TABOR on Trial I: Missouri

The political advocacy group Missourians in Charge (MIC) turns out to be neither — not Missourians, nor in charge. Not really a group, even — just a lone Beltway insider backed by a New York City libertarian and an army of out-of-state signature gatherers, including some from Colorado.

But those petitioneers-for-hire may have ruined MIC’s bid to place a TABOR-like amendment on the Show-Me-State’s November ballot. Oh, they turned in the requisite number of signatures, more than 200,000 of’m; they just neglected to submit them to the Sec’y of State in the proper format.

“The petitions have to be separated out by county,” says Amy Blouin, executive director of the Missouri Budget Project, which ran a fierce opposition campaign. “And the pages all have to be numbered. They didn’t do that for all of their signatures; a lot of them were just thrown into boxes completely at random.”

Even the boxes themselves were less than distinguished — containers not fit for moving a freshman out of her dorm room. Several were all beat to sh*t, the Kansas City Star reports; one had originally been used to pack martini glasses.

Apparently $1.5 million in out-of-state contributions doesn’t buy what it used to.

The sigs were so badly organized that Missouri Sec’y of State Robin Carnahan — daughter of the late governor Mel Carnahan — had a legal right, nay duty, to disqualify the whole lot of them.

Which, good and wise Democrat that she is, Carnahan did back on May 25.

The MIC chairman, Patrick Tuohey, promptly sued Carnahan’s office in an attempt to get the signatures deemed valid, and there the matter rests. A state judge heard preliminary arguments in the case last Friday; there’s another hearing scheduled for this week.

I love this quote from Tuohey: “I believe that if I walked into the secretary of state’s office with a trash bag full of petitions and dumped them on the floor, it’s her job to facilitate [the counting of the signatures.]” Sure, that makes sense: Propose an amendment to starve the state of funds on one hand, and on the other demand that the state spend hours of staff time sorting through wadded-up petitions one at a time.

That’s a formula for good government.

MIC hired Colorado Springs-based political consultancy Kennedy Enterprises for the home stretch of the signature-gathering drive, paying the firm $35,000 for its services. On the opposite side, the Missouri Budget Project brought in former Colorado representative Brad Young, a one-time Joint Budget Committee chair and perhaps the Republican Party’s most vocal TABOR critic.

Nearly 15 years after its passage, TABOR remains a primary political issue in Colorado — and now, increasingly, across the nation. Missouri is one of seven states that may have a TABOR-like amendment on its ballot this November, and it’s generating some full-contact politics at every venue.

And Blouin, of the Missouri Budget Project, thinks the battle has only begun.

“I don’t think they’re serious about getting these initiatives on the ballot this year,” she says. “They started late and never built any in-state organization. I think they’re just using these campaigns as a tool for 2008 — as a way to build those grassroots networks. They may lose this year, but they’ll be back. And that scares me more than anything.”

There’s some excellent backstory on the Show-Me battle at Fired Up Missouri, which last week detailed some of the shoddy tactics signature farmers were using in the name of participatory gov’t.

Check out TABOR on Trial II: Montana