. Isn't being financially independent a goal of most people? Also, while one can have a career where success does not equate with a decent income, a lot of success, especially in business, is still measured in dollars. Bear with me here. I am not espousing wealth accumulation as this amazing virtue. It is still true that the worth of a man is often best measured not by what he has, but by what he gives away. But, the critical point is that wealth accumulation is not evil, but is often a measure of success in a chosen field.

Truthfully, wise and patient wealth accumulation through savings is a virtue. The point of the Dave Ramsey model is to pay off your debts and accumulate assets so that you are independent and so that you can do good things for other people.

Another benefit of having elected leaders with their own wealth should also dramatically reduce the risk of corruption. I have long been of the belief that what led Rod Jetton astray was that fact that he rose from being on welfare to being the Speaker of the House, the second most powerful office in Missouri government. He skyrocketed from nothing to a position of power and influence and hanging out with some well off and influential folks. That has to create a lot of temptation to try to continue to enjoy the so called “good life.” Someone would be best equipped to avoid the temptation of corruption by being BOTH well grounded in their moral values AND financially secure on their own.

Being financially secure is also a key element of being able to pursue public service. I have often discouraged potential candidates from running for office because of concerns over whether they can adequately provide for their families on the potential public servant pay check. It is virtuous to perform public service, but one does need to make sure they take care of their own family first.

So, I guess, my concern with this report on the wealth of those in Congress is not the fact that they have money, but instead is based upon where did they get their money? Was it from hard work, success in their business or profession, responsible saving or even inheritance? Or was it money from corrupt activities? Corruption is a huge concern. Wealth by itself doesn't bother me. In fact, it is probably the first defense against corruption. Having Congressfolks who got their wealth from corrupt activities DOES concern me. In fact, it should concern us all.

(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)


 

LOOKING INTO THE
POLITICAL CRYSTAL BALL
FOR THE YEAR 2014
Posted 1/8/14

The start of a new year offers political columnists an opportunity to look into their “crystal balls” and predict the future. What do I see in my crystal ball? Nothing.

Huh? Why nothing?

Well 2014 will be a truly unique year. This will be the first time since 1990 that the only state-wide office on the ballot is the state auditor's office. And, I can tell you from active personal involvement in the state auditor's race in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 that it is almost impossible to get anyone excited about that race.

Don't get me wrong. I personally think the state auditor's office is the second most important state-wide office in state government. However, it is just hard to get folks excited about that office. Also, the current Republican occupant of the office has been raising money for his re-election and the Democrats are supposedly having trouble finding a quality candidate to run against him. So, that race has the potential to be a real snoozer.

I have heard one rumor that could make the race interesting. Supposedly, Democrats are trying to convince State Treasurer Clint Zweifel to run for State Auditor. Zweifel could run without jeopardizing his remaining two years as state treasurer and, if he wins, he could move from an office that he will be term limited out of in 2016 to an office without term limits. Gov. Jay Nixon could then appoint Zweifel's replacement, who could run for re-election in 2016 as an incumbent. Interesting, but I'm not sure Zweifel will do it.

The rumor is that 2014 will be the “Year of the Ballot Initiative.” These ballot initiatives could come from the General Assembly putting issues before the voters or from petition drives that get an issue on a state-wide ballot. A couple of issues that are being widely talked about as potential ballot issues are “Right to Work” and tax reform. A transportation tax might also make the ballot.

Our Congressional race won't be interesting. Congressman Sam Graves will crush all opponents. So far, no quality candidate has come forward to challenge our incumbent State Senator Rob Schaaf. There could be one interesting state representative race. We'll just have to wait and see who files and who doesn't file.

Platte County offices up in 2014 include presiding commissioner, prosecutor, county clerk, collector, recorder and auditor. Republican incumbents hold all of these offices. Given the ineptness of the Democrat Party to recruit quality candidates for open seats, I would not anticipate much of a challenge to any of these incumbents by the Democrats. Of course, the new trend seems to be a greater risk of an incumbent being knocked off by a Republican or “quasi-Republican.” I have not heard any big rumors, but those kinds of challengers often don't show up until filing opens or is about to close. But, absent any internal broo-ha-ha in the local Republican Party, I would not anticipate any county races that will be all that exciting.

So, that brings me back to my original prediction. Other than a potentially big year for ballot initiatives, it may be a relatively quiet year for politics in Platte County. Maybe one or two local races heat up, but otherwise not much excitement. Of course, a lot could happen between now and the close of filing at the end of March.

(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)


DISAPPROVAL OF LIFESTYLE
DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE
‘BASHING’ GAYS
Posted 1/1/14

As discussed last week, Phil Robertson was suspended from the TV show Duck Dynasty for paraphrasing a passage found in The Bible. There needs to be great caution when one starts paraphrasing The Bible. There also needs to be great caution when quoting a passage from The Bible out of context. But what this is really about is an effort of the gay-promoting, Christian-hating crowd to shove their agenda down our throats (no pun intended).

The media reports have twisted the words of Phil Robertson. You really have to read all of each of the articles to see what Phil said. But, the headlines of most of the articles say things like “'Duck Dynasty' Star Bashes Gays.” No he didn't. He said that gays “won't inherit the kingdom of God.” Those aren't his words. They come straight out of The Bible.

In that same interview, Phil went on to say “We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell. That's the Almighty's job . . . . Of course, we just love 'em, give 'em the Good News about Jesus – whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?”

Phil clearly does not approve of the homosexual lifestyle. But, he never advocated chaining gays to the back of a pickup truck and dragging them down the road. (Phil is from Louisiana, not Texas.) But, as usual, the media and the advocates for the gay lifestyle interpret disapproval of their lifestyle choices as “bashing.”

A gay-promoting group, GLAAD, has come out and attacked Phil. GLAAD's spokesman said “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.” Huh? I know some “Christian” denominations have “gone soft” (no pun intended) on being gay being a sin, but has GLAAD or these so-called “Christian” denominations actually read The Bible? The statements in The Bible are pretty clear on this subject. That's not me talking or Phil talking. Just read it for yourself.

We are all sinners. We have all fallen short of the standard God sets for us by what we have done and by what we have left undone. In his book Happy, Happy, Happy, Phil even describes his own sin filled days before he “found Jesus.” The difference here is that the gay-promoting groups want to deny that conduct The Bible clearly describes as sinful is in fact sinful. They obviously just don't like hearing what The Bible has to say.

This story has been evolving over the last week. A&E executives announced the suspension of Phil from the show. The Robertson family responded with a statement of its own. From the statement it is pretty clear that the Robertson family is supporting Phil. The statement says “While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of The Bible.” If push comes to shove, it looks like the family would give up the show on A&E before it would not back Phil. As the statement says “We have a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.”

Gay-promoting groups have been beating the drum to try to drive Duck Dynasty from the airwaves. Their success in getting Phil suspended from the show seems to be a small victory. However, their efforts may have backfired on them. The vice president of communications for GLAAD said that “I've never received so many violently angry phone calls and social media posts attacking GLAAD for us speaking out against these comments.” Good! Maybe there is still hope for America.

(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at james@jct3law.com)

For earlier columns, click here