Democratic Voting Rights Advocate David Tyson Smith—His Victory Brings Change to Missouri’s State Legislature April 9, 2021
Missouri-- the “Show Me State,” the home of U.S. plain-speaking Democratic President Harry S. Truman. MO started out as a border state, the northernmost slave state admitted to the Union as part of the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Despite much pro-slavery sentiment, it remained in the Union during the Civil War. For a century, MO was considered one of America’s political bellwether states. It cast its votes for every presidential winner from 1904-2004, except going narrowly in 1956 for losing Democrat Adlai Stevenson. MO’s days as a bellwether/border state are now history. MO voted for GOPer John McCain by 4,000 votes in 2008 over Obama. In 2012, when Obama successfully won re-election, MO went for Mitt Romney by a 10% margin (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac). Donald Trump clobbered Hillary by a 19.6% margin. In 2020, Donald handily beat Biden by a still comfortable 15.6% spread (Leip, Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections). In 2016, Trump’s MO victory swept GOPers into every statewide office on the ballot. In midterm 2018, the anti-Trump national sentiment did not include MO. In 2018, MO voted out Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and replaced her with GOP firebrand Josh Hawley. Hawley was another Trump fanatic with presidential ambitions. In 2021, Hawley joined TX GOP Senate wacko Ted Cruz in challenging Joe Biden’s electoral win and also encouraged the 1/06/2021 Capitol attempted coup attackers. MO currently has two GOP U.S. Senators and six House GOPers v. two Democrats (CQ 117th Congress At Your Fingetips).
MO has not attracted many foreign-born immigrants. Mo is 82% white, 12% African American, 4% Hispanic, and 2% Asian. Unlike CO, AZ, NV, or GA, MO has not been pushed toward the Democrats because it lacks their racial and ethnic diversity. St. Louis and the Kansas City part of MO, now Democratic strongholds, are also not mega urban “Blue” areas like Atlanta, Denver, and Phoenix. Much of rural MO was settled by Scots-Irish Protestants, cultural conservatives. They supported Democrats like Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman. However, the 1960’s civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War attitudes of many national Democrats turned this hawkish white group toward the Deep South GOP. Fundamentalist Protestantism is strong among the Scots-Irish (“American Nations,” Woodard, 2011). Springfield, MO, the biggest city in southwest MO, calls itself the “buckle of the Bible Belt.” Springfield has more than 200 churches and includes the headquarters of the Assemblies of God, one of the nation’s largest fundamentalist denominations. The rural areas of MO, which now politically dominate urban Kansas City and St. Louis, are full of farms, small towns, and numerous churches. Part of the rural conservative Ozarks are located in MO’s southwestern region. In rural southeast MO, the town of Cape Girardeau was the birthplace of the late talk show agitator Rush Limbaugh (See Cohen & Cook 2020).
Many political observers believe that the violence following the 2014 shooting by police of African American Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO solidified GOP strength in MO. Trump’s law-and-order rhetoric played well throughout that state. According to black St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, “Across the state of Missouri, I think the predominant opinion is that the governor did not crack down enough on protests, and I think that’s unfortunately an attitude that has taken hold (Cohen & Cook 2020, huffpost.com).” In “ultra-Red” MO, it, therefore, came as a pleasant surprise that on 4/06/2021 Democrat David Tyson Smith won a special election in MO’s 45th House District. Smith ran to replace former Democratic State Representative Kip Kendrick. Earlier this year, Kendrick became the chief of staff for a Dem. Kansas City state senator. Smith became the first black MO representative to serve a district outside of Kansas City or St. Louis (columbiadailytribune.com, Newsome, 4/06/21, Kerrigan, themissouritimes.com, 4/07/21). Here’s a look at Rep.-elect Smith and his district.
David Tyson Smith will, as previously stated, represent the 45th District in the MO State House. The 45th MO House District (HD) includes the city of Columbia and its metropolitan area and is located in Boone County (statisticalatlas.com/state). Columbia, part of central MO, is roughly equidistant from Kansas City and St. Louis. Columbia is MO’s fourth-largest city. The University of Missouri is its biggest employer. Health care and insurance also economically bolster Columbia. Boone County was just one of three MO counties that voted for Hillary in 2016 (Cohen & Cook 2020). The 45th MO HD is 72.7% White, 11.7% Black, 4.3% Hispanic, and 4.7% Asian (statisticalatlas.com/Missouri/State-House-District-45). The 45th HD is located in MO’s 4th Congressional District (CD) and is currently represented by hard-right sixth- term GOPer Vicki Hartzler. The 4th CD has an R+17 Cook Partisan Voting Index, PVI, and has abandoned its Democratic roots (Cohen & Cook 2020). The MO State Senate District (SD) covering the area of the 45th HD is the MO 19th, which is currently represented by GOPer Caleb Rowden (ballotpedia.org).
In 2015, allegations of racism and multiple budget cuts led to widespread University of Missouri campus protests including by its football team. The university’s president resigned and there was a decline in applications to the university, especially by African Americans. Campus enrollment decreased from nearly 35,000 in 2015 to 31,000 in 2017. In 2018, after campus reforms, the number of incoming freshmen increased, but enrollment still declined to 29,400 (Cohen & Cook 2020 Almanac).
