Which way will the wind blow when one of America’s most conservative cities heads to the polls with the chance to squash — or support — a just-enacted citywide smoking restriction?
story by Zach Crizer / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published June 30, 2012
Earlier this year, a high school teacher named Tim Scego presented his government classes with the following scenario:
Citizens of a hypothetical city have passed a law that restricts smoking in public, banning it in restaurants, bars and all other workplaces. While a few minor exemptions were passed for cigar shops and e-cigarettes, many are still unhappy with the law and have forced a vote on whether to repeal the city ordinance. As concerned citizens, the students would divide into camps based on their own beliefs and discuss the issue.
As the juniors and seniors at Marion C. Early High School considered the situation, Scego explained that they would choose their own positions, but had to be able to defend them respectfully. And then, as high school discussions typically do, the forums slowly began to take shape. One by one, students at the Morrisville, Mo., school began to weigh in on the matter.
Each hand that went up tallied another vote for repealing the law, allowing smoking back into the city’s businesses — or at least letting each business owner make that decision for him or herself. Surveying the room, Scego watched as a sea of heads bobbed along to the momentum of the discussion, riding the wave that would overturn the hypothetical smoking law.
But a few students soon broke ranks to defend the smoking restrictions. “And actually it’s the ones who disagree — even though there weren’t very many of them — they’re the ones who really got the discussion going,” Scego said. They pushed the otherwise complacent majority to consider health concerns, and the discussion grew more lively. As the majority vigorously defended a business owner’s right to allow smoking, several students pressed on in favor of public health.
When the bell rang, the students had experienced — for one class period — the tug of war going on not in a hypothetical city, but just miles away in Springfield.
In April 2011, the smoking ban supported by a tiny minority of Scego’s students was actually put into place in Springfield by a citizen vote. During that municipal election, only 20,996 of Springfield’s 159,498 city residents voted on the law. The Springfield Smokefree Air Act of 2011 claimed victory by a margin of 1,406 votes, and the law took effect in June 2011.
But outrage over the law has brought the issue — and citizens — back to the voting booth. This Tuesday, in a special one-issue election, Springfield’s voters will have a choice of whether to uphold the current law or repeal it and return to a 2003 smoking restriction, which only placed regulations on certain restaurants.
And as with many contentious political issues, there are two sides here, with very little middle ground between them.
One side points to the 27 states that have enacted similarly strict smoking bans; the other deems Springfield’s ban one of the country’s most extreme. The former trumpets the importance of staving off afflictions such as lung cancer and heart disease that can be caused by secondhand smoke; the latter laments the hardship or closure of nearly two dozen Springfield businesses — mostly bars — due to the ban.
The students’ forum was Scego’s attempt to replicate the sheer complexity of controversial government issues. But a classroom setting can’t account for the forces at work in Springfield. For the past two years, propelled by the influence and financing of national public health organizations such as the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association, a strong tide of smoke-free sentiments has washed across the city.
Even though voters approved the restrictive law, it is difficult to tell if it is truly favored by the masses. Only 13.2 percent of Springfield residents — about 18 percent of registered voters — cast a vote in April 2011. Even fewer residents contributed to the high-spending, dueling civic campaigns.
In that respect, Springfield is no different than other Missouri cities that have passed smoking bans, from Rolla to Jefferson City to Kansas City. But what’s different has been the prolonged nature of Springfield’s conversation. Even after the passing of the Springfield Smokefree Air Act of 2011, local leaders have continued to clash with national forces over the ban.
And while backlash from the local opposition has been strong, it remains to be seen whether Springfield’s citizens will sit quietly or stand up on Tuesday, and end the debate.
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Notions of reasonable smoking restrictions are evolving nationwide. Based on a model ordinance crafted by the Berkeley, Calif., advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights , Springfield’s ban is one of 16 Missouri city laws that restricts smoking in all workplaces — not just bars and restaurants.
But during the run up to last April’s initial vote, voters in Springfield started noticing more advertising and marketing in support of the ban, signs that may have given the proposed law the push it needed to claim victory. Those advertisements didn’t originate here in the Ozarks. The funding for the campaign wasn’t coming from local pockets. In retrospect, it’s clear that Springfield’s smoking law was more a priority for national lobbying organizations than it was a statement from local residents.
