The motto of the state of Missouri, “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto,” translates from Latin as “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.”
It appears, carved in stone, above the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the south entrance of the State Capitol. The scroll upon which two bears stand on the Great Seal of Missouri includes these words.
With the 2019 session of the Missouri General Assembly just completed on Friday, the motto could reasonably be changed. It should read: “Just Trust Us.”
If the last four-and-a-half months in Jefferson City had a theme, those three words would encapsulate it.
“Trust” doesn’t seem a word that would play well in modern governance.
The country finds itself in partisan straits of the most extreme sort. Trust might be the last thing to rear its head in legislative give-and-take and public consumption of such.
One of the successes touted from the legislative session involved a program of workforce development and incentives offered to a Fortune 500 company for bestowing continued blessings on this state.
Please don’t read that as mocking, since the courtship of large corporations – General Motors has flirted with adding $1 billion in additional investment at a car plant near St. Louis – requires such a dowry these days.
As it stands, $50 million in taxpayer dollars will be waved at Detroit, a sizable trousseau.
But the 27-hour Senate filibuster on that bill last week came from members of the majority Republican Party, the same political allegiance as Gov. Mike Parson, the proposal’s primary cheerleader.
Those stalling the vote used the words “slush fund” in reference to the measure’s potential for other incentives to be distributed. (Slush fund has no good connotation.) Again, that came from friends.
“Trust us,” said the supporters. In the end, Missourians will have to.
Last fall, voters in the state turned down an increase in Missouri motor fuel taxes by more than 172,000 votes. It would have raised about $288 million each year for state road funding and $123 million for local governments to build and maintain roads.
Left with loose asphalt and crumbling bridges, the Legislature authorized $301 million in bonds for repairs, a Band-Aid on a bigger problem. Lawmakers and the governor said “trust us,” but that doesn’t mean they were wrong.
The best decisions, many politicians say, take place at the level closest to the impact of those decisions.
But those in the Statehouse passed measures preventing local school boards from enacting earlier start dates for their academic years, just as they barred county health departments from enacting stronger laws over livestock feeding operations.
Sure, you’re there in the immediate area, but trust us here under the Capitol Dome.
Of course, in the race with Alabama, Georgia and other states to create the most restrictive abortion regulations, Missouri lawmakers told women, trust us, we know what’s best for your health, your bodies.
The Pew Research Center has tracked the idea of public trust for a while. When asking Americans if they trusted government in Washington, 77 percent said they did always or most of the time on Oct. 15, 1964.
In March of this year, the trust factor had fallen to 17 percent.
One would assume this trend would follow for other levels of government, too. A bit of skepticism can be a healthy thing for the public. Too much distrust can drive democracy to the point of backlash.
In short, the “trust us” mantra can only be repeated so many times.