Who knows how quickly Senator Eric Schmitt, R-Kirkwood, cottoned onto the fact that the town hall that Webster University College Republicans had arranged for him had been hijacked by AARP Democrats? Sure, one glance around the room would have revealed four College Republicans and 45 senior citizens. But how soon he realized that most of those seniors were Democrats, I don’t know. What I do know is, he was blithe about it.

He got along famously with everybody, starting with the audience member who wanted to know if his constant questions in the hearing about SB 477 on forming a new Metro transportation district meant he opposed the bill. That bill would allow a transportation district more flexibility in drawing its lines. That way, on the next vote about whether to raise sales taxes to increase its funding, the St. Louis Metro service could exclude the parts of St. Louis County that would be likely to vote against it, thus creating a better chance that the tax would pass. The bill’s proponents are looking for a way to take the areas beyond Highway 270 out of the equation, because they were responsible for voting down the last ballot initiative.

Schmitt averred that it’s “absolutely critical [that St. Louis] have a quality transit system,” but he is concerned about the bill because it offers too much flexibility. He fears that the transit system administrators might be tempted, in hopes of passing the tax, to gerrymander the district so much that it would be a fragmented, balkanized system that would fail to serve some areas that definitely need it.

That issue, like the question of limiting historic preservation tax credits, was one where Schmitt pointed out that state senators are far less likely to vote along party lines than representatives are. Often their votes are predicated more on whether they are from urban or rural areas. Schmitt opposes severely limiting the historic preservation tax credits that have done so much to revitalize the city of St. Louis.

But it was the question about accepting the Missouri Hospital Association’s offer of more Medicaid funds that wooed the audience to his side, even winning him applause. Short version: the Senate had voted to accept the offer, and he was proud to vote for it. Longer version (with applause):

The senator is under the misapprehension that the proposed federal legislation removes that right. It doesn’t. All it does is give employees a choice between signing cards and having a secret ballot. That choice has existed since the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, but it was the employer’s choice. The card check law simply changes who gets to make the decision. To say that unions must always submit to secret elections would, in fact, contravene the NLRA. States do not have the legal right to override federal law.

The other statement Schmitt made that filled the room with comic strip thought balloons was that voter i.d. legislation is not a bad thing. He believes in the “sanctity of the electoral process.” He doesn’t want to see voters disenfranchised, but he also wants to ensure that people only get to vote once. If only the senator could have read those balloons as I could.

What they said was that there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud. If it existed, there’d be some proof. On the other hand, there’s no question that a voter i.d. requirement would disenfranchise about 240,000 Missourians, mostly poor, black, elderly, and female–in other words mostly Democrats. Let’s have a sense of proportion about the scope of these two problems, shall we? About one, there’s little or no proof. About the other, there’s no doubt.

Here’s the thought balloon I imagine over the heads of some Republicans:

You know all those tight elections, those squeakers you managed to pull off? Kiss those victories goodbye in the future, because we’re about to rob you of 240,000 of your voters. If this bill had been law last November, Brad Lager would be the State Treasurer instead of Clint Zweifel and Mike Gibbons would have defeated Chris Koster.

I’m not attributing those cynical motives or thoughts to Senator Schmitt. He struck me as an empathetic person with a sense of fair play–not to mention an unflappable demeanor in a situation that would have daunted some.