During last year’s initial election season, the local smoke-free coalition, Clean Air Springfield, outraised and outspent Live Free Springfield, who pushed for rejection of the law. Those in favor of the smoking ban raised $92,674.10. Those against cobbled together just $16,656.10.
Those lopsided numbers reflect the law’s regional implications more than Springfield’s desire for restrictions. Over the course of several donations, the American Cancer Society and its advocacy arm contributed nearly $75,000 of the smoke-free donations in 2011, continuing a pattern the well-known organization established by pumping funds into other Missouri smoke-free campaigns.
In 2008, it contributed more than $142,000 to install a similar law in Kansas City. In 2010, Jefferson City went smoke-free thanks to a campaign that included $18,281 of American Cancer Society funds.
Capturing the support of Missouri’s communities one by one, the smoke-free workplace campaign came to the state’s more conservative southwest region last year. While aiding in Clean Air Springfield’s efforts, the American Cancer Society was also bankrolling an effort to make Cape Girardeau — in the southeast corner of the state — smoke-free, as it invested more than $110,000 there. And while Cape Girardeau rejected the ban, it was Springfield, the Ozarks’ largest city, that made the headlines.
Stephen Hall, the American Heart Association’s communications director for Springfield, has been leading the smoke-free campaign here for about four years. He says widespread bans in individual communities pave the way for statewide legislative action.
“I think Springfield is huge,” Hall says. “It’s a cornerstone of the smoke-free issue statewide. We are a large community, and we do represent a large number of people in this part of the state. I think all eyes are on Springfield, in many ways, in terms of what happens here affecting smoke-free air policy at a larger level.”
Hall’s employer, the American Heart Association, had not been as active as the American Cancer Society in funding other campaigns. But with Hall leading the volunteer coalition in Springfield, his organization pitched in about $15,000 in 2011. The American Lung Association also donated $2,500.
Outside of the support from the national organizations, which have chapters in Springfield but donate from their general fundraising efforts, Clear Air Springfield struggled to raise funds. Local contributors only donated $683.49 to the group’s 2011 campaign. Only 20 local donors contributed to the smoke-free coalition.
Live Free Springfield, on the other hand, drew no national funding interest. Its largest donation, $3,000, came from downtown tobacco shop The Albatross. 85 different local individuals and businesses donated to the campaign.
However, Springfield’s struggle — which had previously surfaced in 2003, when a bill ended smoking in certain restaurants — didn’t end with the passage of the law. A year after the ‘no smoking’ signs were posted, Springfield has refused to let the issue die.
“I think what we’ve seen in Springfield has been different in terms of the opposition — the organized opposition and the continued nature of it,” Hall said. “What we’re seeing right now, there’s never been an example of this anywhere else in the country. We’re seeing an attempt to repeal a smoke-free ordinance that was approved by voters. 
“That just hasn’t happened.”
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It’s a slow Sunday afternoon and Jim Knight is holding court in his bar, Knightyme Bar & Billiards, on the northwest side of Springfield. As a regular materializes out of the sunlight into the smokeless gloom, he comes into focus under the dim blue glow of Bud Light overhead lamps, and Knight turns from his seat at the head of a long cluttered table. “How ya doin’?” Knight wants to know. The man says he’s fine before laughing it off as a lie in the same breath.
“Well I don’t want to hear it,” Knight jumps in. “I’m already depressed enough.”
“I’m on your side,” the regular replies. “We’re going to beat this shit.” As the man settles in at the adjacent bar, Knight turns back and continues to speak about a topic that has become unavoidable at this working-class watering hole: Springfield’s smoking ban.
“See, we do have a topic of conversation,” he said. “And everybody knows my feelings. I’m vocal enough with all my people that they know exactly what is expected out of them.”
By “his people,” Knight means Knightyme’s customers. And what is expected of them is a “Yes” vote on June 5. Bar owners, at Knight’s urging, have been some of the most vocal opponents of the smoking law. He uses the long table next to the bar as a place for no-holds-barred discussion, and it is clear — from the newspaper clippings and fliers and window stickers all around the bar — that discussion of the repeal is nearly all that’s been on Knight’s mind of late.
