Commentary: Todd Akin is the face of Missouri politics

The Kansas City StarAugust 27, 2012 

SHELLY BARBARA KC

Barbara Shelly is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

MBR — Kansas City Star/MCT

Now that U.S. Rep. Todd Akin has brought a spotlight to Missouri by spouting off about “legitimate rape,” here are some other fun things to know about the Show-Me State.

• It was the first state to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage, in 2004. The spokeswoman for that effort, Vicky Hartzler, is now finishing up her first term as a Republican member of the U.S. Congress.

• Scientists in Missouri had to seek a statewide vote in 2006 to guarantee their right to perform medical research that is legal under federal law. It passed, but just barely.

• Always the trendsetter, Missouri was the first state to pass a “Health Care Freedom Act,” in 2010. Basically, it says Missourians cannot be forced to purchase health insurance, never mind that U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

• The just-retired speaker of the Missouri House, Republican Steve Tilley, locked the public out of the House chambers in order to induct radio loudmouth Rush Limbaugh into the Missouri Hall of Fame in a private ceremony. The man in line to succeed Tilley as speaker, Tim Jones, signed on as a party to the original “birther” lawsuit brought against President Barack Obama by Orly Taitz.

• The Republican nominee for Missouri attorney general, Ed Martin, is a darling of the “tenther” movement, which proclaims that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution empowers states to nullify federal laws. In fact, the Missouri legislature, with its big Republican majority, frequently passes resolutions defying Congress and the federal government.

Missouri Republicans, aghast at the idea of Democrat Claire McCaskill winning a second term in the Senate, are now treating Akin like a pariah.

In truth, he is their native son, nurtured in the bosom of a party that tolerates wackiness and outright ignorance as long as one is sufficiently pro-life, anti-tax and suspicious of Washington.

No party or legislative leader publicly rebuked Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf during the last legislative session when he justified his opposition to Missouri’s participation in a government database to track prescription drug purchases by remarking that if addicts “overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool.”

(Another fun fact: Missouri is the only state not to participate in the database, intended to stop “doctor shopping” so people can support their addictions or sell prescription drugs on the black market.)

Akin, the man who has come to personify the nuttiness of Missouri Republicanism, spent the 1990s representing a conservative swath of the St. Louis suburbs in the Missouri House. He vigorously opposed gambling and abortion and supported concealed carry of handguns. He was known to say strange things.

Kevin Horrigan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week wrote about Akin’s ascendance to Congress:

“In 2000, when Republican Jim Talent decided to run for governor, people giggled when Akin filed for Talent’s 2nd Congressional District seat. Four other Republicans wanted it, none of them wacky.

“Then it rained. Some of Todd’s supporters saw the hand of God at work.”

Only 17 percent of voters braved the downpour on Aug. 8, 2000. Assisted by a healthy turnout from the home school community, Akin bested his closest competitor by 56 votes.

The rest is history.

While the two candidates thought to be front-runners in this year’s GOP Senate primary argued about important matters such as whether one of them had sent a donation to a farm animal rights group, Akin quietly hovered within striking distance.

Only the McCaskill campaign saw fit to tell voters that Akin was “too conservative.” Why, he even called Obama “a complete menace to our civilization,” her ad pointed out.

To the die-hards who vote in the Republican primary, that was as attractive as a two-for-one prime rib special. Akin beat his closest contender by more than 37,000 votes.

Now that Akin has been deemed unelectable, Republicans want a do-over. The errant candidate will face relentless pressure to take himself off the ballot.

But Todd Akin is the legitimate face of the Missouri Republican Party. What’s really needed is a makeover.

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