In terms of population and demographic trends, Missouri resembles the country as a whole.
University towns, large cities and the southwest act as magnets for growth and economic development in Missouri. This leaves the rest of the state fighting for table scraps of political influence.
For nearly two decades, our area’s leaders have tried to counter this trend with a lobbying and outreach effort in the Missouri General Assembly. That effort continues this week, when more than 300 people, including Gov. Mike Parson, are expected to attend the 18th-annual Great Northwest Day that begins Tuesday in Jefferson City.
A steering committee comes up with specific legislative priorities to benefit a 19-county region that includes St. Joseph. This year, lawmakers will be pressed to support a range of issues in rural economic and community development, education, high-speed internet, infrastructure and access to primary and mental health care. These are policies that the whole state can get behind, but they seem to have an especially strong impact in rural communities.
Some of Great Northwest Day involves advocacy of specific legislation, like prescription drug monitoring and Sen. Dan Hegeman’s bill to extend a broadband internet grant program. Other goals and priorities are tucked into broader budget measures, like funding for education, water system improvements and county bridge repairs.
This year, organizers tip-toe around the issue of Medicaid expansion, a possible nod to political realities in the Republican-controlled legislature, and support the creation of something called the Missouri Department of Rural. This might a good idea in search of a better name.
But the biggest benefit of Great Northwest Day isn’t associated with any specific legislation or budget item. Regardless of details, there’s no doubt that this annual effort pays dividends for Northwest Missouri residents who have a legitimate fear of being overlooked in the halls of the state capitol.
To this end, we support Great Northwest Day and the attempt to sell Northwest Missouri communities to legislators who have a tendency to see the state’s northern boundary as Interstate 70 instead of the Iowa state line.
The logo for Great Northwest Day shows an image of our state with the 19 northwest counties broken away, like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. Missouri looks disjointed and uneven with the northwest section missing, like something isn’t quite whole.
For 18 years, the success of Great Northwest Day comes from reminding state leaders and policymakers that the periphery remains a vital and essential part of Missouri.