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Missouri House chamber

A view of the House chambers in the Missouri State Capitol building taken from the press gallery on Monday, June 11, 2018, at the capitol building in Jefferson City. Gov. Parson is scheduled to give a joint address in the chambers Monday evening. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

The Democratic Party, for all intents and purposes, is now dead in Missouri. The party of Harry Truman has lost its last senator from the state for perhaps a generation. While the rest of the nation was turning left, Missouri continued on its journey rightward, holding onto commanding leads in both houses of the Legislature in Jefferson City. Rural counties voted more for Republicans this year than ever before, in some cases casting 70 percent to 80 percent of their votes for the party.

I can recall, in the not too distant past, when nine of Missouri’s 10 U.S. representatives were Democrats, along with the governor, Legislature and most statewide offices. Bill Clinton carried the state twice. Democrats in Missouri are now so far out of power that they remain mostly irrelevant in the state. How did this happen?

For the answer, we need only look south of us to the state of Arkansas, which went through a similar transition just 10 years ago. Arkansas gave us Bill Clinton, Dale Bumpers, William Fulbright and a host of Democrats who shaped the country. Now the Arkansas Democratic Party is even more irrelevant than ours. Arkansas was the next in a line of Southern states, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, where the white middle class left the Democratic Party and became Republicans.

As the Democratic Party has been seen more and more to be the home of people of color, LGBTQ communities and non-Christians, the white middle class in these states has raced into the embrace of the Republicans, with whom they share cultural, but not political values. Missouri is just the last in the line for this total transition.

The Republican Party, for all intents and purposes, is also now dead in Missouri. The party of Jack Danforth, Kit Bond and Gene McNary has been taken over by Fox News. The Zombie Republican Party, which now runs things, pays lip service to the Constitution and common values, but has embraced an extreme agenda that, ironically, most Missourians oppose.

No one seems to be able to explain how the state that voted overwhelmingly against “right to work” and for minimum wage increases can give total control to a party that opposes them. Poll after poll shows that Missourians want affordable health care that covers pre-existing conditions, yet they just elected a senator who sued to stop exactly that. Most Missourians think that the richest taxpayers don’t pay their fair share, yet they put in Washington a group that gave the richest 1 percent the bulk of all the tax cuts this year.

The answer to this dilemma is to start a third party, the Show-Me Party, for only elections within the state of Missouri. With the Democratic Party dead in much of the state, and the Zombie Republican Party at the mercy of the winners of primary elections where only the most extreme can win, the time has never been riper for a new party to emerge.

Democrats in Missouri need to disband and re-brand themselves as Show-Mes. They can’t do much worse than they already have. Hopefully they will be joined by what’s left of the moderate wing of the Republican Party and go on to win some elections. Most of the principles that moderate Democrats believe in are shared by Missourians even in the reddest corners of the state.

What we have here is a branding problem that the Zombies have abused to pull the wool over the state to get folks to vote against their own interests. It’s as if the Cubs management had magically convinced most Cardinals fans to stop supporting their team because they had the “wrong” people playing for them.

Take away the identity politics, gun debates, racial and gender aspects (seems a tall order, I know), and there is a large consensus in the middle for Missouri to move forward instead of backward like their neighbors to the south.

Both Vermont and Maine just elected senators from outside the two-party system, and Missouri is capable of overcoming its deep divisions to do the same. But with Zombie Republicans in power, we’re now heading backward while the rest of the world passes us by. Facts, science, health care, deficits, roads, schools — they all matter. It’s about time Missouri had leaders that recognized reality over cable news fantasies. Show Me!

Dan Connors resides in St. Louis County.

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