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How Amendment 5 would change Missouri’s National Guard

Members of the Missouri National Guard hosting Missouri’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site in Poplar Bluff on Jan. 22
Missouri Governor's Office
Members of the Missouri National Guard hosting Missouri’s first mass COVID-19 vaccination site in Poplar Bluff on Jan. 22

In 1973, the Missouri legislature reorganized the state government’s various departments. Among the targets of this reduction was the Missouri National Guard, which became part of the Department of Public Safety.

But that could soon change. On Tuesday, voters in Missouri will face Amendment 5, which asks them: “Shall the Missouri National Guard currently under the Missouri Department of Public Safety be its own department, known as the Missouri Department of the National Guard, which shall be required to protect the constitutional rights and civil liberties of Missourians?”

Introduced as a bill, the ballot measure passed through the Missouri legislature with nearly unanimous support. Its backers include retired Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, former Missouri National Guard adjutant general.

Appointed by the governor in 2009, Danner served in the guard’s top position until 2019, which included deployments during the 2011 Joplin tornado response and the 2014 protests in Ferguson. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Danner told guest host Sarah Fentem that the National Guard’s place within a larger government department created delays during emergencies.

“When we do have an emergency, you have to go up through the chain of command,” Danner noted. “Cutting red tape and the bureaucracy, the fewer people involved, the faster you can react.”

But the argument for greater efficiency hasn’t swayed everyone to support the amendment. Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, has spoken out against Amendment 5. He was also one of two votes against the measure when its underlying bill passed through the Missouri House of Representatives earlier this year.

Specifically, Meredith questions the apparent creation of a new mission statement for Missouri’s National Guard. The current mission statement, featured on the Missouri National Guard website, covers the state’s needs “to provide trained and disciplined forces for domestic emergencies” and “to maintain properly trained and equipped units for prompt mobilization for war, national emergency, or as otherwise directed by the president.”

Meredith said: “This language that would go in the Constitution that says that the duty of the National Guard is to protect the constitutional rights and civil liberties of Missourians — Now, when I read that, I thought, ‘That doesn't sound like the National Guard's role.’”

Reacting to Meredith's concerns, Danner said that he’s not worried about the language because the National Guard’s role already includes protecting the constitution.

“We do protect people's rights, and civil liberties,” he added. “I mean, that's why I joined in the first place.”

Danner’s successor, Maj. Gen. Levon Cumpton, has also come out in support of Amendment 5.A press release from the Missouri National Guard Association stated, “MG Cumpton fully supports Amendment 5 because it allows the Guard to best serve the Governor and the citizens of the State of Missouri.”

In an email Friday, a National Guard spokesperson, Capt. Jeremy Idleman, clarified that Cumpton’s statement does not represent an endorsement on behalf of the Missouri National Guard.

“The Missouri National Guard does not have an official position on Amendment 5,” Idleman wrote. “This is a ballot issue that will be decided by the citizens of Missouri on November 8.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Danny Wicentowski