Betty

Betty Sims died the other day.  I liked her.  A lot.  She was a Republican woman state senator when Democrats and men dominated the Missouri Senate.  But they didn’t dominate her.

Betty Sims was a Senator.  Not just in title but in spirit.  She and Roseanne Bentley of Springfield were two of the first three women to serve together in the Senate, joining Irene Treppler in 1995.  “It was like, this is a big boy’s playpen and what are we doing here?  It didn’t take us long to figure it out,” she said in an oral history interview for the State Historical Society of Missouri three years ago, also noting “Rosanne and I were the first women to serve on the Appropriations Committee. If we were told once, I can’t tell you…’Are you still talking about children? What do you mean, it’s a woman’s issue?’ They just didn’t get the picture.”

(It’s really worth reading at http://shsmo.org/manuscripts/collections/transcripts/s1148/simsb.pdf.)

She, Roseanne, and Irene would not be trifled with.  Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, a Democrat, took them into his office one day and explained how they could control the floor debate—and when a women’s health bill written entirely by the male members came up, they did. “I did not go to the senate as an advocate for women. I say that, I’m not a big women’s libber. I’m a people libber,” she told interviewer Blanche Touhill, a member of the society’s board of trustees. That’s not to say she wasn’t an advocate for women.  Far from it.  The business, still practiced in the legislature, of men writing proposed laws affecting women’s health, was a red flag to Betty Sims.

Betty had a wonderful smile, an exuberance about her, a directness, a charm, and an enthusiasm for being a Senator for all the people. But when she was serious, she was very, VERY serious and she never backed down in a confrontation with a senior male senator. She wasn’t afraid to take on any colleague, Democrat or Republican when the issue was right. She didn’t always win.  But she won on some important issues—requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for reconstructive breast surgery, combatting child abuse, as well as care for those with mental health issues including Alzheimer’s disease.

Betty Sims is an example of the tragedy of term limits.  Her voters were denied the right to send her back for more terms—and they surely would have—and Missourians were denied the presence of a person of her quality in that important place.  She was barred from running again in 2002.  She railed against term limits in that 2013 interview:

I hate them. Term limits, to me, have been the undoing of a lot of that demeanor, if you will. I think what’s happening now, first of all, everybody said it will be an opportunity for the bureaucrats to get in there and the lobbyists and every time I go to a meeting…and I do sit on several state boards right now…the lobbyists are there and there’s no question but, equally, what I’m finding is, getting candidates, it’s not the same…not just not the same quality but people can say, ‘Well, I can give you eight years,’ and they come with very vested self interest. I mean, what’s been going on in the House is absolutely ridiculous and I don’t think it’s a whole lot better in the senate. So, much as I have been very critical of the number of vetoes that the governor put on, in certain instances I think he has to do that because there’s some hair-brained stuff going on down there right now.”

And she didn’t mince words about the relationship between Jay Nixon, the most veto-overridden governor in Missouri history, and today’s legislature:

I have never seen the relationships between a governor and a legislature at such a pitiful situation. I mean, I can remember when John Ashcroft was governor, Republican, both houses were Democrat but they got things done. They talked civilly to each other and we worked together for the betterment of the people. I don’t see that happening right now. I just see chaos going around and that really bothers me.

She remained, as she was as a member of the senate, hard to argue with.  Because she was right.

Here’s another example of her character.  She had to drop out of her first campaign for the senate because she didn’t live in the district in which she was running.  She sent back the money from donors.  She told Blanche Touhill, “People said, ‘Well, you’re the dumbest person I’ve ever known.’ Okay, so then the next opportunity came for the right election. I ran again and I had one letter written…and this is true…which was kind of fun. But anyway, the first letter written by my treasurer and we raised $64,000 in the first letter and we did it because people said, ‘Nobody ever gave us our money back. Obviously she’s the right person.’ So we were… fundraising never was a problem.”

God! She was such an interesting person to watch and to talk to.

I don’t know how many time in the dozen years after she left the Senate that I sat at the press table and wished she was still there.

Half-guilty, fully hypocritical

Your correspondent has a good friend, the Reverend John Bennett, who speaks and prays with a soft but strong voice, a man stooped by age but standing straight and tall in his passion for social justice.

John has been convicted of trespassing in the public gallery of the Missouri Senate.  He’s one of the Medicaid 23, as they are called, the ministers and private citizens who interrupted a filibuster on May 6, 2014 with songs, slogans and prayers urging senators to forget about playing politics with Medicaid expansion and instead think of 300,000 Missourians living on much less than senators are paid who would gain healthcare coverage under that part of Obamacare.

That’s John, wearing his minister’s stole, on the front row with the group in front of the Cole County Courthouse before their trial.

missouri faith voices

He said at the time of the demonstration, “Missouri lawmakers need a wake-up call. This is not about politics—this is about human life.  Until they do their job and pass Medicaid expansion, 700 Missourians will die each year and hundreds of thousands will live with untreated illness and in financial fear. This is a moral issue.”

Your correspondent was at the Senate press table that day.  Posted video of John and the other demonstrators with the story on the Missourinet web page. We understand the video was played during the trial. The Senate did not seem surprised when John and the-more than 23 others confronted them from the gallery.  Ron Richard, then the Majority Floor Leader, immediately moved for adjournment, interrupting Senator Jamilah Nasheed’s filibuster.  A few members stuck around for a while but the rest decided they didn’t need to hear what some people of faith had to say on behalf of folks without enough money to influence lawmakers.  Prosecutor Mark Richardson tried to portray Nasheed as a victim of the protest.  She strongly dismisses that thought.  She says Richardson never talked to her.  She was never asked to testify.

Senator Richard is now the President pro Tem, the leader of the chamber.

Capitol police, who earlier had been briefed by leaders of the demonstration, asked them to leave.  And most of them did.  But the Medicaid 23, as they had promised the police, stayed until officers tapped them individually on the shoulder and asked them to depart.  And when that happened, each of them peacefully left the chamber.  John was one of the last four to go.

Prosecutor Richardson charged the 23 with trespassing and with obstructing the business of the Senate.  One of the 23 was unable to attend the trial and could be tried separately later.  We’ll see if Richardson has the courage to put him on trial by himself. After all, he has to be as guilty as the rest, doesn’t he?

The case could have been dropped at any time by Richard and the Senate but Richardson spent more than two years on their behalf zealously pursuing his case and the righteous Senate leadership didn’t stop him. From the accounts we have read, his closing arguments displayed some ignorance one would not have expected from someone who had spent two years preparing.  In the end, a jury said they were guilty of trespassing.  But they were not guilty of obstructing the Senate.  An appeal of the conviction is likely.

To add a degree of fairness here—just one degree—there is an issue of public safety involved, and Richardson raised it.  If the Senate had dropped these charges, would it be giving tacit approval for other groups to think it’s permissible to do what the Medicaid 23 and their supporters did?  Would the Senate be inviting disorder in its galleries if it did not pursue this case? We weren’t in the jury room but that might have been the telling point leading to the trespassing conviction.

