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Republicans are nothing if not internally inconsistent and hypocritical. I noted an example of this when making a short visit this holiday weekend to the community in which I grew up, St. Louis, Missouri. Befitting its border state history, until recently, Missouri has never really been locked down by one party or the other, usually sending a mix of Democrats and Republicans to Congress over the years and flopping around in Presidential elections.  Now, however, the GOP dominates Missouri politics, with huge majorities in the State legislature, a five to three majority in the Congressional delegation and the two Senate seats tinted only slightly less red by the tenuously held seat occupied by ConservaDem, Claire McKaskill. GOP wingnuts who now dominate Missouri politics are just as crazy as their counterparts anywhere else.

So, while visiting St. Louis's unique and altogether wonderful Forest Park on Saturday, I began to wonder why there is no Missouri GOP outcry against the continued existence of such a socialist institution as Forest Park, thriving in their midst and setting such a bad example for all the GOP railing against socialism. Follow me into the tall grass to see where this thought led me.  

Unlike those in the GOP, I am not distorting and exaggerating when I use the term "socialism". Forest park and its principal attractions are owned communally by a special district consisting of the inhabitants of multiple political entities and offers its services largely free to all, subsidized by voter approved property taxes.  The first definition of "socialism" given by Mirriam Webster online is:

any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
I would add services to that and, voila, I give you the People's Republic of Forest Park.

According to official history, this is how that came about:

In 1971 voters in both St. Louis and St. Louis County prevented such an admission charge and surprised many observers by voting to form a Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (usually called the zoo-museum district), which established a property tax to support the zoo, art museum and the museum of science and natural history, later known as the Science Center.
So it is, that unlike most of the rest of the country, Show Me State pinkos pay extra taxes to provide free admission to one of the top ten zoos in the country, to a distinguished fine arts museum, to a fine, large state history museum, a unique botanical conservatory, an extensive and extremely popular natural history museum and science center and America's largest and oldest outdoor summer musical amphitheater (offering a 1500/12,000 seats free to the public every performance) all situated in 18,000 acres of forested parkland with hills, lakes, waterways and a 27 hole municipal golf course. The main attractions also offer special shows and exhibits that do charge admissions.

Consider the idea of "free" here. Let's use the St. Louis Zoo as an example. As noted, this is a respected and highly ranked institution. However, only one other of the top ten zoos in America is free to the public, the publicly owned and operated National Zoo in Washington, DC. All of the other top US zoos charge from $6 to $16 for adult admission, $1.75 to $7 for kids. For the proverbial family of four, that's $15.50 to $48, just to get through the gate. The most expensive of these is the zoo in deep red San Diego.  

Forest Park is truly a unique American institution. The City of St. Louis on its own established the park but changing population patterns that saw the property tax base emigrate to the suburbs putting the continuation of free admission in jeopardy. From its inception the very idea of Forest Park reeked of socialist sentiment:

On June 24th, 1876, Forest Park officially opened to an estimated 50,000-strong crowd. Purchased through $1.3 million in thirty-year bonds at a 6% return, Forest Park consisted of 1,371 acres of St. Louis countryside, exceeding Central Park's 800 acres by 1.5 times.
At the time, urban areas suffered from the residual effects of the industrial revolution, which ranged from heavy smog to acid rain. St. Louis was one of the most adversely affected cities; many health professionals praised the clean air of the less developed countryside, which the Park was then considered, as beneficial to city-dwellers.
Forest Park was intended to match the grand public parks of Europe and other US cities, namely New York's Central Park, which was established in 1853. The Park was the vision of a number of progressive locals who felt that what the St. Louis public wanted was a Park that "the rich and poor, the merchant and mechanic, the professional man and the day laborer, each with his family and lunch basket, can come and enjoy his own . . . all without stint or hindrance . . . and there will be no notice put up, "Keep off the grass."
That sounds like an entitlement to me.

This is better understood in the context of the unique political relationship between the City of St. Louis, and St. Louis County, which for most purposes are entirely separate from one another. I remember from Sam Gallo, my ninth grade civics teacher in the early 60's, that though it is surrounded by St. Louis County (and the Mississippi River), the City is not in the County. The City of St. Louis has unique home rule status in the State of Missouri, and the municipality, also uniquely, exercises both city and county powers and functions. Despite these political separations forty years ago the city and county came together, not only to save the free zoo, but to also support the extensive museum network and keep those institutions free as well.  

So, why aren't Missouri GOP wingnuts frothing at the mouth about the real socialism in their own backyard rather than against the the imaginary Kenyan socialist in the White House? I offer two words in answer to this:  political suicide.  

Forest Park is enormously popular.  

More than 12 million visitors a year use Forest Park.

Hundreds of thousands come to participate in softball, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf, archery, lacrosse and soccer. They also ride bikes, ice and roller skate, roller-blade, jog, fish and boat.

An estimated half million people attend special events, such as the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, each year and an additional half million patronize The Muny.

Within Park boundaries there is a primary forest, a secondary successional forest, and several fragile ecosystems.

Given the St. Louis metropolitan area population of less than 3 million people (including those in Illinois who don't even pay the taxes) every man, woman and child in the vicinity visits Forest Park more than four times a year.

Meanwhile, not a peep of criticism leaks from any Republican lip of this socialist government thievery that spends taxpayer money for the amusement of just anyone who wanders in and to make matter worse, no one is getting rich from any of it. It's a GOP nightmare. Yet, it would seem that successfully socialistic Forest Park is as much of a third rail in Missouri politics as Social Security has been, until recently at least, and hopefully still is, in national politics.

The GOP hates and fears socialistic ideas and plans and programs because they work for people and once people have them, they are reluctant to give them up. Long Live Forest Park!  

Originally posted to LeftOfYou on Mon May 28, 2012 at 01:41 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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My local zoo and museums

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