Knight and other business owners who have struggled in the law’s aftermath are both key constituents and symbols of the movement. Live Free Springfield, the political action committee campaigning in support of the repeal, is “capitalizing on the emotional aspect” of Springfield mainstays like Knight, according to committee chairman Dave Myers. The group’s efforts spotlight businesses that have seen revenue drift away with the smoke.
“People are losing their jobs, losing their businesses,” Myers says. “There are a lot of really negative, bad things happening with this ban.”
Myers, a broad-shouldered 30-year-old who has become known around town for his distinctive white hat, does not smoke. He points out that Live Free Springfield is not dedicated solely to the city’s smoking issue, although it was the impetus for the group’s founding. He contends that the market, if it were left alone, would produce enough non-smoking businesses to satisfy residents and employees who prefer to not be around smoke. “With the free market, every single person — whether they live here, they vote here or they come here on a daily basis — has the vote, and they vote with their feet, and they vote with their dollars,” Myers says. He notes that everyday business is more representative of how Springfieldians feel than a single vote.
The repeal campaign has rested on the idea that business owners in a free market should have the choice of whether to allow smoking in their establishments. And Knight doesn’t mince words when making his choice clear.
“Let me make or break my own business,” he says to any customer who cares to listen. “I’d gladly put a sign on the door that says we smoke in this establishment. If you don’t like it, don’t step inside.”
Knightyme opened in Dec. 1993, when Knight closed his video rental store to avoid being wiped out by the oncoming DVD revolution. The bar, which features a wide floor where light shines primarily on pool tables, caters to the city’s blue collar workers. For most of the bar’s history, manufacturing workers from nearby factories filled the seats at all hours of the day and night. Now, he says he’s in “survival mode.”
“Let me make or break my own business. I’d gladly put a sign on the door that says we smoke in this establishment. If you don’t like it, don’t step inside.”
It’s not hard to envision a dense crowd mingling around the pool tables, ribbons of smoke wafting up and getting lost in the darkness above the blue glow. But beginning in 2008, the recession wiped out many of the area’s manufacturing jobs, and Knight says the smoking ban has decimated the customer base that remained. Calling for the bartender, he asks her how many people were in the bar’s largest party the night before, a Saturday. She holds up one hand: five. While the bar used to be packed with 75 to 100 people on weekends, now Knight estimates the typical crowd ranges from 15 to 20. He says the smoking law is cutting off the bars’ lifeblood — customers who stay for an entire evening. More and more, he says, his customers either leave quickly or don’t come at all because they can’t order drinks and smoke at the same time.
He realized this early on, so he built a patio outside where customers can smoke and even consume alcohol purchased inside. But employees can’t serve alcohol outside.
While the patio helped limit the damage, Knight is still worried about making it financially if the law remains on the books. “The minute they said they were pulling the shade down, my business dropped off,” he said. “I saw it that month. And from that month on, up through this year — it’s gotten worse every month this year — I’ve been down about 40 percent.”
Armed with anecdotes collected from Knight and others like him, Myers has drummed up support for a repeal — Live Free Springfield had to collect more than 2,300 resident signatures just to get it on the ballot — in hopes of drawing voters to the polls. The initial vote, he says, taught him to work as if his group has zero support. “A lot of the people who were on our side said there is no way it’s going to pass — it’s in the bag,” he said. Of course, as Knight noted, with voters generally complacent and disenchanted with politics, nothing is ever guaranteed.
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Jim Blaine is taking the long view. A medical doctor who has worked for all of Springfield’s major health care systems since moving to the city in 1977, Blaine speaks frankly about the medical dangers of smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke. As he calmly lays out the scientific evidence, it’s apparent Blaine has extolled the virtues of smoke-free air more than once before.
Blaine’s perspective is one of experience and constant motivation. Smoking is just another bullet point on a long list of causes to which he has dedicated his time. Improving public health is seemingly one of the central threads of his life, his profession a vehicle that allows him to aid in the process. He’s a clinic director. Before that, he was a family doctor. Before that, he was an emergency doctor. And before that, in the 1970s, he was a freshman attending medical school in his native Oklahoma, just a young man “on top of the world” — until a drunk driver killed his 19-year-old sister in a car accident.
