Monday, January 24, 2011

What's the Cost of Local Control?

Like most St. Louis residents, I'm in favor of St. Louis having control of it's own police force, at least if provisions are included that ensure that the city can't raid police officers' pensions. Why should our police, unlike pretty much any other group in the country, be accountable only to a state board that might not care about the city of St. Louis and might not be familiar with it even if they do care?(I'm not saying this is true of the current board: only that the potential exists) So, in my mind, local control makes a lot of sense.

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.


  1. Your cynicism is so... uplifting. I worked for Rex, and honestly, his main interest is seeing a healthier economy for Missouri. I'm sure paying lower taxes is a sweet benefit, but he is set, and would have moved elsewhere if preserving his wealth was his primary motivation. Is your view of humanity so twisted that you cannot accept that someone with a different ideology might just be doing something because they believe it will help? Rex wants city kids to play chess so their minds work better. He knows they are getting the short end of the city schools, and is actually doing something about it. But I bet you think he wants to eat their brains because he is evil or something.

    Dick Cheney is evil. Rex Sinquefield is not. Accept that neither you nor Rex know the absolute best way forward, but that both of you care about humanity. Listen carefully to what he has to say rather than dismissing it without giving it the benefit of critical analysis. I have heard people at the show-me institute wringing their hands over the fact that sales taxes are regressive. Don't think for a minute that your political 'opponents' are somehow inhuman or uncaring.

    Attack hatred and intolerance, not a different political and social path towards peace and justice. I KNOW, I KNOW, peace and justice are the exclusive purvue of the left, and nobody in the employ of a evil capitalist like Rex can feel those stirrings in their heart. I'll go back to my gun locker now and dream of robbing the last pennies from brown people now.

  2. You raise an interesting and important point. Personally, I wouldn't trust a rich republican to "donate" money to a cause without some quid pro quo expectation. That said, the importance local control of the police may depend on where in the city you live or (hard to believe) what you look like.

    For the unemployed underclass of St. Louis, the sales tax and right to work may not even register in the contemplation of local control. Local control of the St. Louis MPD may mean that those officers are truly accountable to city residents in a way that they are not currently. Police brutality, corruption, and false arrest/prosecution may be more important than sales taxes and union representation. These are important issues for St. Louisans, don't get me wrong, but in the grand scheme of things they are economic issues that MUST take a back seat to the violence and unjust treatment by MPD EVERY DAY on a significant portion of the city. These are issues of survival and liberty. They are way more important than sales tax and right to work. There is far too much acceptance of police tactics by the police board, the make-up of which is decided by state actors who, as you suggested, may not give a shit about the city and give even less of a shit about the people (human beings) who come under the wrath of this inherently brutal and racist patronage-dominated organization. MPD may be the last vestige of Jim Crow in St. Louis where black folks could be beaten to within inches of their lives to remind them of their place.

    St. Louisans are guaranteed "equal protection" of the law on paper only. Local control would be one step in holding MPD accountable to the people it terrorizes on a daily basis.