Prosecutor Richardson told the jury there are other places to hold protests at the Capitol, and it is true that protests are not uncommon in the rotunda or on the south front steps.  It is also true that lawmakers can and do easily ignore them.  Yes, people can testify in committees, and they have.  But when citizens start to feel their lawmakers are stone deaf, some kind of civil disobedience might seem the only alternative.

The jury, perhaps sensing that recommending jail time for these folks and only adding to the list of national embarrassments that Missouri seems to generate too often, has recommended the judge fine them.  Judge Dan Green is deciding how much.

There’s a greater and broader issue that is outside the courtroom.  It is inside the Senate.  And it is this:

What does this prosecution say about a Senate that has spent so much of its time passing a Religious Freedom Restoration bill that lets people use their religion to exclude others from associating with them as a matter of public policy—but prosecutes those who are PRACTICING their religious freedom (among other constitutional rights) to call on the legislature to include people in a matter of public policy?  The Senate seems to prefer as friends those supporting a religion of exclusion while considering those supporting a religion of inclusion as criminals.

It might be good for legislators who meet weekly for Bible Study to become acquainted with Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew because He speaks of them in Chapter 23:

“Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Had Jesus spoken this truth to power from the gallery of the Missouri Senate on May 6, 2014, He would stand today with the Medicaid 22 as a convicted trespasser.

(Photo from Missouri Faith Voices)

The Politics of Nostalgia

Robert P. Jones, the former Missouri State University psychology professor who now heads the Public Religious Research Institute, looks at many of the issues that (in your observer’s view) divert the attentions of lawmakers away from solving infrastructure, education, and social problems by trying to preserve the diminishing influence of their religion in his book, The End of White Christian America.

The PRRI has identified attitudinal splits that point to an ongoing diminution in the influence of WCA that for most of this nation’s history was “the prominent cultural force.”  The survey has found 53% of Americans think our culture has gone downhill since the 1950s.  But Jones says there is a “stark cleavage” by race and religion.  Seventy-two percent of evangelicals believe in the cultural slippage.  Fifty-eight percent of mainline white Protestants and white Catholics agree.

However, fifty-nine percent of Hispanic Catholics think our culture has improved. And sixty-three percent of the growing numbers of Americans with no religious affiliation and fifty-five percent of African-American Protestants agree with them.

Jones says the latter groups will more future influence in the shaping of our country than mainline and evangelical Christians.  “For the first time in more than five decades, an appeal to a sentimental version of midcentury heartland America is not a winning political strategy,” he writes, taking a long-term view—but not a VERY long one.  He says that political movements still clinging to the “sentimental” view of midcentury America—including the Tea Party—are engaging in “the politics of nostalgia.”

Jones thinks today’s religion/politics blend began with the Republican Southern Strategy that appealed in sixties to southern Democrats upset with their party’s support of civil rights initiatives.  He recalls Richard Nixon in 1968 made a deal with Senator Strom Thurmond to stall various civil rights efforts and although the plan was short-circuited by Watergate, the alliance caught fire when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter became president in 1976 and many southerners hoped this born-again southern Christian Baptist Democrat would favor their agenda. But they were disappointed when he did not.  Jones thinks this disappointment on which conservative religious leaders such as Jerry Fallwell capitalized turned a Republican political strategy into a White Christian Strategy in which Republicans saw an advantage to be had.  He says the White Christian Strategy was important in putting Ronald Reagan in the White House and Reagan supported it.

He says that strategy weakened in the first decade of the present century but has found new life in the Tea Party movement.  He points to a PRRI survey that shows the Tea Party is more closely aligned with the Christian Right than it is with the Libertarians, as some of its leaders claim.  In fact, a 2013 survey showed 61% of Libertarians did not consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement and 52% of Tea Party members said they were “part of the Religious Right or Christian conservative movement.”

Jones also notes 55% of Tea Party members agree this country is a Christian nation while only 39% of the general population holds that view.  He calls the Tea Party “a late-stage expression of a White Christian America that is passing from the scene.”

He also points to research showing that seventy-three percent of the electorate in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected, was white and Christian.  That group comprised only fifty-seven percent of the electorate twenty years later and is expected to be down two more points this year and drop to fifty-two percent in 2020. At this rate, he forecasts, 2024 will be the first election in national history in which white Christians do not cast the majority of votes.   That’s bad news for Republicans who (the surveys in the book indicate) rely on voting coalitions that are eighty percent white Christians.  By contrast, only thirty-seven percent of the voters who re-elected President Obama four years ago were white Christians.

In short, he infers, the Republican coalition faces a dim future.  One factor that he has identified facing Republicans is the religiously unaffiliated population—young people who, according to an evangelical poll, have pulled away from “present day Christianity” because they see much of it as being anti-gay, judgmental, and hypocritical.  And they’re pretty firm in those opinions.  Eighty-five to ninety-one percent feel that way.

Jones cites Russel Moore, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who has suggested it is time for Christians, as Jones puts it, “to relinquish their status as defenders of a lost consensus” (on such things as gay marriage) and “rally around a more limited movement to maintain their traditional view of marriage within their own communities.”  Jones says Moore’s position is a beginning of the “religious liberty” movement that “individuals should be able to carry religious objections from their private life into their public roles as service providers, business owners, and even elected officials.”   He refers to the movement as “a desperate attempt to fight the lost war by other means.”

Jones also looks at the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, desegregation of churches and of communities, racial justice (“why is desegregation so difficult?” he asks), and other factors on which WCA is divided and trying to maintain old values in a world that is creating new ones.

So what’s the answer?   He digs into Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying: What the Dying have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy, and Their Own Families, published in 1969.  She identifies the five stages of grief that people go through when facing an end: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Jones says those stages are useful in understanding what is happening with White Christian America, both mainliners and evangelicals.  In his forty-page final chapter, he examines how both branches of WCA are dealing with those five stages.

Jones says mainline Christians are moving—although not smoothly—toward “a distinctive theological and ecclesiastical vision, driven by the need to come to terms with the death of White Christian America,” while evangelicals are divided. One branch acknowledges “their vision of a robust white evangelical world will have to be tempered” while still resisting “the full implications of its demise.”  He cites Baptist minister and professor of Christian ethics David Gushee, who appeals to evangelicals to abandon “past conspiracy theories, demagoguery, single-issue voting, partisan seductions, mudslinging, and God-and-country conflations and confusions” and to take part in a fully pluralistic society without being tempted to reach for (as Jones puts it), “domination and sectarianism, each of which is driven by nostalgia for a lost Christian America.”

Jones sees a future for Christianity in shaping the character of our country.  But he says it must recognize its past failings and its new possibilities in a world that will be shaped by today’s younger generation.

