In Don Corrigan’s latest column, he talks about Missouri businesses influence on the Missouri legislature in the past year, including the changing business views about the environment.
By Don Corrigan (West End Word)
Republican President John Calvin Coolidge rebuffed the progressives and do-gooders of his era by explaining to them that “the business of America is business” — and business did not have time for them and their issues.
Times have changed. Business has developed more of a social conscience. There are many examples of this, and they range from concern about the environment, to a commitment to raise the minimum wage voluntarily, to programs to reward healthy habits and behaviors of their employees.
In Missouri, we have an amazing instance in which business stepped in and righted a big wrong. Specifically, major corporations and chambers of commerce literally read the riot act to our retrograde state legislature as it moved to pass SJR 39 this session.
SJR 39 was all about denying goods and services to same-sex couples if the suppliers felt these people violated their religious beliefs. For example, a baker could refuse to supply a wedding cake and a caterer could refuse service for a same-sex wedding.
Liberal critics of the Republican bill said it was tantamount to new Jim Crow laws for gay people. Business in Missouri stepped up to the plate and told legislators that the state should not be promoting discrimination.
Business made the difference. As Dave Drebes, publisher of a private news service on state politics, noted: “If the big corporations didn’t step forward … there’s no doubt that the House would have followed the Senate and passed SJR 39.”
Other states, most of them in the Old Confederacy, have passed such discriminatory laws and have faced business reprisals. Businesses don’t want to expand or hold conventions in these states. Some are actually looking at relocating from these states.
Nevertheless, some Missouri legislators have vowed to bring this nonsense back in 2017. Some are wailing about the loss of what could have been a nice campaign issue with outstate voters for the GOP this coming fall.
“I am deeply disappointed,” said Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis. “Seven weeks ago, the Missouri Senate stood strong through the longest filibuster in state history and voted 23-7 to advance SJR 39. Today, House members caved to pressure from special interests and killed the religious freedom amendment.”
A Retrograde Legislature
Business in President Coolidge’s era was not interested in any enlightened social policy or arcane subjects such as the environment or medical care. Not so today. There are big exceptions, of course, but more businesses are now interested in environmental stewardship and in health care issues.
One might think the majority party would take a cue from business and work to improve health care in the state. One would be dead wrong.
Every year, 300,000 Missourians are left uninsured because they fall within the Medicaid gap. Legislators refuse to cooperate with Obamacare; refuse to accept federal dollars for medical care; refuse to listen to hospitals, healthcare services and chambers of commerce urging them to act.
This retrograde legislature has a tin ear for a business community that urges them to expand Medicaid and inject $2.3 billion in the state economy. Never mind 24,000 additional jobs that would be created and the improved health of the state’s citizens.
One might also think the majority party would take a cue from business and discuss some legislation to address the state’s environment and its great outdoors. One would be dead wrong.
This retrograde legislature has not only ignored the sustainable practices of environmentally-conscious companies, it has actually considered ways to ban use of the term “sustainability” from any state government entity.
This session, our state legislative majority has discussed ways to weaken air and water pollution rules; at the same time, it has looked for ways to sell public lands previously acquired for use as parks for the people.
So, the bad news here is we have a retrograde legislature. The good news is our business community is increasingly at odds with legislators — and has a more progressive outlook. It’s time Missouri legislators realize their beloved era of Calvin Coolidge is over.
Got the usual share of laudatory and critical comments on this column. Most of the critical comments said I had to name more names of legislators who are responsible for some bone-headed policies and legislative proposals. This is to be expected in an election year, but I want to stay away from campaigning for or against specific politicians. If you care enough about the issues – really care – you should want to do more research to identify who is behind some of our backward, retrograde policies in Missouri.
I suspect businesses today are as interested in the proverbial “bottom line” as ever. Insofar as they have an interest in “enlightened social policy,” it’s because they’ve made a judgment based on what will gain them the most/cost them the least business. They’ve seen the laundry list of concerts and such that North Carolina has lost and “done the math,” so to speak and concluded that fewer potential customers will boycott their business for supporting trans persons than would boycott it for refusing to serve trans persons. I suspect Target’s stance has far less to do with principle as in right conduct than with principal as in capital, in terms of protecting and preserving it.
“Environmental stewardship” and “sustainability” send a message of a concerned, responsible company. Green sells. (“Buy a new Everest SUV and we’ll plant a tree!”) A pet peeve of mine: Visit the supermarket and you’ll see canned pineapple proudly labelled “gluten free.” (Seriously, as if fruit somehow contained gluten.) The fear of “gluten” is widespread even though only 1-10% of people are sensitive to it. Thus, the food industry makes a show of being aware of this perceived problem. “My, isn’t that nice of them? They must really care about us,” say Joe and Jane consumer, rarely realizing what an empty gesture it mainly is. And so, nominally gluten aware products, frequently distinguished solely by their labels, don’t merely sell but sell at premium prices while lesser alternatives sell for less or languish in the clearance aisle. I suspect Calvin Coolidge might approve.