As Missouri’s Republican lawmakers gather again at the capitol in Jefferson City, it’s likely they’ll have the votes they need to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s early summer veto of a right-to-work bill.
But if they lose, some observers say, they may win even bigger – in the state’s 2016 gubernatorial race, even though Nixon won’t be on the ballot.
“This is where party labels matter,” Marvin Overby, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri, told Watchdog. “This is an issue that Democrats have opposed nearly unanimously, and it was vetoed by a Democratic governor.”
The right-to-work bill means unions cannot force workers to pay dues as a condition of employment, leaving workers the choice whether to join the union. Polls show that’s popular with Missouri voters.
The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature but vetoed by Nixon in June. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both the state House and state Senate, but it remains unclear if they will attempt to override the veto when the legislature reconvenes next week.
Democrats oppose right-to-work in Missouri, and elsewhere, because labor unions worry that it would cut off their stream of revenue. Losing cash means losing political influence.
Those labor unions, in turn, give overwhelmingly to Democratic candidates.
Relying on union support might not be a successful strategy for Missouri Democrats, who are already hopelessly outnumbered in the legislature after large Republican gains over the past decade.
Union membership in Missouri has been declining for decades. Today, fewer than one in every 11 workers in the state is a union member (in the private sector the ratio is even lower, but overall unionization is buoyed by high rates of public sector membership).
Still, they’re sticking with their old allies. The only declared Democratic candidate in the 2016 field is current state attorney general Chris Koster, who opposes right-to-work.
“Simply put, right-to-work is about lowering wages in the construction industry, and it’s part of a long-term effort to reduce wages generally across our economy,” Koster said in a statement after the bill passed the Missouri House in May.
Koster is, unsurprisingly, following the union talking points here. Studies have shown that workers in right-to-work states actually make higher net wages because they don’t have to pay union dues.
“It is time that we make Missouri a right-to-work state to attract business expansions and relocations to Missouri,” says former state Rep. Randy Asbury on his campaign website. He points to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that right-to-work states grew twice as fast between 1990 and 2014 than states that lacked right-to-work laws.
State Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, another of the declared candidates, voted in favor of the bill that Nixon eventually vetoed. Catherine Hanaway, a former speaker of the Missouri House, says she would sign the right-to-work bill if she was governor.
Peter Kinder is perhaps the most interesting candidate of the bunch. He’s the current lieutenant governor of Missouri (the state elects governors and lieutenant governors on separate ballots, creating the awkward possibility of having two top executives from different parties), and he hasn’t been shy about challenging his boss over the right-to-work bill.
“I believe Right to Work will help Missouri attract and retain the family-supporting jobs we need for our state to thrive,” Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said in a statement. “We are at an economic disadvantage because, unlike six of our neighboring states, we do not have a Right to Work law.”
Kinder also urged Nixon to return the UAW donation.
Looking at the field of possible 2016 gubernatorial candidates, it’s obvious that unless the right-to-work issue is settled in the coming weeks during the Legislature’s veto session, it will be front and center next year.
In other words: If Republicans don’t win the legislative fight, they’ll have more ammo for the political one.
“Politically, it’s not terrible for them to lose the override fight,” Overby said.
Correction: This story was updated to correct the size of the donation from the United Auto Workers to Gov. Jay Nixon. It was a $50,000 donation.