Commentary

Five takeaways from Missouri election night 2022

November 9, 2022 10:21 am

Tuesday, the last statewide office held by Democrats — state auditor — flipped to the GOP. And it was never close (SDI Productions/Getty Images).

Missouri’s midterm election largely went according to script. 

Every congressional race was won by the party that previously controlled it. Republicans now hold all statewide offices. Democrats took advantage of a new legislative map to pick up a few seats in the state House.

But a lack of surprises doesn’t mean it was an inconsequential Election Night. 

Here are five takeaways from the 2022 election.

1. Missouri is a red state

It’s easy to forget that just 10 years ago, Missouri Democrats won tough races for U.S. Senate, governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. 

Tuesday, the last statewide office held by Democrats — state auditor — flipped to the GOP. And it was never close. 

Neither was the race for U.S. Senate, where Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine poured millions of dollars of her own money into a race she lost to Republican Eric Schmitt by 13 percentage points. 

Add to that the fact that even with Democrats picking up seats in the House (more on that later), Republicans still hold super majorities in both legislative chambers. 

In just two years, Missouri voters will likely choose a new governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state. Also on the ballot that year could be an attorney general and state treasurer who were appointed to the offices, not elected. 

On paper, 2024 looks like an opportunity for Democrats. But the party’s bench of talent has been massively depleted by a decade of losses, and the state seems to turn a deeper and deeper shade of red every year.

2. A target on the initiative petition process

Republicans have for years been eyeing changes aimed at making Missouri’s initiative petition process harder and more expensive. But the plan never seems to get off the ground. 

The results of Tuesday’s elections — in Missouri and around the country — will likely mean that push picks up steam in 2023.

Abortion rights won huge victories on the ballot in California, Kentucky, Michigan , Montana and Vermont , just months after Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution. 

Missouri bans virtually all abortions, and the prospect of the issue making its way to the statewide ballot may be enough to move Republicans who have been skeptical about tinkering with the initiative petition process. 

And with marijuana legalization winning Tuesday night, a huge potential opponent to changing the process — the deep pockets of the Missouri marijuana industry — was taken off the table.

Incoming House Speaker Dean Plocher has listed initiative reform among his top priorities. In 2023, he could finally get his wish.

3. New map boosts Dems

It was a rough night for Missouri Democrats, but it wasn’t completely without success.

Missouri House districts became more competitive this year under a map drawn by a bipartisan commission, giving Democrats the ability to shave three seats off the Republican’s majority. 

In Springfield, Democrats knocked off an incumbent Republican and expanded its margin in a seat it barely flipped in 2020. There are also new Democratic state representatives in the Kansas City suburbs, and Democrats won four of five seats in Boone County.  

Democrats also managed to stave off a tough and well-funded GOP challenger in a St. Louis County state Senate race.

The GOP still has a stranglehold on legislative power. But on a night that was predicted to be a “red wave” across the country, Missouri House Democrats can at least rejoice that for the first time in years they managed to pick up some ground in the legislature. 

4. Money talks

The coalition of groups and individuals who were hoping to defeat a marijuana legalization amendment on Tuesday’s ballot was as diverse as it gets. 

Police groups and civil rights advocates. Legalization zealots and staunch prohibitionists. Urban and rural. 

In the campaign’s closing weeks, it seemed like momentum was working marijuana legalization. But in the end, the barely-funded opposition couldn’t compete with $8 million in pro-Amendment 3 spending. 

And while Schmitt cruised to an easy victory Tuesday night, he may have never made it out of the bruising August GOP primary if not for millions of dollars in spending by outside groups who hammered his rivals and helped bankroll a get-out-the-vote effort

The notable exception to the rule was Valentine, who spent big down the campaign’s homestretch but still couldn’t overcome the GOP’s advantage in Missouri.

5. Legislative leadership races

Missouri House and Senate Republicans will gather to select new leadership this week. 

In the House, Rep. Dean Plocher is not facing any challenge and will become the next speaker. 

But GOP Reps. Michael Haffner of Pleasant Hill and Jonathan Patterson of Lee’s Summit will face off for the title of majority floor leader, the second-highest ranking position in the chamber. 

In the Senate, which has been bedeviled with GOP infighting for the last two years, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden of Columbia is the favorite to capture the chamber’s top job — president pro tem. 

But he is expected to face a challenge from a member of the now-disbanded conservative caucus, Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester. 

The majority leader race in the Senate will come down to a choice between Sens. Mike Bernskoetter of Jefferson City and Cindy O’Laughlin of Shelbina.

How Tuesday’s results could affect the outcome of these races is not clear. 

Freshmen representatives and senators could tip the scales one way or the other, and losses by the GOP in a St. Louis County Senate race and in a smattering of House races could upend alliances and shake up the leadership contests.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.

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