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With strong Election Day turnout, Missouri voters yesterday gave the nod to increases in the minimum wage and legalization of medical marijuana, while delivering a rejection to a proposed gas tax increase.
Maura Browning, spokeswoman for the Missouri secretary of state’s office, said voter turnout was 57.9 percent statewide, higher than the 54.7 percent predicted by local election authorities. She said that’s a “relatively good turnout for a midterm election.”
Turnout was higher on a local level, with roughly 71 percent of Greene County voters making a trip to the polls yesterday, according to the unofficial election results from the county clerk.
The staggered increase in Missouri’s minimum wage — with business owners coming down on both sides of the issue before the vote — passed with 62.3 percent of voters in favor.
Proposition B will grow the statewide minimum wage from its current level of $7.85 per hour by 85 cents an hour each year starting Jan. 1, 2019, and continuing until 2023 to reach $12 per hour. After the increase in 2023, the wage would be adjusted annually for inflation, as it is currently.
Missouri Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a coalition of some 700 business owners, applauded the passage in a news release.
“There’s no way you can keep your head above water earning the current minimum wage,” said Riad Matar, owner of the Riad restaurant in Springfield, in the release. “My employees are happy and eager to show up and make decent money. And my business will go up when the minimum wage is raised.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Missouri were among opponents of the measure.
The majority of Missouri voters were not in favor of a gas tax increase meant to shore up funding for the state’s roads and bridges.
Proposition D, which proposed a 10-cent hike, failed with 53.6 percent of voters opposed.
Supported locally by the Springfield chamber, the tax was expected to generate $288 million annually to the state road fund for Missouri law enforcement and $123 million annually to local governments for road construction and maintenance upon full implementation.
“We are disappointed that Proposition D failed, but the people of Missouri have spoken, and we respect that. Our top priorities are safety and taking care of what we have, and that is where we will continue to focus our attention,” Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said in a statement. “We will continue to do the best we can with what we have for as long as we can. Setting priorities among the many equally important transportation projects will be a tough job with limited resources, but we’ll continue to work closely with planning partners, local communities and customers to address Missouri’s most pressing needs.”
The chamber in September hosted a Prop D informational session, when McKenna spoke before an audience of more than 50 businesspeople. He identified MoDOT as the seventh-largest transportation system in the nation, but noted it ranked 46th nationally in revenue per mile.
Missouri voters yesterday had three medical marijuana initiatives to consider, and one of them will become law.
Amendment 2 gained the approval of 65.5 percent of voters, while Amendment 3 failed with with 68.6 percent opposed and Proposition C failed with 56.5 percent against.
The passed amendment imposes a 4 percent retail sales tax on medical marijuana. Seventy-five percent of the revenue will go toward health care services and housing for military veterans through the Missouri Veterans Commission, according to New Approach Missouri, which organized the bill. It also allows the growing of plants at residences.
Amendment 2 is estimated to generate $18 million in taxes and fees for veterans’ programs and $6 million for local governments annually. Operating costs are estimated to be $7 million annually, according to the ballot language.
“In becoming the 31st state to allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients with serious and debilitating illnesses, Missourians showed that increasing health care treatment options for patients and supporting veterans are bipartisan Missouri values,” New Approach Missouri spokesman Jack Cardetti said in a statement.
Amendment 3, backed by Springfield lawyer and surgeon Dr. Brad Bradshaw, intended to legalize medical marijuana by imposing a 15 percent tax rate on sales, along with additional taxes. It would have created an independent research institute to attempt to develop cures for cancer, giving Bradshaw the role of interim coordinator who would select the founding board members.
A spokesman for Bradshaw did not provide a statement by deadline.
Prop C, backed by Missourians for Patient Care, would have imposed a 2 percent retail sales tax on medical marijuana to fund veterans’ services, drug treatment, early childhood education and public safety in cities with a medical marijuana facility, according to past SBJ reporting.
Arguably the most impactful candidate change came yesterday when Republican Josh Hawley defeated veteran incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri.
Hawley narrowly got the win with 51.4 percent of the votes. McCaskill trailed with 45.5 percent approval, according to the unofficial results with the Missouri secretary of state.
Backed by President Donald Trump, Hawley in September held a rally at JQH Arena in which the commander and chief visited to endorse him.
Hawley held a watch party at University Plaza in Springfield, where he delivered his victory speech.
“This election has been about our way of life. It’s been about the Heartland way of life. This was about defending our way of life, it was about renewing it,” he said.
Also on the federal level, Rep. Billy Long, R-Missouri, earned 66.3 percent of the vote to keep his seat, defeating Democratic challenger Jamie Schoolcraft.
Locally, Republican Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, won the race to become Greene County’s next presiding commissioner. He got 59 percent of the votes to defeat Democrat Sara Lampe, a former state representative, according to Greene County’s unofficial elections results.
Southwest Missouri candidates who earned or retained state seats include:
• Republican Rep. Sonya Anderson, who beat Democrat Nate Branscom;
• Republican John Black, who won against Democrat Raymond Lampert for District 137, replacing termed-out Republican Rep. Lyndall Fraker;
• incumbent Republican Sen. Eric Burlison, the speaker of the House, who beat Democrat Jim Billedo;
• Republican Craig Fishel, who defeated Democrat Jeff Munzinger to become state representative for the 136th District;
• incumbent Republican Rep. Elijah Haahr, who defeated Democrat Derrick Nowlin for District 134;
• Republican Lincoln Hough for the 30th District Senate seat, who won against Democrat Charlie Norr;
• District 135 Rep. Steve Helms, a Republican who won against Democrat Rob Bailey;
• Republican Jeff Messenger, who defeated Democrat Tyler Gunlock for the 130th District representative seat;
• incumbent Democrat Crystal Quade, who beat Republican Sarah Semple for the District 132 seat; and
• Republican Rep. Curtis Trent, who won over Democrat Cindy Slimp for the 133rd District spot.
Missourians also chose to retain Democrat Nicole Galloway as state auditor. She won 50.4 percent of the vote, beating Republican Saundra McDowell.
Purple Panda Filipino Food expanded; T-Mobile made its Ozark debut; and the first Queen City branch for Poplar Bluff-based First Midwest Bank opened.