When you think of Missouri politics in terms of our state’s diverse system of roads and highways, we essentially have two political parties: the Interstate 70 Society and the Dirt Road Gang.
The members of the I-70 Society are the self-anointed “enlightened ones”. Those “we-know-better-than-you liberals” with their haughty notions of a nanny state. They used to win elections along all of the Interstates in Missouri but they’ve become so out of stride that they can only get elected in big cities along I-70 these days.
Then we have the other extreme represented by the Dirt Road Gang (if that name summons up images of black helicopter conspiracy theorists, you’re picturing the right folks). This is the new Missouri Republican party. A party that’s ideas are only popular in the most remote, back-water hollers of our state; the places you can only get to on dirt roads. Despite all my grousing about how liberal and out of touch my party is, this bunch of Republicans are so far off the main roads ideologically, that it takes them a day’s drive just to get back to paved streets.
Luckily for the Dirt Road Gang, the only people that seem to be voting in Missouri legislative elections nowadays hail from those far flung places where far flung thinking is warmly embraced. If this crew got its way, every road in Missouri would be a dirt road and we’d legislate “guvment” right out of existence.
For much of this state’s history, the Democratic party was dominated by what I’ll call “Route 66 Politicians”. Oh those were the days…massive Democratic majorities in the state legislature fueled by the strength of candidates with the sort of moderate, mass appeal that it takes to get elected in the communities that cluster around that renowned highway made famous in song and story by the likes of Jack Kerouac, Martin Milner and Bobby Troup.
At the statewide level, the Missouri Democratic Party is still characterized by Route 66 Politics. To be certain, Governor Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster fit squarely into this mold and nab truckloads of votes in towns along Route 66 and other places like those communities. Even Claire McCaskill, Clint Zweifel and Jason Kander, who are all to the left-of-center on the social wedge issues, have prevailed in their elections by pointing out how far off the beaten path their opponents have been on the issues that voters care the most about, like education funding, job creation and the integrity of Social Security and Medicare.
For me and the other handful of Route 66 politicians left in the Missouri Legislature, Jefferson City is a lonely, lonely place. We number less than two dozen today. That number even counts the stray mainstream Republican or two that have been able to survive the chip-and-seal resurfacing that their party has gone through in the last few election cycles―an anti-renaissance that has swept moderate Republicans into the ditches and culverts of Missouri politics. A middle-of-the-road Republican like John Danforth would get flattened like a three-legged possum crossing a busy thoroughfare if he tried to win a Republican primary in Missouri today.
To extend the metaphor, moderate Democrats have suffered a similar fate. We’ve been left standing on the shoulders of the liberal superhighway as we watch our party speed, pedal-to-the-metal, to its own demise.
If the Missouri Democratic Party is to have a future, the guys who are driving the bus in legislative races are going to have to scoot over and let us “Route Sixty-Sixers” drive. For a party whose legislative leaders have so isolated themselves from anyone outside the I-70 corridor in the last decade, the only way back to a legislative majority is to “get their kicks on Route 66.” Otherwise, this party is going to continue to get its keester kicked on every dusty stretch of the highways and byways that criss-cross this great state.