Pulling back the curtain in Jeff City

By Tony Renfro

Something remarkable happened Feb. 16 in Jeff City. State Rep. Ben Baker, a Republican from Newton County down south of Joplin, introduced an amendment to a bill denying health care to children suffering from gender dysphoria. There’s nothing particularly astonishing about that, of course.

After the election, Republican legislators all across the country suddenly lost interest in inflation and introduced identical bills on a range of hot button culture war issues. None of these bills will do anything to fix Missouri’s crumbling roads or bridges, bring good paying jobs to our area or fix our last-in-the-nation public schools, but they will play well with culture warriors on Twitter.

What was truly remarkable about Baker and his amendment was what happened just after he introduced it and what it revealed about him, his party and the failure to address any of the real issues that face the people of our state.

When asked to explain the amendment by a fellow legislator, the proudly anti-woke Baker was caught on video spending a full two minutes staring dumbly at the papers in his hand, thumbing through the pages and wishing he was somewhere, anywhere else.

Finding no answers at long last he asked, “Can you repeat the question?” You see, Baker, last seen posing with an assault rifle and a tactical vest to defend the nation against Chinese balloons had no idea – absolutely no idea – what was in his supposed amendment. He didn’t write it and he hadn’t even read it before introducing it as his own on the floor of the House. In those two uncomfortable minutes we learned Baker’s amendment isn’t really his.

The reason he doesn’t know what’s in his own amendment is because it was written, like all of the amendments introduced by Republicans in the 22 states where they control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, by operatives at the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, as it’s known, is funded by a secretive faction of ultra-rightwing billionaires.

These out of state billionaires don’t drive Missouri roads. They don’t worry the bridge will collapse under them. Their children don’t attend the schools our children attend. That’s why they don’t care about crumbling infrastructure or failing schools. All they want is lower taxes for themselves and the end to the regulations that protect us from them.

They’re willing to destroy the things that matter to us in order to get what they want. To do that they pay an army of lawyers to write bills that keep the media – and us – focused on phony culture war issues instead of the economic issues that really matter.

They also bankroll politicians like Baker to vote those bills into law. The widely circulated video of Baker’s embarrassing stumble in the state legislature pulled back the curtain on the reality of politics in Jeff City.

The only question now is this: will we see what the video revealed for what it is and begin to take back our state or will we look the other way and allow Baker and the out-of-state ALEC billionaires who finance him to drag us down to a place we can’t climb back out from.

Two decades of one-party Republican rule have put us in a difficult place. It will take time to rebuild our public schools and roads, but until we take back our state we will stay on the same downward trajectory that got us where we are now.