As National Catholic Reporter writer Maureen Fiedler put it last month, “Welcoming racial and religious diversity is now a political imperative as well as a religious calling.” (https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/end-white-christian-america)

After reading this book, we think we understand the trends that have led the Missouri legislature’s majority to become embroiled in some of the hot-button issues it spends too much time working on while ignoring greater issues that affect the lives of our population as a whole.  But we also realize it is unrealistic to think that this year’s elections will produce any significant change in the attitudes of our Missouri lawmakers.   Jones’ book suggests there is hope for an eventual realization that resisting the coming changes to our society out of a “nostalgia for a lost Christian America,” rather than focusing on shaping those changes in a positive and inclusive manner, might be politically profitable in the short run but sad and wasted effort in the face of inevitability.

Depending on your faith perspective, you might or might not enjoy reading this book.  But we think it will add a dimension to your understanding of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, particularly in the proposed laws we’re likely to see in the legislature next year.

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2016.  309 pages.

This might explain some things we see

Your traveling correspondent read the obituary when he dropped in at the Between The Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs, a northwest lower Michigan community, a few days ago.  A former college professor from Springfield—a city considered one of the buckles in the Bible Belt—had written it.

“After a long life spanning nearly two hundred and forty years, White Christian America—a prominent cultural force in the nation’s history—has died.  WCA first began to exhibit troubling symptoms in the 1960s when white mainline Protestant denominations began to shrink, but showed signs of rallying with the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s. Following the 2004 presidential election, however, it became clear that WCA’s powers were failing.  Although examiners have not been able to pinpoint the exact time of death, the best evidence suggests that WCA finally succumbed in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century.  The cause of death was determined to be a combination of environmental and internal factors—complications stemming from major demographic changes in the country, along with religious disaffiliation as many of its younger members began to doubt WCA’s continued relevance in a shifting cultural environment.”

the end of WCA

There was more to it but you’ll have to get Robert P. Jones’ The End of White Christian America and read it yourself.  Jones was a psychology professor for more than a decade at Missouri State University in Springfield before becoming the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.  He has a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate in religion from Emory University.  His bio note on the PRRI website says he specialized in the sociology of religion, politics and religious ethics during his doctoral work.  He does a column online for Atlantic magazine and is often heard on NPR’s Interfaith Voices news magazine program.

Readers of his book might see some explanations for some of the stuff that’s been going on in Missouri’s legislature in recent years.  In short, Jones suggests (although not specifically) such things as the personhood amendment proposal, the proposal this observer called the Wesboro Amendment during the last session, the constant efforts to make a legal medical procedure harder and harder to obtain, and other issues are efforts of a weakening White Christian America to preserve in law what it can no longer control from the pulpit.

Jones says WCA has two branches, “a more liberal mainline Protestant America headquartered in New England and the upper Midwest/Great Lakes region and a more conservative evangelical Protestant America anchored in the South and lower Midwest/Ozark Mountains region.”   But there’s more to the distinction than geography.  He sees the two branches as divided on social class and their perspectives on race relations.  “Their differences are rooted in disagreements over fundamental tenets of theology, approaches to diversity, and accommodations to the modern world and science,” he says. The divide widened in the 1920s as some Christians saw the Bible and evolution as compatible, a position that “horrified” Protestant Fundamentalists who saw the Bible as true in all regards.  He argues that the differences between Modernists and Fundamentalists created a wound that would not heal and created a “fault line” between what is now considered mainline and fundamentalist Christianity and a subsequent fight for control of “the symbolic capital of Christianity.”

It was mainline Protestants, he writes, who led to progressive social change in the last half of the Twentieth Century—the establishment of the United Nations and its declaration for international human rights, and United States civil rights laws among other things.  Mainline Protestants, he writes, by mid-century were leaders in government, education, business, and cultural affairs.

But mainline Protestantism began to weaken and the Evangelical Protestants moved to become “the face of White Christian America,” becoming the “dominant cultural voice” that constituted a “Moral Majority” in the 70s “to protect a distinctly Protestant Christian” nation.”

However, the nation was changing socially, politically, and demographically, leading to the election of the nation’s first non-white president, the creation of a non-Protestant Supreme Court (six Catholics and three Jews), a Census Bureau prediction that this country would no longer be a majority white nation by 2050, and increasing numbers of people who, when asked their religious preference, replied “none.”

Jones cites sociologist Nathan Glazer suggesting White Christian America is facing a future in which it tries to preserve its social values, or a future in which it integrates into “the new American cultural landscape.”

Jones suggests some of the things we are seeing in government and in other parts of our lives is the result of the first choice when, he maintains, the second choice inevitably will have to be made if White Christian America is to be relevant in an age when the nation is no longer majority white and increased numbers of Americans are “nones.”

He cites a 2014 study by his organization, PRRI, showing the proportion of white Christians in this country was already at 47% while the number of Americans with no religious affiliation was up to 22%.  Another 24% were non-white Christians.  A closer look at the numbers shows a generational shift.  About 70% of older Americans are white Christians. But only about thirty percent of young adults (18-29) fall into that category.  The change in the social and religious structure of this country is well underway meaning, “Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once dominant racial and religious identity—one that has been central not just to white Christians themselves but to the national mythos—threatens white Christian understanding of America itself.”

Further studies show Protestants have not been in the majority in this country since 2008.  And the percentage of Catholics and those who are unaffiliated are about the same—22% each. The 2014 study showed those identifying themselves as white Protestants dropped from 51% to 32% in two decades.  Black Protestants stayed at about 10% while Hispanic Protestants increased and reached four percent.  And the decline in the white Protestant category involves both mainliners and evangelicals.  He points to the precipitous decline of the nation’s largest evangelical Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which operates the seminary where he got his first graduate degree.  The conclusion?  “White Protestant Christians—both mainline and evangelical—are aging and quickly losing ground as a proportion of the population.”

Jones argues these declines have forced the two branches of WCA to seek alliances, often with other groups that had been unwelcome in their brotherhoods previously. The mainline has moved toward ecumenicity with African-American Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians, for example.  White Evangelicals have turned to conservative political movements and unofficial alliances with conservative white Catholics and some Greek Orthodox leaders on certain issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

So now we can begin to understand the roots of some of the things we are seeing in our political campaigns and in the General Assembly of Missouri.

The alliances have shifted.  Mainline White Christians were more likely to dismiss fears that John Kennedy would take orders from the Vatican if he was elected.  Jones notes that mainliners and Catholics marched together in the Civil Rights era while white evangelicals, with stronger southern roots, “stayed largely on the sidelines.”

Jones thinks Bill Clinton’s election led Republican leaders to reconsider political strategies.  White Protestant evangelicals, more closely aligned with Republicans, put aside their reluctance to work with Catholics at the same time white conservative Catholics who had seen their church becoming ethnically transformed and politically divided, moved to increase their social and political power. Republican leaders realized they could move Catholics who had been loyal Democrats since the days of FDR away from the Democratic Party by focusing on abortion, especially since the Democrats had refused to support an anti-abortion amendment.  These formerly unlikely bedfellows drafted a statement in 1994 called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”

Jones writes that this alliance in recent years has produced the Religious Freedom Restoration movement to allow companies to opt out of Obamacare for religious reasons, and to launch a manifesto last year against same-sex marriage.