State Representative-elect David Tyson Smith was born and raised in Columbia, MO. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri. While at the University of Missouri, Smith became the Vice-President of the Board Directors of Fun City Youth Authority, a pillar of the minority community that provided after school programs for Columbia’s youth. By becoming its Vice-President, Smith helped to keep Fun City operating during a time when it could have shut down. He became strongly aware of social injustice, and that motivated his decision to attend New Orleans’ Tulane Law School. Smith decided to enter law and politics. At Tulane Law, Smith was elected Class President in his first year. In law school, Smith took an intensive trial advocacy course, because he realized a trial lawyer could advocate for people who were rarely heard (kbia.org, Nunez, davidtysonsmith.com/about).
After graduating Tulane Law, Smith was hired to work for a New Orleans plaintiff’s law firm that had been involved in litigation against Big Tobacco. After practicing there, Smith returned to MO and formed the local law firm of Smith and Parnell LLC. He handled criminal defense, personal injury, and family law. He saw the effects of the criminal justice system on his clients. In 2006, Smith along with other community leaders, pushed for the creation of a Citizens Police Review Board in Columbia to address charges of inappropriate behavior and excessive force used by the Columbia Police Department. In 2006, Smith presented a proposal for a police review board to the City Council and was selected by the Council to serve on a committee dealing with that issue. He chaired the sub-committee that designed the structure and operation of the police review board. After a unanimous vote to recommend the creation this board, the Police Review Board in Columbia was established in 2009 (davidtysonsmith.com/about). In 2017, Smith was appointed to the Missouri Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This Commission advises the President and Congress on civil rights issues. Smith was selected by the Columbia Business Times as one of the “People You Should Know.” In 2009, Smith was picked as one of that city’s prominent group of “20 under 40” individuals (davidtysonsmith.com/about).
Smith did his best to fight for social justice through his law firm and in the community. He was a frequent commentator in the local media on a variety of criminal justice issues. He spoke at a 2020 summer rally after the killing of George Floyd. He reminded a crowd of hundreds that the fight for justice is “not done passively.” Following his own principles and beliefs, Smith placed his name on the 4/06/2021 ballot to run in the special election as the Democratic candidate for House District (HD) 45 in the MO State Legislature (davidsmith.com/about). When the MO legislature is not in session, Smith will continue working at his law firm and serving the community (Nunez, KBIA).
Besides having a progressive Democratic platform on jobs, prison reform, and health care, (davidtysonsmith.com/platform), Smith stated that his first priority when he takes office will be sticking to his major campaign goal of working to amend voting rights legislation. In Smith’s words, “We need to attack these widespread voter suppression efforts. Missouri ranks third in the nation regarding voter suppression bills, so we need to push back against those and make sure that everyone has fair and equitable access to the ballot (Nunez, KBIA).” In the 4/06/2021 special election, Smith received more than 75% of the vote, clobbering his Libertarian rival Glenn Nielsen, his only challenger (Kerrigan,themissouritimes.com, 4/07/21). Smith praised the “hard work of my campaign team, dedicated volunteers, supporters, and the voters for making this happen (Newsome, columbiatribune.com, 4/06/21).”
After his victory, Smith, again emphasized voting rights as his key issue. He stated, “Winning this election is not the end. It is only the beginning. I am dedicated to getting up every day to make sure that every voter’s rights are protected and that everyone has fair and equitable access to the ballot. I want this victory to inspire renewed engagement in the political process. Together, we have a lot of work to do, but it’s clear that we can believe again (Kerrigan, themissouritimes.com, 4/06/21).”
Smith and his constituents have “a lot of work to do.” After the election results are certified by both MO’s County Clerk and Secretary of State, which will occur within the next few weeks, Smith will join the super-minority in the Democratic Caucus in the MO House of Representatives. MO is one of those GOP states with a “trifecta.” It has a GOP Governor, Mike Parson, and two state chambers with overwhelming “Red” majorities. In the State Senate, there is a 23R/8D lineup, while the State House which Smith will join, has an overwhelming 114R/48D lineup. In that chamber, the GOP has more than the necessary votes to sustain any of Republican Gov. Parson’s vetoes, a supermajority (Nunez, KBIA, 117th Cong. At Your Fingertips, Kerrigan, 4/07/21). In an interview with KBIA’s Xcaret Nunez, Smith told him that he is well aware of the GOP supermajority he is facing in the MO House. Smith stated he planned handle this supermajority by “building relationships with people, not running a dump truck through the house.” He added, he plans “to work with people on the other side and resolve cases… it’s just being able to work with people being able to establish relationships.” He pointed to the good relationships he has as a defense attorney with prosecutors and with other people in the state. Smith noted, “If you’re respectful, you can get a lot of things done, just by talking with people and finding things that you have in common…You have to maintain that same spirit of working together ( Nunez, KBIA, 4/02/21).”
Georgia is not an isolated example of GOPers attacking the rights of Democratic minorities to vote. Nationally, we must pass a Voting Rights bill to curb such deliberate GOP suppression and gut the filibuster to do it. In the meantime, we must encourage Rep.-elect Smith and other state Democrats to fight such suppressive bills whenever they come up. Once again, congratulations, MO State Rep. Smith!