The loss of his “favorite person in the world” has led Blaine to campaign tirelessly in favor of preventative health measures, including the restriction of smoking in public places. It is a policy that primarily protects non-smokers inhaling secondhand smoke. Blaine was at the forefront of the group that spearheaded efforts to limit smoking with the city’s 2003 ordinance — which would once again govern smoking in Springfield should voters call for a repeal on June 5. But he calls that a “flawed” law, riddled with exemptions and confusing stipulations that “didn’t always make sense for public health.”
Still, at the time it was progress, Blaine said, and last year’s law was a major step forward.
In the 2003 law:
- Smoking was banned in most restaurants.
- Restaurants that made at least 50 percent of their profits or more than $200,000 off of liquor sales each year could allow smoking.
- Any restaurant that sold liquor had the option of allowing smoking in a separately ventilated area.
- Bars were exempt.
According to the new law:
- Smoking is banned in all indoor spaces accessible to the public or workers, with the exception of 20 percent of hotel rooms and private residences.
- Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed places of employment.
- Exemptions were added in May 2012 for tobacco and cigar shops, e-cigarettes and theatre productions, as well as some private clubs and bingo halls.
The emphasis of the new law is to protect employees from inhaling secondhand smoke. Blaine says many of the people the law protects are not yet concerned about their vulnerability. Most employees working around smoke — bartenders, performers, waiters — are under the age of 30 and have yet to come to grips with their risk for lung cancer or heart disease.
“I do not think that a worker should have to choose between a job and his or her health,” Blaine says.
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, the Berkeley, Calif., advocacy group that wrote the model for Springfield’s ordinance, has made workers the central figures in its campaign. Bronson Frick, the group’s associate director, says the gold standard in smoke-free policy making has changed over the years. The model ordinance is updated each year to reflect effective measures being used across the country.
“It’s really considered the best practice for this effort,” he says. “In a community that otherwise might be doing this for the first time, there are a lot of nuances and differences in the details between an ordinance that protects health and one that simply gives the appearance that something has been done but without actually achieving the health goal.”
Like Frick, Blaine says smoking is a public health issue, not a matter of partisan politics. In addition to One Air Alliance — the main campaign group Hall is leading against the repeal  — Blaine formed Springfield Doctors for Clean Air to galvanize the city’s large medical community. “I’ve never seen health care systems in this community step up to an issue like they have on this one,” he said. “They obviously all feel very strongly to the point that they’ve donated money.”
Part of the smoke-free coalition, Blaine’s group has raised $6,500, which includes a contribution from the local Mercy hospital system. Blaine also heralded the generous support from the three national health organizations — the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association — as highly credible supporters encouraging Springfield residents to vote smoke-free.
“I have high respect for those three organizations, and most people do,” he said. “I think that I can speak for them in that I think they see a good return on investment whenever you can decrease the diseases that are caused by secondhand smoke by simply passing an ordinance that affects public health as this ordinance does.”
And just as Live Free Springfield’s Myers thought prevailing attitudes in Springfield would halt the smoking law in 2011, Blaine is confident a shifting American standard will inevitably end smoking in most Springfield businesses.
“I think smoke-free businesses represent an educational evolution,” he explains. “Very few people have gone back. I recall very clearly smoking on airplanes. You can’t imagine that now. Smoking in hospitals — in hospitals! All of our hospital grounds now are smoke-free, but not too long ago we used to allow smoking in hospitals. We think that that’s crazy now.”
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Tuesday’s vote to repeal — an issue back on the ballot thanks to more than 2,000 signatures collected by Live Free Springfield — looks like it will be just as close as the initial 2011 smoking ban vote. The repeal campaign has been tempered by voter confusion and increasing indifference to the prolonged debate topic, but it has followed patterns similar to last year’s efforts.
At this point, though, the fundraising has been far less lopsided.
Now asking voters to say ‘Yes,’ the pro-repeal, anti-law Live Free Springfield has received $13,528 from 64 mostly local donors during this campaign, which it initiated. The smoke-free coalition, including Hall’s One Air Alliance and Blaine’s doctor’s association, has brought in $38,000 from 14 donors, with the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association combining to contribute well over half of that total.
One of the reasons the national organizations may be devoting such large amounts of money to help Hall and the smoke-free coalition reach voters is the nature of Springfield’s smoking law.
