Tuesday the Ferguson Commission, a body convened by Governor Jay Nixon in response to the protests engendered by the police shooting of teenager Michael Brown, released its report. The priorities identified by the Commission have been admirably summarized by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The Commisson expects to continue meeting to move these priorities forward.
That the Commission will stay involved now that their report has been tendered is good news. Especially since the question that seems to be on every commentator’s mind is whether or not there is any chance that the report will really result in significant action. I have to say that to my mind the list of “accountable bodies” that the Commission members identified for each priority augers poorly for the possibility of real change.
For many of the nineteen points summarized by the Post-Dispatch, several accountable bodies are named. I can only wonder just how these bodies are going to respond to often very specific goals that seem to be based on underlying assumptions that I’m not sure are universally shared. Actually, I wonder just how many of these bodies, even if they agreed with the underpinnings of the report, will manage to coordinate effectively. I haven’t seen too much during the thirteen years that I have lived in this area that encourages optimism. Many of the accountable bodies listed have shown themselves in the past to be especially wedded to the status quo, others are notoriously contentious. Some, especially state agencies, are already underfunded and may resent new or reformulated tasks.
The real bugaboo, though, lies in the fact that for ten of the priorities listed in the Post-Dispatch, the state legislature is among the accountable bodies. In the case of expanding Medicaid, the lege is the sole accountable body. Now I ask you, do you see the GOP-dominated legislature doing anything about Medicaid expansion anytime soon?
If we concede that that goal is unlikely in the immediate future, how eager do you think our GOP lawmakers will be to end predatory lending by that ever-ready source of campaign cash, the pay-day loan industry? Or do you think that folks who currently won’t fund schools adequately will see their way clear to establishing universal prekindergarten for children 3-4 years old? I thought not. And what’s worse is that I would probably get the same answer for most action points if I worked my way through the whole list.
Let me ask another, related question: do you see the make-up of the Republican legislature changing anytime soon? I agree that anything is possible, but possible doesn’t really speak to probable, and probability says we’ll be saddled with the Mean Party in control in Jefferson City for a considerable while yet. So are we talking pie in the sky when we praise the report?
Will the Commission be satisfied with a few successes? Will making just a few of the changes suggested in the report really make a difference? The virtue of the Commission’s report, after all, is that it views the situation that erupted after Michael Brown’s death in broadly systematic terms and, although it articulates laudably specific goals, it does so within an equally systematic framework.
I’m feeling pessimistic, but I’m willing to wait and see what the Commission members propose to do to hold those accountable bodies accountable. I’m also waiting to see how a polarized, and to my mind, deeply racist region supports their efforts. But no matter what happens, I have to admit, that despite my misgivings and my earlier admonition that the Commission go small, the St. Louis region is better off because the Commission has unequivocally, officially identified some of the stress points that have weakened our community as well as offering potential solutions. It only remains to see if we can find the will to support real change,even if it hurts.