However, I do want to raise a few red flags about the coalition that has been organizing around this issue. Jamilah Nasheed, who was once described as one of Mayor Slay's "fiercest critics," is now retweeting Slay and Jeff Rainford regularly. Maybe this is not a big deal. As they always say about people trying to get things done in politics: "no permanent friends and no permanent enemies: only permanent interests"
But slightly more suspicious is the support of the effort from Rex Sinquefield and the Missouri GOP. Rex, of course, is behind the earnings tax repeal that would gut St. Louis City government, and behind efforts to eliminate income tax in favor of increases in sales taxes, which would gut state government and place a much larger burden on the poor and working class while allowing Rex's fellow millionaires to continue to stockpile money.
There are different ways of viewing Sinquefield. One might think that he views the Missouri political system as one of his chess matches, and he cynically uses his money to move politicians around like pawns. In this case, I think we'd want to be very suspicious of this new collaboration, and ask what exactly he's getting in return. On the other hand, you might look at Rex and think that he really is a True Believer in his right-wing anti-government ideology, and is more misguided than cynically trying to manipulate things. In this case, you might think that he just donated $300,000 to the local control cause because it fits with his ideals about government, and he's not necessarily expecting anything in return.
But even if you think that Uncle Rex might be willing to do some good for St. Louis without asking for some pints of blood in return, you couldn't possibly think the same about our current GOP controlled legislature. They are led by birthers, conspiracy theorists, and people with extreme hatred of anything to the left of Sarah Palin. The Republican house already voted in favor of local control; why would they do this unless they expected something in return?
What might be the exchange? I have no idea, but there are certainly extremely important issues up for discussion and Republicans are only a few votes away from a veto-proof majority. Is local control important? Yes. Is it more important that stopping the sales tax? No way. Is it more important than stopping Republicans from destroying our unions by making Missouri a right-to-work-for-less state? Definitely not. Is it more important than making sure Republicans don't game the redistricting process? Nope. I don't know if this new coalition has anything to do with these issues, but it's worth keeping an eye out.
The new "grassroots" group that is funded by Rex's $300,000 is called "A Safer Missouri." Their facebook page, which has been around for a while, only had six members when I checked. Two of those members were local Democrats Martin Casas (of the Young Democrats of St. Louis) and Nancy Rice. Ben Muehleisen has worked with Sinquefield's groups in the past.
Both Casas and Rice, along with Rainford and Slay, are big supporters of the move to charter schools and away from public schools, one of the issues Sinquefield is best known for. My guess is that this collaboration might have something to do with future cooperation on pushing for the charter school movement, arguably at the expense of public education.
I don't want to sound all "the sky is falling!" here. I'm in support of local control, and I don't have any evidence that Rex's support is in exchange for some blood money. However, I think it's important to raise the flag now, so that our future understanding will be informed. If there is any indication that some of the Democrats involved in this process fail to push back against Rex's right-wing agenda (like many did during the Prop A campaign), this will be useful background.
Update: Here's a response from Martin Casas, which makes sense to me:
Coalitions are a beautiful thing, but they are different then a circle of friends. THIs IS A HUGE ISSUE FOR THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, and it's a civil rights issue. People frequently disagree on many issues, but when there is a common goal we have to come together and fight for it. This is the kind of thing we ask our representatives to do: to put the welfare of the people ahead of any of their personal feelings. Adam, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about this.I can understand why Martin supports this. But what still puzzles me is why Sinquefield, the MO GOP, and even Carl Bearden (formerly of Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity) would support this. I'd really like to know what they're trying to get from this.