And what has this alliance produced?  Jones says, “It helped give evangelicals an advantage in their contest to be the face of White Christian America.  And as the overall numbers of white Protestant Christians began to slip in the late 1990s, expanding the tent to include white Catholics helped perpetuate the illusion that White Christian America was still the country’s dominant religious culture.”

Illusion, says Jones, because the Catholic Church is slipping, too.  Twenty-two percent of the American population in 1990 identified itself as Catholic.  By 2014 that number was down to thirteen percent, and an even greater percentage of the population today—FIFTEEN percent—identifies itself as former Catholics.

He asserts the tide is running against the Evangelical-Catholic alliance that is such an influence in American politics, and for the purposes of our discussion here, in the Missouri legislature.

We have highlighted only the first eighty pages or so of Jones’ book to try to present a far less-detailed explanation of the roots of Missouri’s political structure than you will find if you read the book.  We think our understanding of contemporary Missouri politics and governance is much better because he has closely examined the demographic changes that are affecting our social, political, and religious lives.

But Jones does more than detail the movements that have put us where we are today.  At the end, he assesses how WCA can remain a powerful influence on American culture in an increasingly diverse country.

His book’s title speaks of “The End,” but he suggests the future of White Christian America as a social and political force will be shaped by the process we go through when facing death.  That’s a subject for another entry.  This one is long enough.

If you are in Missouri politics, an observer of Missouri politics, a Christian, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Muslim—whatever—we think your understanding of national and state politics can be improved by reading this book.  And, particularly, if you are a candidate or an incumbent office-holder, you might find helpful his call to abandon “The Politics of Nostalgia”—and begin building a more positive and inclusive political system—as you assess what you are and what you are doing, and shaping what you want to be.

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2016.   309 pages

The bobpriddy.net M8B poll

It’s time to assess the outcomes of the August primary and see if we can forecast the results in November.  First, let’s take a look at the legislature and the contests that shape up after the primary.

The Missouri Senate started the 2015-16 session with 25 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

Going into the November election, Democrats are guaranteed six seats. Republicans will have 18.    Five of the ten seats are OPEN because of term limits or resignations.  The Joseph Keaveny seat is likely to stay in the D column, meaning that before the November election, D’s will have 7 seats, R’s will have 18 with nine seats in play.

Two of the nine seats in play are held by or were held by Democrats (Sifton and Levota).  If the D’s hold on to those seats, both in the Kansas City metro area, they will be up to nine.  The Senate then will be 25-9.  If we assume Sifton will win re-election and the Democrats hang onto the vacant LeVota seat, they will need to pick up three Senate seats to end the two-thirds majority.

We are acutely conscious in saying this of one of the first rules hammered into our heads by our School of Journalism professors: “Never assume a damned thing.”  But we have to start somewhere in this discussion so we are offering a technical assumption that is not to be considered part of the public record.

Other open seats:

Senator Eric Schmitt of Glendale in St. Louis County is giving up his distinction of being one of the tallest people to ever serve in the state senate, if not THE tallest (see http://blog.missourinet.com/2014/04/04/bmis/ for a learned discussion of the matter) to run for State Treasurer.  Stephen Eagleton, a Kirkwood activist who lost to Schmitt eight years ago, has won the Democratic primary. He’s a nephew of former U. S. Senator Thomas Eagleton.  He’s opposed by state representative Andrew Koenig, who defeated fellow Rep Rick Stream in the primary. The district has been Republican.

Senator Kurt Schaefer of Columbia didn’t come close to carrying his home county against fellow Boone Countian Josh Hawley in the Attorney General’s race a few weeks ago although his 41% in the county was better than his 36% statewide.  He’s gone from the Senate because of term limits anyway.  Two state representatives will square off to see who succeeds him: Democrat Stephen Webber and Republican Caleb Rowden.  The seat was Democratic before Schaefer took it.

Term limits has robbed Warrensburg-area voters of their chance to keep popular Senator David Pearce for another term.  Lafayette County mediation lawyer ElGene Ver Dught, who lost to Pearce four years ago, is back for another try. He’ll face Republican Representative Denny Hoskins.

Other contested seats (Some senatorial districts have Libertarian candidates opposing a major party candidate but we’ll wait for a Libertarian-label candidate to be more than token opposition before we move districts in which they are the only opposition to make our list of “contested districts.”):

Senator Ryan Silvey, who comes from the northern part of the Kansas City metro area, is facing Democrat J. Ranen Bethtold who has attracted support from Joplin industrialist David Humphreys, who normally pours a lot of money into Republican campaigns. Apparently, Silvey ticked off Humphreys because he refused to support his party’s attempt to override Governor Nixon’s veto of the anti-union bill that would let people be represented by unions without paying them any dues.  Silvey has a lot of labor people in his district but Humphreys is big on right-to-work.

The seat given up by Senate President pro Tem Tom Demsey of St.  Charles when he went to work for a Sinquefield group will be a fight between Bill Eigel, a right-to-work supporter who defeated Representative Anne Zerr in the Republican primary, and Democrat Richard Orr, a right-to-work opponent who thinks Republicans are meddling with the Conservation Department.

Former Congressman Bill Burlison, who represented southeast Missouri for a dozen years, had no challengers in the Democratic primary and will face Republican incumbent Doug Libla.

Senator Wayne Wallingford, a Republican, hopes to win a second term from his Cape Girardeau-area district. He’s opposed by retired truck driver Donnie Owens who lost to Jason Crowell twelve years ago.

Could Republicans lose their super-majority in the Senate?   We asked our Magic 8 Ball and it said, “Very hazy. Try again.”   So we asked again and it said “very doubtful.”  But might Democrats gain a seat or two that at least gives them more filibuster muscle?   The Magic 8 Ball said, “No” three times.

Of course, the Magic 8 ball was answering the question in August with plenty of time to change its mind.

The House:

This year, Republicans controlled the House 116-45 with one independent.  The 117th member of the House, Don Gosen, resigned in February and has not been replaced in a special election. Republicans had a seven-vote cushion for their two-thirds majority (they need 109 for two-thirds of the membership).

All 163 seats will be elected this year.   After the August primary, only 65 seats have Republican-Democrat contests.

Going into November, Republicans are guaranteed 66 seats. Democrats are guaranteed 32.  To break the two-thirds super majority in the House, Democrats must win 23 of the 65 contested seats.  To move into the majority in the House, they would have to take fifty of the 65 contests.

The Magic 8 Ball is pretty confident the House will stay two-thirds Republican after November. We asked if Democrats will win at least one-third of the seats in the Missouri House and it responded, “My Sources say no.”  Three times.

Just for the record, the 8 ball’s signs say Chris Koster will be elected Governor.

Lieutenant Governor?  “Ask me again later?” said Eight.  “Real hazy, try again,” it said when we did.  Finally it said Russ Carnahan’s outlook is “good.”

Secretary of State?  Will the name Ashcroft carry some weight that it didn’t in a state senate election two years ago?   “It is decidedly so,” said 8B.  Just to test it, we asked if Robin Smith would win office this year and it wanted to be asked later twice before finally saying, “Cannot predict now.”  So we’ve put that race in the “leaning” Ashcroft category.

