Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Just the Beginning?

A shockwave is rippling through Missouri political circles right now. Chris Koster, considered by many to be the Republican front-runner for the upcoming Attorney General’s race and fourth-ranking Republican in the state senate switched parties yesterday, and the republican AG primary race came to a screeching halt.

“My vision for the state is not a far-right vision,” Koster told The Kansas City Star. “I am a hindrance to them, and they are to me. It seemed like a good time for a separation.”

The bloom was fading from the rose for Koster during last fall’s bruising battle over Amendment 2, it would seem. Koster is a strong advocate for embryonic stem cell research, and efforts to criminalize science by the MO GOP has been a burr under his saddle for a while. He sees it through an economic-benefit lens. “The Republicans are becoming the gang who can’t shoot straight on economic development issues,” he said. Talking about the plans to expand the Stowers Institute that have been tabled for now while the squabbling commences in Jefferson City, he seems non-plussed. “People don’t realize … what an incredible opportunity is being lost.”

Three issues combined to make the option of staying in the Republican Party an untenable proposition:

· •An incessant drive by conservative Republicans to criminalize stem-cell research and halt the long-planned expansion of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City.

· •A conservative assault on the state’s often-copied nonpartisan judge selection plan.

· •A failure to get an economic development bill passed two years in a row.

Yesterday, he quit.

When he left the Republican Party yesterday – with over $640,000 dollars in his war chest for the AG race, all donated by Republicans – he effectively withdrew from that contest. State law does not require that he return that money, but I hope our newest member acts ethically and does so. He also needs to sever all ties with the white-trash Karl Rove, too – he must fire Jeff Roe if he hasn’t already, and publicly apologize for ever being associated with that odious creature.

With the Roe caveat, I am going to be magnanimous here and welcome him aboard, (keeping in mind that he brings with him a streak of craven opportunism a mile wide. Remember that the guy asking for a ride across the river was hatched a scorpion, and act accordingly). That said, we have a big tent, with plenty of room for the moderate Republicans who are feeling uncomfortable with where my Grandfather’s Missouri GOP has gone. I hope Koster is the start of a slow bleed of the current state GOP's life force. I hope there are a dozen more who have some common sense and come on over before the end of the year. The more the merrier and the sooner the better!

I am not saying we should give Republican refugees the keys to the car and a bottle of Beam. I am saying let’s be gracious to those who are disenchanted. It sure as hell can’t hurt us. Missourians are intelligent and pretty much tend toward moderation and get put-off by extremes in all forms. There is a libertarian streak that runs through the state as a whole, left, right and center.

I learned first-hand about Missourians, moderate politics, and splitting the ballot in 1972. That summer I spent on my grandparent’s farm in the Missouri 06. My Yellow-Dog Democrat grandmother was a fervent servant of the Jerry Litton (Democrat, Chillicothe) congressional campaign, and my belt-and-suspenders Republican grandfather was equally committed to the election of a young, charming Republican fellow named Kit Bond to be the states Governor. The grandkids were equally involved in knocking on doors and manning the registration tents at county fairs for both parties. Both candidates won their races, and I took note. In fact, that election played a significant role in setting my political bearing for a lifetime.

The Missouri Republican Party is in disarray right now, in fact, it is likely that Matt “no chance in hell of being reelected” Blunt will face a primary challenge. (Didn’t Sarah Steeleman announce a planned primary challenge during his inaugural address?) He is so desperate in his pandering to the far right that signing legislation has taken on a Passion Play quality.

In light of the current situation in the MOGOP - and being intimately familiar with Missouri common sense and our tendency to turn moderate where politics is concerned, I am willing to look at Republicans fleeing a state party that has gone too far as a potential boon to Missouri Democrats, if we play our cards right.