When good ideas go bad: The sunshine law and Rams negotiations
As anyone who’s been to divorce court can attest, something that once seemed like a good idea can come to a bad end. Dreams have an unfortunate habit of morphing into nightmares.
Missouri, for instance, used to be considered a political bellwether for the nation as a whole. With the exception of 1956, the state went with the winner in every 20th century presidential election.
Being America’s barometer brought the state into the spotlight each election cycle. Candidates visited often, hotly contesting the coveted prize of the Show-Me electoral vote.
Alas, as negative advertising came into vogue and campaigns raised successively larger budgets to purchase such ads, the public airways devolved into noxious swamps during election years. You’d tune in to the evening news as an interested citizen curious to see what was going on in your country and tune out vowing to relocate to New Zealand.
Mercifully, the state’s demographics no longer mirror the national population. We now have an over representation of evangelical Christians and an under representation of Hispanics. That shift has moved the state reliably into the red column, diverting national interest elsewhere.
There is an upside to our fall from prominence as neither campaign figures to spend much money here in the coming months. That means you should be able to watch a televised football game next October without being tempted to renounce your citizenship over the experience. Politics routinely yields unanticipated results.
Several years ago, Missourians adopted term limits for their state legislators. Unwilling to trust themselves to vote an unsatisfactory incumbent from office, the electorate decided to throw the bums out — regardless of whether or not a given bum’s constituents were satisfied with his or her performance. The idea was to promote open government by eliminating the influence of the old pros in proverbial smoke-filled rooms.
The result of this noble experiment was the rule by amateur under which we currently labor. By the time a representative or senator now figures out how the system works, he or she is retired by statute. Institutional memory in Jefferson City is thus vested in lobbyists — the old pros who don’t have to stand for election and are answerable to no one but the special interest groups who sign their checks.
Because these lobbyists have deep pockets and know what’s going on, they generally find their term-limited protégés to be easy prey. On the brighter side, several of our legislators have gained transient fame on the late-night talk show circuit for the goofy bills they have subsequently sponsored. Missouri is now widely recognized, for instance, as the only state in the union that considers gun owners to be members of a persecuted minority.
Another favorite virtue of good-government enthusiasts is transparency. This theory contends that as long as you can see through it, it’s good — which might explain both men’s preferences in negligee and the governor’s tendency to emulate the Invisible Man.
The Sunshine Law was passed on behalf of transparency. It was designed to compel governmental agencies and tax-supported institutions to afford the general public an unobstructed view of their daily operations. Unfortunately, it turns out that sausage-making and politics are sometimes best conducted in private.
The Convention & Visitors Commission is in negotiations with the (for-now) St. Louis Rams over how to bring the Edward Jones Dome into the top tier of NFL stadia. Although the proceedings have barely begun — so far, each side has merely made an initial offer — things are not going well. That’s because what were supposed to be private discussions have been made public.
Responding to a Sunshine Law request, the state attorney general released the team’s plan for renovation. That proposal may be charitably characterized as “ambitious” and local media sorts are now waving the bloody shirt on behalf of beleaguered taxpayers who, as of this writing, haven’t been asked to contribute 10 cents to the project.
They’ve also managed to portray team owner Stan Kroenke as a sinister billionaire with a hidden agenda, without bothering to mention that he’s also the guy who made it possible for the franchise to move here in the first place. No Kroenke; no Rams.
With Los Angeles beckoning, the team would seem to hold the stronger hand at the bargaining table. Then again, the City of Angels has been without an NFL team for 18 years and nobody’s yet gotten around to building a stadium there to lure one back.
With the state of California staggering under huge budget deficits, Gov. Jerry Brown is promising steep tax increases and severe cuts to social services. Public financing thus does not appear to be an option. And private investors are unlikely to spend a billion+ of there own money to offer a sweetheart deal to somebody else’s team.
None of which is to say that the team may not return to LA. The point is that there are legitimate reasons Kroenke may want to keep it here. Sensible, candid dialog could still result in some sort of mutual accommodation.
Alternatively, we can allow hysterical demagogues to unilaterally run the Rams out of town. After they’re gone, the rest of us can get about the business of paying off the $720 million we borrowed to build a vacant dome.
Why would we erect a stadium if we weren’t serious about keeping a team in it? Well, I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time