B’s sources say Judy Baker will not become Treasurer.  But at the same time it is “very doubtful” that Eric Schmitt will be elected this year.  For now, we will put this one in the toss-up category.

The black ball of knowledge says the “outlook is good” that Teresa Hensley will become Attorney General.  Asked about Josh Hawley, it said his “outlook (is) not so good.”

And the biggie:  Will Jason Kander beat Roy Blunt.  The ball thought long and hard about this one.   “Really hazy, ask again,” it said.  So we did. “Concentrate and ask again,” it said.  So we thought real hard and got “Ask again later.”

A good reporter will never let the Mystery 8 Ball straddle a fence (not sure how a ball can do that anyway) so we asked again.

“Outlook good,” it said.

Are you sure?

“Outlook good,” it responded.

So Jason Kander is going to beat Senator Blunt?

“Most likely.”

And it repeated it three more times.

Oh—for the record, the “outlook is not so good” for Hillary Clinton to beat Donald Trump.  We didn’t ask if that’s the national answer or just whether the M8B is thinking only about Missouri.

So there you have it.   The bobpriddy.net poll.   Of course, you should remember that any poll is only a snapshot of conditions at the time it is taken and many thing scan change.  We have a long way to go and the M8B’s opinions might change as conditions change.

We don’t know what M8B’s margin of error is.  When we asked, it said,

“Outlook not so good.”

But it was pretty confident in its response when we asked it again.

 

Activist Judges

—-is a phrase for losers.

Senate leader Ron Richard is whining about “activist judges” on the Missouri Supreme Court who have ruled the Senate violated the Missouri Constitution in overriding Governor Nixon’s veto last year of a bill that makes Missouri one of the least sympathetic states in the nation for people who lose their jobs.

Richard accuses the majority judges in the 4-3 opinion of “overstepping…constitutional authority” in ruling that it was the Senate that overstepped its constitutional authority.

It is easy and all too common for losers to throw around the kind of charges against the court system that Richard throws around.  But sorting out what the constitution means is not done recklessly by the court system and a reading of the majority and minority opinions outlines that difficulty.  The 4-3 vote that takes 28 pages to explain is indicative of the struggle courts go through to determine the meaning of the law.

Implying that the outcome is the result of “activist judges” is a cheap shot easily fired and easily accepted by a general public that seldom cares, as it should, about the difficulty of establishing the specific parameters that a general law originates.  Legal opinions are hardly bodice-busting stories of passion that rivet readers to the printed page, but reading them is something more of us should do especially when the losers blame others for their faults.

Here’s what happened:

In 2015, Richard’s party that controls the legislature passed House Bill 150 that says a person who loses his or her job when the unemployment rate is low will only get thirteen weeks of unemployment benefits.  If, however, that person has the good fortune to lose his or her job when the rate is above six percent, the state will provide twenty weeks of help.  Either way, the legislature wants Missouri to be among the chintziest states when it comes to paying a paltry amount of unemployment benefits.  Governor Nixon notes our benefits rank 43rd out of all fifty states.  Even a return to twenty weeks of benefits puts Missouri a full six weeks behind the national average.

But being behind the national average is not an uncomfortable positions for Missouri’s legislators.

We have wandered.

The legislature passed the bill early enough (April 21) that it would have a chance to override a Nixon veto if there was one.  The legislature went to great effort a few years ago to enact such a system.  It wanted time to override budget vetoes and withholdings before the start of a new fiscal year on July 1.

Nixon vetoed HB150 on May 5.  The House overrode the veto on the 12th.  But the Senate frittered away the last three days of the session and didn’t take an override vote.   But during the September session that is held annually to consider overrides of bills vetoed after the regular session or vetoed too late to be overridden in the regular session, it overrode the HB150 veto.

The majority of the court has ruled that the Senate lacked the constitutional authority to override the veto in September.  The three judge-minority reads the same section of the state constitution in a different light.

This fact is unchallenged:  The court would not have been put in this position if the Senate had done its job in the closing days of the 2015 session.  Senate leaders—Richard and Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe–conveniently overlook that little issue in criticizing the court for doing what it has had to do.  And what it had to do is—something.

Richard also fumes that the court “tramples on the respect for a co-equal branch of government demanded by our constitution,” and he continues, “The legislature is the voice of the people of Missouri and with today’s decision the Court has substitute its own voice for theirs.”

That kind of talk is oh, so tiresome.  On one hand he speaks of a co-equal government and in the next line he suggests that the legislature should not be challenged by one of those co-equal branches.  Courts are valuable things to have when legislatures move from being the “voice of the people” to being “the voice of SOME people.”

“Activist judges” is a phrase for those who, in the end, have failed to justify their positions within the law. Their legal arguments ultimately are unable to convince four people of their correctness. In fact, the cases going before the Missouri Supreme Court often involve far more than seven men and women in Jefferson City.  By the time those four “activists” make the apparently final ruling,  other “activist” judges have evaluated an issue on the basis of law all the way back to a municipal or circuit judge, perhaps.

But the case might not have begun there.  The evaluation of the issue—under the law—might have started with a city council vote in which “activist” council members, maybe as many as two, make a policy.  Or perhaps it began with legislators passing a bill, as in this case. Perhaps the issue began with one “activist” who financed a petition effort approved by voters that gave him or her a preferential right or privilege not to be enjoyed by others who are in our system equal under the law.

In each instance, the issue has been reviewed, weighed, and decided.  Arguments and counter-arguments have shaped the issue at increasingly higher levels of scrutiny.

Perhaps it is time for judges accused of being “activist judges” to say something.  Maybe it should be something like:

Thank you for the compliment.  Thank you for recognizing the role we play in our political system.  Thank you for recognizing that we are called upon to decide—to act. We have done what you demanded that we do–to take action. The alternative to taking action is to passively accept without argument a position placed before us and we realize that is not what our justice system is about. Although we might differ among ourselves, we have acted. In a nation that places faith in the judgment of a majority, we have kept that faith. Too bad it didn’t go your way.

Judges are called upon to be activists.  Somebody has to decide.  A judge who won’t act doesn’t meet the responsibility of the title.  So it is that the cheaply-uttered epithet “activist judges” is—unfortunately for those who readily hurl it after their own failures to justify their attitudes and positions—a compliment to those who have done the job we expect them to do.

There are plenty of countries where neither citizens nor judges are allowed to be activists.  You don’t want to live there.

Missouri: nothing special

An outfit called WalletHub has been sending us news releases for about three years telling us they’ve been rating the states on various topics.

WalletHub has called itself a “personal finance social network.”  It’s owned by Evolution Finance, a company that says it can compare thousands of credit cards for best deals.   We’ve gotten its reports comparing states on various issues.

Various organizations compare states for various reasons and we’ve never yet seen a rating of the states that isn’t questioned by critics who have their own statistics that question the findings.  And it’s always good to look at the organization doing the ratings to see if there’s an agenda that is behind it (We’ve all seen the Chamber of Commerce, NRA, Right to Life and other ratings and endorsements in political campaigns).