Through the initiative petition process, the city’s charter allows organizations to put potential ordinances straight on the ballot for voters to approve. That process, which is how the law was passed and also how the repeal has landed on the ballot, allows for advocacy groups to write the law. When voters approve an ordinance through direct election, as they did last year with the smoking law, the city council is prohibited from amending the law for six months. Once the council is allowed to make changes to the law, the legislative body is further restricted by a rule that says initiative petitions turned into law by voters require a unanimous vote to make amendments. Amendments to other city laws require a simple majority.
The initiative petition process allowed the smoke-free coalition to propose the strict law championed by Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, a regulation that appeased all corners of the smoke-free advocacy community by prohibiting smoking in nearly all public spaces.
“I do not think that a worker should have to choose between a job and his or her health.”
While the coalition did take the proposed law to the city council in 2010, hoping the council would pass it, the American Heart Association’s Hall watched as the council made last-minute changes to the bill. He says council members attached amendments to it that “undermined the intent, which is to protect public health for everyone, and also undermined the effort to make this fair, comprehensive and easy to understand. So we realized that after those amendments were made in a political move at the last minute, that was something we couldn’t support any more.”
In the last few months of 2010, the smoke-free coalition was busy collecting signatures — the petition required at least 1,800 Springfield citizens’ signatures — and in April 2011, after the lucrative campaign blitzed Springfield’s citizens with information, voters passed the law that city council members had declined to accept in its pure form.
When November of 2011 rolled around, Live Free Springfield — encouraged after falling by just 1,400 votes despite the funding disparity — was ready to push the city council for amendments. What Myers and his group ran into was deadlock. City council members polarized on the issue could not form a unanimous amendment. But thanks to the city’s charter, the same polarization that brought the council’s progress to a halt could be channeled to flip Springfield’s smoking law on its head.
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A ‘Vote Yes’ sign hangs in The Albatross in downtown Springfield. Even though the store is allowed to conduct business again, thanks to a city council amendment, the store’s owners still support the repeal of the ban.
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Myers, an Army reservist, declines to refer to the smoking saga in terms of war, but in many ways the debate has resembled a battle for territory — strike, counter-strike — more than a legislative process.
“Because of the fact that it’s citizen-driven, citizen-initiated, there’s a level of polarization that begins with the petition process and only escalates throughout the rest of it,” Myers says.
While America was busy lambasting Congress for the proposed Internet intellectual property regulations SOPA and PIPA, Springfield’s city council was at an impasse over amendments to the smoking law. Doug Burlison was one of the city council members who attempted to amend the smoke-free coalition’s law during its original proposal. He says the internal council discussions about amendments to the law didn’t take long.
“We had proposed some amendments to this bill,” he says of the side led by Live Free Springfield. “It was a very short meeting because any amendments after the voters approved it initially required a unanimous vote and we had a council person in that meeting who basically said, ‘Well, I’m not going to consider any amendments to this.’ So I think after about three minutes that meeting ended, adjourned.”
Three weeks after the six-month mark, with movement on the council looking unlikely, Live Free Springfield began its own petition in hopes of making Springfield the first community in America to completely repeal an active smoking law.
“All the things we said would happen did,” Myers says. “You’ve got decreased revenues from sales taxes — the city’s reported that. You’ve got businesses that have closed, you have many, many businesses, all kinds of businesses, that are so far down in revenue that they’re afraid if it doesn’t get repealed, they’re toast.”
Perhaps the most affected people in the area were the owners of tobacco shops. The Albatross, a tobacco shop on Walnut Street, essentially “spent a year as a speakeasy,” according to owner Chris Slater.
Prohibiting smoking in a smoke shop was perhaps the law’s most obvious opportunity for an amendment. As Live Free Springfield’s petition gained steam, city councilman John Rush — who stands strongly in favor of keeping the smoking law — says the plight of tobacco shops drew the council to the negotiating table.
His fellow council member Burlison tells a different story. He says the momentum of the repeal movement brought on a political maneuver by the smoke-free advocates. “They’re trying to capture the crown of being the compromisers and all this, but I’d say that’s a little duplicitous,” Burlison said. “It’s not necessarily true. I think those of us who’ve been on what is now the side of the repeal of the smoking ban, we’ve been trying to compromise all along. We went along with any compromise they finally offered.”
