Last Friday the St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured an interesting editorial about creating one administrative entity out of St. Louis city and St. Louis County. It was reasonable and well-thought out, and I’ve got no problem with its content or its intent. I’ve long thought that a city/county merger could solve lots of problems.
The writer, however, made some points that are not only interesting, but which open a whole other can of worms. First, he identified the members of the “stealth” coalition behind a potential merger:
Among the players are people close to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley; retired financier and political donor Rex Sinquefield; representatives of the business leaders’ organization Civic Progress and key labor unions.
This is why Mr. Sinquefield is so deeply invested in the futures of both Mssrs. Slay and Dooley. It’s why Mr. Slay is raising money for Mr. Dooley, even as the latter struggles under the cloud of an FBI investigation into a botched contract for a crime lab. It’s why no serious Republican is lining up to run against Mr. Dooley.
And later, the editorialist describes the goals of some supporters of the merger:
Mr. Sinquefield is said to like the tax savings that merger/consolidation/metro government might bring, as well the possibility it might offer for eliminating city earnings tax. The corporate community likes the economic development advantages of combined government. Mr. Slay likes it for all sorts of reasons, including the way it would dilute the city’s crime statistics.
I’m sure that Slay has genuine reasons to support the merger, but I’m also sure that he likes the idea because it likely comes attached to big checks from Rex Sinquefield. Same goes for Charlie Dooly.
Although the author notes that Sinquefield is a “polarizing figure,” whose participation in the merger effort, if acknowledged, could create problems, he takes it for granted that at last something might get done because some very rich folks are behind a merger and are willing to buy the right politicians to do the heavy lifting, in this case Mayor Slay and Charlie Dooly.
Bear in mind that although a merger is arguably a very good idea, nobody has been able to overcome the objections of those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo – and the editorial points out that efforts to do so started in the 1920s. Maybe now, though, when enough wealthy and, hence, powerful individuals see their interests in conflict with that status quo, we might see some movement.
And guess what? When I read the editorial, I too took it for granted that this is the way politics works. And I suspect that it’s not just because this is Missouri where big bucks can buy just about anything in the political sphere. It may have something to do with what some have described as a national slide into plutocracy.
While it is true that money not only talks, but has always been a very persuasive conversationalist, even dominating the conversation at times – consider the “gilded age,” for instance, where the adjective certainly didn’t refer to aesthetics – surely we’ve learned something over the years. But maybe not. Just stop and count the number of political outcomes that Rex Sinquefield is trying to buy in Missouri and the way that nobody even raises an eyebrow when the topic is raised. It doesn’t matter if the goal is one that is good or bad. Our political process ought to be better than this.