One thing we have noticed year after year after year, survey after survey after survey is that Missouri, for all political self-praise that it lavishes on itself, seldom shows any exceptionalism.  The surveys paint Missouri as a state that either doesn’t try to excel or whose citizens and leaders don’t care enough about being in the top tier of states that they’ll commit to doing what it takes to get there.

Because WalletHub insists on being in our face every couple of weeks with new findings, we’re going to look at the picture this organization paints of Missouri.  Other surveys look at other issues.  But in years of reviewing these studies, the impression remains that Missouri talks a better game than it plays.  So here are some findings from WalletHub.

Spending: Missourians rank sixth in the country when it comes to spending money, based on ten factors. While many candidates have been bemoaning the $19-20 trillion national debt, none that we have heard voice any concerns about the total consumer debt, reported by the New York Fed in May as $12.25 trillion and rising for the last seven quarters. The increase in debt in the first quarter of the year was the largest since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Missourians apparently love to go shopping.  Making their state better in other important ways doesn’t seem as important.

Best and Worst School Systems: Missouri overall is 32nd.  We are 29th in a category called “School System Quality” and we’re 39th in School System Safety, whatever that means.  Thirteen categories are used in the “quality” rates.  Safety is based on disciplinary-incident rates per 100,000 students, bullying incident rates, and youth incarceration rates of people under 21 per 100,000. We are 41st in controlling bullying.  Missouri is the 24th best state for teachers.

But we are 34th in places for nurses to work.

And if you are a working mom, the picture is not good.  34th overall (27th in child care, 29th in professional opportunities, and 38th in work-life balance).

It therefore might be surprised to learn that Missouri is ranked ninth in women’s equality according to WalletHub (17th in workplace environment, ninth in education and 16th in political empowerment).

Missouri is 33rd in wealth, adjusted for population (36th in income rank, 35th in GDP per capita, and sixth in taxes paid per capita).

But we are the 45th most financially literate state.  Other factors smother our ranking of third in knowledge and education.

The studies say we’re the 30th among green states.  We’re 12th in environmental quality but rank 37th in eco-friendly behaviors and 33rd in climate change contributions—a reflection, perhaps, of ancoal-fired utilities produce)

These are some of the results from one of many studies that rank Missouri as a state that is often mediocre at best and poor at worst.  And apparently, Missourians and their leaders are comfortable being nothing special.

Myron Cohen, a comedian of the 50s and 60s who often was on the Ed Sullivan Show, used to tell the story of a husband who came home one day and noticed his apartment smelled of cigar smoke.  When his wife would not admitted she had taken up cigar smoking, the husband started searching the place and in the bedroom close he found a man standing in his undershorts. “What are you doing here?” the husband demanded.   And the man responded, “Everybody gotta be someplace.”

So it is with rankings.  Everybody’s gotta be someplace. 

Too bad so many surveys show Missouri doesn’t want to be someplace better.

 

 

 

 

 

But what if he wins?

We’ve had a piece of trash campaign mail on our kitchen island for several days from an outfit called FranklinAndLee.com. It attacks Eric Greitens.

We wrote about FranklinAndLee on April 27, should you want to read how it and one of the other Republican candidates know of one another but both claim they don’t speak.

Greitens, whose campaign has emphasized that he can shoot a gun and pound on a punching bag but has not indicated HOW he will straighten out a state government that has been left in shambles by those blasted professional politicians (of which he wants to become one of), is Missouri’s Donald Trump.

He’s the Republican that Republicans don’t want to recognize. But he has tied a lot of knots in GOP knickers because he showed up in some recent polls as the leading candidate.

One poll had him ahead of John Brunner 29-22 with Hanaway at 16 and Kinder with 12.  Another poll shows him ahead of Hanaway 24-22 with Brunner and Kinder at 16 and 15.  The results are inconsistent except that both show Greitens in the lead, Kinder lagging badly for a three-term Lieutenant Governor, and 21 to 23% of the potential voters not sure what to make of it all.

FranklinandLee, which has close ties to Brunner’s campaign although he denies any connection to it, is harping on the “He is not one of us” theme.  We heard that throughout the national presidential primary campaign, didn’t we?  .

What are Greitens’ big sins?   If you’ve gotten one of these pieces of trash mail and you haven’t trashed it yet, take a look.  He went with Governor Bob Holden in 2008 to hear Barack Obama’s presidential nomination campaign speech.  In 2013 he committed the heresy of liking St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay because Slay had helped veterans get help, training, and jobs. (Pssst—In case you have missed any of Greitens’ commercials, he’s a former Navy SEAL.)

One criticism is that he met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which was courting him, and met with Congressman Russ Carnahan.  Conveniently left out is WHEN his meeting took place.  It had to be in 2012 or earlier because Carnahan lost a re-election bid that year.

But within inches of the criticism of his meetings with the DCCC is a quote from Greitens, “When Democrats asked me to run, I told them no, because I am a conservative, and I am a Republican.”   So he was recruited and he went to Washington where several influential Democrats tried to convince him to run for Congress and he said no.

Not one of us?   What is he, then, after telling the D’s he wasn’t going to be one of THEM?

Apparently it is an unpardonable offense that he didn’t lemming-like get in line behind Senate Joint Resolution 39 in the legislature this year (there are plenty of previous entries here about that if you want to put yourself through reading them).  And to compound the crime, Claire McCaskill, one of those heathens in the other party, agreed with him.

So Eric Greitens, exercising his First Amendment Freedom of Association with Mayor Slay, should be considered a political leper by Republican voters.  And because Claire McCaskill exercised her same First Amendment Freedom by associating herself with his position of SJR39, he is even more leprous.

And there’s a quote from MSNBC’s Joe Klein, who is demonized in this piece of trash as a “liberal author and journalist.”  Klein described Greitens as “a Pro Gay-Rights Pro-Immigration Reform Republican.”  Let’s seen, what was one of the major points in the primary campaign of the Republican presidential nominee?   Immigration reform?   That’s it.  And that same nominee said several years ago of Elton John’s marriage to his longtime boyfriend, “If two people dig each other, they dig each other.” And in 2000, he urged Congress to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Clearly, being a “Pro Gay Rights, Pro-Immigration Reform Republican” makes one UNqualified to be (a) a Republican and (b) a chief executive of a state or a nation.  At least it didn’t in Cleveland last week.

To summarize:  Eric Greitens is “not one of us” because he was heavily courted by Democrats from 2008-2012—we surmise— before he proclaimed his GOP loyalty.  He’s “not one of us” because he could conscientiously support a divisive and, many felt, discriminatory proposal masquerading as a religious liberty issue.  He’s “not one of us” because Joe Klein indicates he thinks non-heterosexuals have some kind of a place at the table.  He’s “not one of us” because he said a good thing about a Democrat that he thought had done good things for people like him.

So much for the “big tent” that we’ve heard both parties claim they have.