Councilwoman and smoke-free law supporter Cindy Rushefsky, who acknowledges the repeal effort opened her mind to amendments, said her initial opposition was predicated on protecting the statement made by last year’s vote.
“When the public says that, I am very, very reluctant to step in then and change it,” she says. “The only reason I agreed to the exemptions was because there was already an initiative that was going to go to the public on the same issue. And my feeling was that if the public did not like what we had done, they still had a way of expressing that displeasure.”
While she says she wasn’t particularly sympathetic to most of the amendments, Rushefsky thought tobacco shops such as The Albatross and Just for Him cigars had a legitimate grievance. “We were trying to minimize any obvious unfairness as much as we could without destroying the whole intent of the original initiative,” she says.
In early May, the council passed exemptions that lifted the ban on smoking in tobacco shops, as well as on the use of e-cigarettes, smoking in theatrical performances and partially changed regulations on certain bingo halls.
A proposed exemption for bars did not pass.
Hall, whose pro-ban group is currently pushing citizens to vote “No” to keep the smoking law in place, says the idea of mitigating the law is unpleasant, but he is more worried about keeping it in place.
“We’re talking about a public health issue and we’re talking about scientific evidence that is profound — undisputed across the board — that directly links secondhand smoke to heart disease, to stroke, to asthma, to other issues. When we know that’s what is happening every day and we look at crafting public policy to change that and positively impact people’s lives, this whole question of amendments and exemptions is really frustrating.”
Knight, meanwhile, says he has been forced to “re-educate” many patrons of his bar after the exemptions put up a “smokescreen.” The night the city council passed the exemptions, one patron walked in and began to light a cigarette in Knightyme before he dispelled the notion that the ban had been fully repealed. Knight and Myers see the exemptions as an attempt to slow a churning movement to repeal the ban.
And Rushefsky says, to some extent, she does believe the amendments will help the cause of the law she favors by making it less controversial to undecided voters.
“They would have had some sympathy for the argument we’ve gone too far in saying that you can’t have a tobacco shop, so I’m thinking some more moderate folks who believe in public health but understand we have to have some kind of sense about things will not be deterred from supporting the ban and will not be as apt to vote for repeal,” she says. “That’s a long way of saying I think there are some people who would have voted for repeal not because they wanted to go back to where we were, but because they thought it was unreasonable the way we had done it.”
Still, pro-law councilman Rush admits Live Free Springfield’s repeal effort looks strong heading toward the June 5 election. “I think the pro-smokers have a tremendous advantage,” he said. “It clearly favors the smokers this time.”
The difference? Councilman Burlison says people who didn’t vote the first time around are becoming more aware of the law’s effects and will be driven to the polls out of concern. “I feel it caught the voters by surprise,” he explained. “They did not realize the full extent of what they were voting for. And once they saw in action what they passed with their vote, that opened their eyes to exactly what was in this ordinance.”
Myers says people have received a wake-up call in the form of declining businesses. “We have reality on our side,” he says. “Before, we had facts on our side, but sometimes beliefs trump facts even if the facts are more real than the beliefs. This time we actually have reality on our side. Because of the reality it passed, that really threw people for a loop. Because of the reality of what has taken place and what’s happened has really concerned a lot people.”
“I think there are some people who would have voted for repeal not because they wanted to go back to where we were, but because they thought it was unreasonable the way we had done it.”
In a city with fairly predictable political tendencies, the initiative petition process allows activist groups to bypass elected representatives. The Springfield metropolitan area consistently votes more strongly for Republicans than the rest of Missouri. John McCain received more than 57 percent of Greene County’s votes for President in 2008, despite barely claiming Missouri with 49.4 percent of the vote. And even as they advocate for their respective sides, Burlison and Rush admit that when voters go to the polls, they will be choosing between two options that would not have passed the council.
“I don’t think this ordinance would have gone through city council,” Rush said. “We tried to amend the ordinance that was passed to make it more acceptable to the general population. And I’m not sure we really did that, but that was the intent.
“I don’t think it would have been as strict, but I’m merely speculating. My colleagues are fairly conservative and to get one that would have passed the council as an ordinance, it would have been quite different than the one that was passed.”
