Voters will consider moving the Missouri National Guard to its own department on Election Day, a change advocates say would be a simple way to streamline communications between the Guard and its commander in chief.
If voters approve the question, labeled Amendment 5 on the ballot, the Missouri National Guard will be moved from its current position under the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) to its own agency, the Missouri Department of the National Guard. The new department would be headed by a governor-appointed adjutant general, who would operate under the governor the same way other department heads do.
The proposal was passed by the General Assembly this session with a bipartisan majority in both chambers, passing the House by a vote of 126-2 and the Senate 31-0. Both a Republican and Democrat voted against the measure in the House.
Jackie Wood, a registered lobbyist for the Missouri National Guard Association, said the Guard had been its own department until it was moved under the umbrella of DPS amid a governmental reorganization in the 1970s. The effort saw several agencies consolidated and required there to be 15 state departments, as well as the Office of Administration, with the creation of any additional departments taken to a vote of the people.
Wood said the Guard's mission had evolved over the years, especially following the 9/11 attacks, when National Guards from across the country were deployed to New York. The Guard has since had a broader focus on federal missions rather than state tasks, such as fire and disaster recovery efforts that made up much of its prior activity.
The Guard's status under DPS creates a chain of communication that Wood said the amendment would streamline. Requests from the governor now must pass through the DPS director to the adjunct general, who must then communicate back through the DPS director. She said those official channels were seldom used, however, as the governor has a more direct line with the Guard during times of emergency.
She said the amendment would ultimately streamline communication without creating a new state entity from the ground up, rather moving existing systems into their own agency.
"What Missourians will see is the ability to have a quicker response time and cut down on the delays," Wood told the News Tribune during an interview. "This is really an administrative change. The National Guard currently exists; it is funded mainly federal, which some state match and some money for state missions, but its employees are in place and its infrastructure is in place -- all the facilities, the equipment, and all of that would transfer into its own department."
She also noted there was a limit to the number of legislative and budget proposals a department could introduce during a legislative session. As a division under DPS, she said the Guard's requests were sometimes lost amid other ideas vying for the Legislature's approval, though moving it to its own department would allow the Guard to introduce its own proposals rather than being pushed out by other divisions' requests.
While the Guard is more federally active than it used to be and doubles as a federal and state entity, she said there were no actions required on the federal front that would need to be taken to make the change happen.
She said 48 states have already moved their Guard to their own department, with just Missouri and Massachusetts keeping their military entities housed under another department as of 2022.
While there has been ample support from the Guard itself, lawmakers and veterans, there has also been limited opposition from other entities. The Missouri NAACP urged Missourians to vote against the measure in its latest election scorecard, saying the amendment "does nothing to change the operation of the National Guard or to increase transparency or accountability."
The Missouri Democratic Party also opposed the measure, arguing it would create new issues for the state.
"Voting yes for Amendment 5 would create a chain-of-command issue throughout the Missouri National Guard," a statement from the party's State Committee said. "Republicans claim to be the party of small government, but voting yes for Amendment 5 would come with a cost. That's why the fiscal note for this amendment has not been released to the public."
Wood refuted the fiscal note issue, saying the Secretary of State could not post a measure without a fiscal note attached. The ballot language identified an ongoing cost of $132,000 for the state and no impact on taxes.
With Election Day fast approaching, Wood said there was more support than opposition to the effort and hoped to see the same thing from the electorate.
"National Guard members themselves live this every day, this current process and these times of emergencies -- who couldn't see the need for this?" she said. "This was a bipartisan piece of legislation, and Democrats and Republicans all saw the need for this and came together to vote for it overwhelmingly. Hopefully everyone else will go out there and vote for it as well."
Election Day is Nov. 8.