So what happens to the Missouri GOP if “not one of us” wins the primary election for Governor?  We’ve seen at the national level what happens when “not one of us” comes out a winner.  In Cleveland we heard calls for the party to unify although many of those voices did not call for it to unify behind the party nominee.  Republicans are not alone with concerns about what “party unity” will mean after this. Democrats are in the boat with them.

Eric Greitens, as an American citizen, is free to call himself a Republican if wishes to do so.  It’s his right.

Eric Greitens, a Republican, does not forfeit his mind, his conscience, or his right to associate personally or politically with anybody he chooses.

Eric Greitens, American citizen, does not have not to pass any litmus test of narrowness or broadness to be a member of any political party he chooses.   And to be a candidate within that party.

When you come down to it, the FranklinAndLee.com piece of junk mail might be more damaging to the Republican Party than it is to Eric Greitens.  The portrait it paints of who a Republican must be is not flattering to the party.

A party that makes such a big deal of letting individual citizens exercise their sincerely-held beliefs is not helped by junk mail like this that says Eric Greitens is not a member of the party because he has done just that.

There is a reason stuff like this is called “junk” mail.

Both of our political parties are in a fix this year because both have had to deal nationally with “not one of us” candidates who have caused big problems for party orthodoxy.

What was that again about a big tent?  Is it only for winners?

Beyond 66 degrees 33 minutes

DSC05246Now I know what the poet Robert W. Service meant.

There’s the land (Have you seen it?)

It’s the cussedest land that I know.

From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it

To the deep, deathlike valleys below.

Some say God was tired when He made it;

Some say it’s a fine land to shun;

Maybe, but there’s some as would trade it

For no land on earth—and I’m one.

One day not long ago, I took a little trip.  It started at 5:30 in the afternoon.  I got back to my motel at 1:30 a.m.   And it was still light enough to read a newspaper.

Everything around me was American.  The people.  The cars.  The signs.  The language.  The money.  But there also was a slight feeling of disorientation. This was a different America.  It was late June but sometimes it felt like October.  It looked like April.  It looked a lot like Colorado but it was so much more than Colorado.

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  The mountains were higher.  The rivers were colder.  The valleys were wider, far wider.

One of the lodges where Nancy and I stayed will close on September 20, as would most of the businesses in the town, which will become so buttoned-up that the street lights would be turned off, not to be switched on for six months or so when the town would come back to life.

I had just been to two towns with a combined year-around population of thirty-two far off the beaten path—until a path was beaten to them.

This is Alaska and the last frontier really is here, sixty-five miles above the latitude that marks the beginning of the Arctic Circle.

Sixty-six degrees, thirty three minutes is the latitude that marks the Arctic Circle.

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About two million people visit Alaska each year, about three times as many people as live in a state that is larger than Texas, California and Montana combined.  At least that’s what they claim and I am beyond arguing with them.  Less than one percent of those who visit Alaska make it above the Arctic Circle.  So we went and we listened to a man there who has lived a life in that frontier that is so different from our own that this listener could not fully absorb it.

A sign on the Dalton Highway at the Coldfoot turnoff says, “Next Services, 240 miles (380 kilometers).  No more services to the Arctic Ocean Coast.”  The nearest Wal-Mart is in Fairbanks, 270 miles and about six hours’ worth of driving to the south on a partly-paved highway built for trucks taking supplies to Prudhoe Bay, where the pipeline begins.

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The truck stop at Coldfoot is the only place for fuel, food, and lodging along the entire highway.  500 miles.  You better have a big fuel tank and plan a very long day without a hot meal if you don’t plan to stop at Coldfoot, which was named by the few miners who stayed behind that first year when hundreds of others got cold feet and headed south.

Our driver on the way from the airport in Coldfoot to Wiseman told us there’s only one highway patrolman in the district, patrolling an area the size of the state of New York.  With only one road going through the area and little population in that region, there’s no criminal activity to speak of so he spends most of his time making sure hunters follow state and federal wildlife regulations. He keeps his airplane at the airport.

Life in Wiseman and in Coldfoot, Alaska is called subsistence living and it better be something a person is completely committed to doing. The odds are long against survival without that commitment.

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We met in an old miner’s cabin in Wiseman built in 1946 by a character named Harry Leonard, who had moved into the area in 1932 looking for gold. He died in 1989 at the age of 92.  Harry arrived before there were roads and he and a lot of other folks in Wiseman didn’t cotton to the idea of a highway, even if it was gravel, disrupting their wilderness.

And they sure didn’t want any pipeline.  Harry parked a tractor on what was then the pipeline road back in the summer of ’74 and blocked traffic for six hours, claiming the road was interfering with his mineral claims.  State troopers finally convinced him to leave only to see him barge into a pipeline construction camp the next day, waving a gun around and telling the crews to get out.  An AP story reported, “The matter was settled informally, typical of bush justice.”

It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,

It’s the forests where silence has lease,

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

The growing season is nearing an end in this region for people like Jack Reakoff, the Wiseman resident who spent the better part of an hour talking to us in Harry’s cabin, remembering days before the pipeline, days before the Dalton Highway, days before any kind of a paved road and who explained how one of the main focuses of living in a place like Wiseman is staying alive.

DSC05307His narrative was nothing like television’s version of reality.  What was so interesting was that he talked about his life within the Arctic Circle the same way we would explain our lifestyles here.  Except we would talk about going to Wal-Mart or the mall for things or watching the grocery ads for bargains on groceries and he talked about spending 18-21 days chopping ten to fifteen tons of wood that keeps his home warm during the long winters, growing almost four-hundred pounds of potatoes in his 24×21-foot garden and the vegetables that will help feed his family (“I have about fifty, sixty pounds of carrots and other root vegetables, lots of leafy green things, lettuces and all that for salads.  There’s no…green, leafy lettuces here in the wintertime so I freeze kale and turnip tops and spinach, stuff like that. And I put that in my 22 cubic foot freezer from late April through late September. The rest of the year the freezer’s turned off. And the freezer stays outside night and day.”), and going out even when it’s fifty-below zero to shoot the protein he and his family will need—moose (he’s allowed one a year), caribou, fox, wolf, bear, wolverine, rabbit, and lynx among the possibilities.

Summer growing season is June and July at this latitude. He plants his crops in May and covers them with plastic to trap the UV heat that allows his vegetables to be showing above ground by June 1.  He store his vegetables in his cellar which is dug into the permafrost and stays at 34-45 degrees.  That’s a trap door in the middle of Harry’s cabin, for example, that led to his cellar.

This particular valley gets about nine inches of precipitation a year. Reaker calls it a frozen desert.  How can he grow so many vegetables, how can the foliage be so green, with so little precipitation?   It’s because the permafrost keeps the water from soaking far down into the soil. It’s why the trees in most areas are so small and thin even though they might be a century or two old—their roots are shallow because they can’t grow through the permafrost and don’t need to do so because the moisture remains near the surface.

