As Democrats in Washington began their drive toward national health care last year, Jane Cunningham, a state senator from St. Louis County, could tell that something was stirring in Missouri.
“I started getting phone calls from constituents that were more concerned than I had ever heard before in my entire decade in the legislature,” Cunningham said in a Tuesday phone interview with TAS. “They were frightened and they were angry and they wanted us to find some kind of relief for them from what the federal government was proposing.”
In response, she got together with other state legislators, and, borrowing language from the American Legislative Exchange Council, sponsored a bill to put a health care ballot measure before voters.
Yesterday, by an overwhelming 71 percent to 29 percent margin, voters in the bellwether state approved the resulting initiative known as Proposition C, which is aimed at protecting Missouri residents from the mandate that will force individuals to purchase health insurance policies approved by the government, or pay a penalty.
“Missouri is the first public referendum on ObamaCare in the nation,” Cunningham said, noting that efforts to shield residents from the affects of ObamaCare are underway — at various stages — in 42 states. Oklahoma and Arizona have similar initiatives on their ballots in November.
Skeptics of these initiatives say that they lack real teeth, because ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will have to determine whether the federal government has the right under the Constitution to dictate to individuals that they must buy a product.
On Monday, a federal judge ruled that a Virginia-based lawsuit against the mandate should move forward, rejecting an attempt by the federal government to have the case thrown out on procedural grounds. Without addressing the merits of the underlying arguments about the constitutionality of the mandate, the judge concluded that it represented a novel use of the Commerce Clause that no court has yet ruled on.
Cunningham dismissed those who tried to down play the significance of the vote.
“We feel in Missouri like we are fighting for citizens all around the country that feel like we must draw a line in the sand between what are state and individual rights, and what are federal rights and responsibilities,” she said.
Yesterday’s vote was a direct result of citizens demanding their lawmakers take action, and then implementing a campaign for the measure once the legislature approved putting it on the ballot, she said. Cunningham recounted that grassroots organizations had held five rallies at the capitol, gathered on street corners, marched in parades, and called radio shows.
One of those citizen activists was Annette Read, a stay at home mom from the St. Louis area who used to spend her time designing jewelry and selling items online. She told TAS that she hadn’t been politically involved until 2008, when she and her twin sister were so fed up with excessive government spending that they decided to do something about it.
They began to organize and started attending Tea Parties last year, and things really took off when Read put her information on the website of Glenn Beck’s 9/11 Project as a local contact. “We were found by a lot of people, this happened all on its own,” she said.
The organization that they formed last year, I Heard the People Say, now claims 3,000 members in their database, and has its own website.
“When we started gaining membership, the feedback was overwhelming that people were most concerned about what was happening with the potential health care changes,” she said.
Last August, she met with Cunningham and several other state lawmakers to talk about the Health Care Freedom Act, and joined the campaign to win passage through the legislature, and then to win approval by voters. A lot of the work has consisted of raising public awareness, an effort that included having volunteers send out mailings from their own houses.
“You wouldn’t want to come over right now,” she said, laughing at all the Prop C-related materials in her home.
Patrick Tuohey, who worked for pollster Frank Luntz in the 1990s before moving into the corporate world, became active in Missouri politics when he returned to the Kansas City area in 2005. About two months ago, once Proposition C was on the ballot, Tuohey became manager of Missourians for Health Care Freedom, which was hastily formed to raise money and help lead the statewide campaign. Most of his time, he told TAS, was spent helping grassroots activists and providing them with materials such as yard signs. Though starting last Monday, the group began taking out radio ads.
Supporters of ObamaCare have been dismissive of the vote in Missouri, arguing that it occurred during low-turnout primaries, and on a day in which the Republican races garnered more attention.
“The assumption that those critics would make is that this would not have passed on a November ballot,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s true. I think this would pass in Missouri whenever we put it on the ballot.”
As evidence, he noted that originally the measure was intended to be on the general election ballot in November, but Democrats fought it, fearing that it would help boost turnout among conservatives.
Last August, when citizens lashed out at their representatives in town hall meetings throughout the nation, Democrats wrote them off as angry mobs sent by insurance companies. When Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the nation, elected Scott Brown in January on a pledge to be the 41st vote against the health care bill, the Congressional leadership used a series of complicated parliamentary maneuvers to ram the legislation through anyway, convincing themselves that it would become popular over time.
Though Democrats may be tempted to dismiss last night’s result in Missouri, history has proven that they’ve ignored public opposition to national health care legislation at their own peril.