JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – Fresh off of their tax cut victory during the legislative session, ballot initiatives have been highlighted as priorities for Grow Missouri after the receipt of a $1.5 million contribution from philanthropist Rex Sinquefield. The organization touts their planning and execution abilities as responsible for their past success this last session.
“In my experience, achieving substantive policy changes are difficult because they involve a process of educating people on an issue and then challenging the status quo,” Aaron Willard, treasurer of Grow Missouri, said. “I am also a big believer in creating coalitions and having a plan. I think the recent success we had on SB509 was a perfect example of that, there were a lot of groups involved from all perspectives and we were able to focus our efforts and work together to make a big change.”
“I think having a plan and executing it effectively is essential to success in the legislative process,” Missouri House Floor Leader, Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, said. “Our Republican caucus has enjoyed a very good relationship with Aaron Willard and Grow Missouri since the coalition’s inception last year and I am enthusiastic about partnering with them to develop a strategic plan to advance some of our core principles.”
‘Right to Farm’ and ‘Teach Great’ are ballot initiatives that the organization has highlighted as priorities this year.
The Farming Rights Amendment will ask voters this fall, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”
“Agriculture is our state’s largest industry and critical to our success,” Willard said. “Don’t forget farmers are also small business owners, so issues important to agriculture are also important to business. Even outside of row crop and livestock operations in outstate Missouri, we have a lot of bioscience companies that are national leaders in research and innovation, so supporting agriculture is important on a lot of levels.”
‘Teach Great’ seeks to “update and modernize educator evaluations, tenure, and seniority-based layoffs,” according to the group behind collecting the petitions for the ballot initiative. The Teach Great coalition filed over 275,000 signatures with the Secretary of State’s office on March 15 – submitting over 100,000 more than needed to get the issue on the ballot.
“Education is something that is also important for long-term success in our state,” Willard said. “I have been involved in state government for a number of years and there has always been this push that more money will create better solutions, but that simply isn’t the case. We need to make sure that accompanying the financial commitment to education are also accountability measures and opportunities for parents to make the best possible decisions regarding their child’s education.”
In addition to the ballot initiatives, the organization is concerned with the state spending.
“One of the things I think we really need to take a very close look at is areas of waste in state spending,” Willard said. “Our state budget is now over $25 billion, which is a lot of money and consequently very hard to track, but we need to make sure that we are getting the most out of those expenditures on behalf of taxpayers.”
Willard is critical specifically of Governor Nixon’s expenditures.
“Take a look at the recent Auditor’s report on Gov. Nixon’s administration and how much money he is spending that he then forces other state departments to pick up the tab on, it adds up to millions of dollars and ridiculous – Missourians expect better stewardship than that,” Willard said.
“In the future, I think we want to be more proactive in approaching other issues the same way and I look forward to continuing our work with a lot of these groups and House and Senate leadership to identify issues, develop a plan, and then effectively communicate why we believe these ideas are going to have a positive impact for Missouri,” Willard said.
Going forward, Grow Missouri’s plan is to continue to focus on issues and candidates who support pro-growth and limited government policies. Willard says the organization has not ruled out the possibility of engaging in elections.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.