And don’t believe some of the stories you hear or that you see on television. “You hear guys sitting in a bar drinking whiskey telling bear stories—The Alaskans have to tell these stupid bear stories which they’ve heard over and over. It’s like a rumor going around in a room. Pretty soon these bears have bulletproof pelts and bullets bounce off their skulls and it takes multiple…rounds to kill one of them.  Anybody who tells you that it takes multiple magazine round is either really poor shot or they’re drunk and they don’t know what they’re talking about. Those bullets do not bounce off of bears and they’re easy to kill,” he told us, later showing a grizzly bear skull with a bullet hole between the eyes.

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There’s nothing particularly colorful about Jack.  He’s living in his environment and doing what he has to do to survive there—just as we do in our environment.

That’s just part of the stories we heard about life above 66 degrees 33 minutes.  And there were many more from people below that line.

We think we have our magnificent areas here in the lower 48 in terms of mountains and valleys and scenic vistas.   We found Alaska above and below the Arctic Circle to be all of that and many times more.  Here are some things we did not know before we went:

America’s third largest river system is there—the Yukon, stretching 1,980 miles from British Columbia to the Bering Sea.   Seven of our nation’s ten largest national parks are there.  In fact, the largest one, Wrangell-St. Elias, covers 13,005 square miles.  And the second one, Gates of the Arctic (which isn’t far from Wiseman), covers 11,756.  Each of those national parks covers more area than the other three large national parks in the lower 48, COMBINED (Death Valley, Yellowstone, and the Everglades total just 11,094 square miles.

We visited a temperate rainforest in Ketchikan, where fire danger is always low, and forests in the inland national parks, where the fire danger was always high.  We marveled at the seeming frozen power of glaciers and heard their crackings and poppings and boomings as they ground their way forward.  We even flew out to one, the Mead, near Skagway, and hiked around on it for a while in special spiked overboots.

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Glaciers are filthy with the debris of the ground they grind over. If you are familiar with Jefferson City, try to imagine a sheet of ice two-thirds as high as the Gateway Arch stretching from the double diamond interchange on the Whitton Expressway (Highways 50, 54, and 63)  all the way north to the 54/63 interchange across the river, and covering everything east beyond Linn—and moving at five feet a day. Glaciers are forces of nature that can only be experienced by being among them.  Their power—and their vulnerability—leaves one grasping for superlatives.

More than forty percent of the people in Alaska live in one place—Anchorage.  Another four or five percent live in Fairbanks.   The rest are scattered, and we do mean scattered, throughout the vastness of the place.

It’s a long ways and at least three time zones from Missouri to Alaska.  Don’t go there if you want to see quaint and colorful people.  Don’t go if you expect to see the massive herds of  caribou that you see on television (Jack says Hollywood and even some of the depictions on the History and National Geographic Channels don’t reflect reality).

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Go and be quiet.  Go and listen.  Go and soak in a place where only one-percent of the land is allowed to be in private hands.  Go to see something gone in our part of the nation.  Go to respond to another Robert W. Service poem:

Have you seen God in His splendors,

            Heard the text that nature renders—

(You’ll never hear it in the family pew.)

The Simple things, the true things

            The silent men who do things?

Then listen to the Wild—it’s calling you.

 

They have cradled you in custom,

            They have primed you with their preaching,

They have soaked you in convention through and through;

            you’re a credit to their teaching.

But can’t you hear the Wild?—it’s calling you.

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Let us probe the silent places,

            Let us seek what luck betides us;

Let us journey to a lonely land I know.

There’s a whisper on the night-wind,

            There’s a star agleam to guide us,

And the Wild is calling, calling….let us go. 

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The post-convention bump

Your faithful observer has wondered every four years whether polls taken right after national conventions are worth the headlines they generate.  Surveys taken after the first convention seem to consistently show the candidate of the party not in the White House gets a pretty good bump in the numbers.  Then the second convention is held and the candidate of the party that has controlled the White House for the last four years or eight years sees its candidate’s numbers improve.  At least, that’s the way it seems to have been in memory.

Polls taken, say, a month later seem to convey a more accurate picture of where the candidates really are after the emotions of the conventions have given way to the give-and-take of the long slog toward election day.

So we can expect Donald Trump’s numbers to look better after the convention’s concentrated effort to put a new, focused, and presidential face on the nominee going forward.  Conventions, like primary elections for state offices, mark a dividing point.  All of the division and attacks that have gone on for months are irrelevant now. This the time for going forward in unity.  Now is the time to pay heed to the idea that if you can’t say anything nice about someone (within your own party) you shouldn’t say anything at all, a reversal of the contest before the convention when the mantra seemed to be, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, say something really nasty.”

The party in power will have its chance in a few days to put its new, focused, and presidential face on its nominee and we expect the immediate post-convention polls to show some voters are more favorably disposed to that party’s nominee than they were. Many potential voters will lean toward the most recent, most intensive message they have been given.

It seems from our lofty perch high above the convention floor (on our television set in the living room below) that post-convention raw-number bumps are of limited meaning on the surface.  But we’ll be interested in the analysis of the other data that is collected.

Both candidates headed to their conventions with high negative attitudes by many voters.  The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls released before the Republican convention showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by three to eight points in the “favorable” ratings in four battleground states—Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.  While both have higher “unfavorable” numbers than “favorable” numbers, Clinton was less unfavorable than Trump by six to fifteen points.

For example, the survey taken in Colorado showed those questioned rated Clinton at 34 percent favorable and 62 percent unfavorable, a 28 point difference. Trump was 27 percent favorable and 67 percent unfavorable, a 40 point difference.  So while Clinton was favored over Trump by seven points on the favorable side, she was 12 points less unfavorable.  It’s a heckuva way to measure who’s ahead, isn’t it?

Regardless, that was the case in all four states. She was more popular than he was and she also was less UNpopular than he was.

Conventions are about a lot of things.  But one of the bigger things is how they shape public perceptions of the candidates.  Both will try to paint their nominees as saviors of the nation and the opponents as pending national disasters.  Will the effort to portray a kinder, gentler, more loving Donald Trump while dismissing perceived flaws in his personality or record be paying off on, to pick a date, September 1?  Or will the portrait of Hillary Clinton that emerges from the Democratic convention that dismisses perceived flaws in personality and record increase confidence that her experiences foreign and domestic are the qualities that should prevail?  Will the Republican effort to paint her portrait as a manipulative, unindicted political clone of President Obama increase her un-favorability among voters or will the Democratic portrayal of Trump as a rash, shallow, bully increase his?

So we’ll be looking after the Democratic convention at the favorable-unfavorable numbers to see if all of the platform rhetoric and chants and demonstrations on the floors wind up making the favorable/unfavorable margins between the two nominees much different.  Then we’ll check the numbers about the first of September to see what they are in less euphoric circumstances.

Oh, it’s a long, long time from August to November.

And the days grow short when you reach October.

When the autumn weather

Turns the leaves to flame,

One won’t have time

To recall the convention game.

Oh, the days will dwindle down

To the precious few.

September, October….

And will these polling bumps

After conventions one and two,

Still mean anything

To folks like me and you.

(with deepest apologies to composer Kurt Weill and lyricist Maxwell Anderson)