Sitting on Knightyme’s patio smoking a cigarette, Burlison said recently that even his libertarian viewpoints — he unsuccessfully ran for Congress on the ticket several times — cannot block out the wishes of the people he represents. “From a purely representative point of view, it does seem like there are a lot of voices that speak in favor of limiting smoking in a restaurant setting,” he said. “That would pretty much be the limit of what I would be interested in. If I were to act purely on the feedback I’ve gotten from citizens, it would be perhaps to limit it in a restaurant setting.”
So in this argument where both sides expressed disbelief that the issue was even up for debate in Springfield, both have opted to avoid dealing with opposition. Some members of both sides even blamed the city council for its inactivity, when, in reality the council had very little say in the matter.
The result has been a prolonged civic standoff that threatens to further alienate the middle America voters who put Springfield’s debate in the spotlight in the first place.
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“If your pet issue gets defeated at the polls, you feel like people are just sitting on their couch,” says Burlison. “If you win, it’s, ‘I’m glad the citizens have spoken.’ It’s human nature.” Burlison doesn’t think the level of voter turnout will swing the June 5 election, but he apparently hasn’t convinced the rest of the leaders campaigning for and against the repeal.
Myers says a lack of civic engagement is behind the smoking issue. If citizens took time to read the ordinance and understand what was at stake last year, “I don’t think it would have stood a chance at all,” he says. Hall, on the opposite side of the issue, says a major part of the current campaign is simply telling voters which box to check.
“We’re talking to people through our phone calls and door-to-door visits, and we’re hearing from people who are confused as a result of the debate over the last three months at the council level,” he says. “They don’t recognize what’s at stake on June 5. So our challenge in this narrow window between now and June 5 is to say, ‘Look, we need you to get out and vote.’ This is the only issue that’s on the ballot.
“We know, in many ways, that the cards are stacked against us this time around,” he continues. “It’s an uphill battle that we’re fighting. It’s a single issue, so the opposition has made many comments in regard to voter turnout last time. We know that voter turnout is likely going to be far less this time because there’s only one issue on the ballot, and that’s unfortunate. So we need people to understand if you don’t go out and vote, we’re in real danger of losing the smoke-free law that we worked so hard for.”
Jim Knight doesn’t care if voter turnout is high. He pushed Live Free Springfield to force the special one-issue June election — despite the extra expense to the city — because he believes people affected negatively by the law are more likely to get out and vote than citizens confirming the status quo.
And for that reason, the sides haven’t held much public debate on the issue. Mostly, they’ve focused on turning out their share of the vote. It is telling that councilman Rush, reflecting on the debate, has little concept of what will happen next.
“It wasn’t a resounding victory,” he says of last April’s vote. “It wasn’t great, but it passed. And I think… in a conservative community like this, it’s kind of remarkable that it passed at all.”
Hall, meanwhile, has seemingly accepted the risks of direct democracy in hopes that his side can outlast the opposition — hoping to make smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces a thing of the past.
“As science became more and more clear, the policy changed to reflect that science,” he says. “It’s a long battle. It takes a long time for that to happen, but it’s happening. And I think as we talk about what’s happening in Springfield, we have to also talk about what’s happening across the state of Missouri. We now have more than 20 communities in this state that have smoke-free air policies.
“We’re not breaking new ground here,” he says.
But this is new ground for Springfield, Missouri — new ground that, for many, looks a little too different from the ground they have walked before. “There are a lot of things happening,” Myers says. “It’s smoking bans or homosexuality or abortion — these big hot button issues that a lot of people have a lot of feelings about and a lot of people in this area are concerned about what’s next. They’re scared about what is going to come down the pike for them. Is it going to be another right taken from them?”
Live Free Springfield has clearly drawn more active supporters in the Springfield area through donations, but the smoke-free coalition won last year with a similar strategy, and voter turnout was 18 percent. 
The local citizens who are speaking up are railing against the law, but only a tiny fraction of Springfield’s population has weighed in during the campaign. The rest have been listening, mostly to advertising campaigns funded by the national health advocates watching from afar. It remains to be seen what voters will do with their latest opportunity to steer their community — and perhaps many others — through direct democracy.
In the voting booth, a quietly nodding head carries just as much weight as a man with a megaphone.