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Chris Dunn's Blog in 2009
On the Jeff City beat

Posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 5:10 p.m.:

The past few weeks have been a bit rough! As a photojournalism major, I've had to shift gears a little and focus on my photo coursework in the past few weeks. But now I've turned back toward reporting a little more and am excited about the last two weeks of legislative session. But nobody would be surprised if a special session is called after May 15. The budget and federal stimulus bills have been the big cheese this session and passing fairly slowly through the legislative process. I'm just disappointed I won't be here if there is a special session.

In journalism news, the Suburban Journals reporter who took a bullet while covering the Kirkwood city hall shooting last year has been laid off. I am now even more worried about entering an industry where taking a bullet on the job wouldn't guarantee me some degree of job security.

 

Posted on Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 4:50 p.m.:

Being the only print reporter in the bureau on any certain day is tough. Today, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 390 (sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia), which ideally I would have covered. But Phill has had me working on one of my features instead, since session should be heating up in a few weeks and I have only so much time to complete these features.

He has also asked me to look into returning in the fall, to work on an extended story that I was to have completed this semester. But at this point, that deadline may be too ambitious. We'll see -- I'm already registered for classes in the fall, and there are a lot of other factors to consider.

5:05 p.m. -- One of the radio reporters, Nathan Higgins, just objected to some editing done by radio TA Abby Grimmett -- specifically, he said the use of "supporters" versus "opponents" sounded too much like sports reporting. At which I said, "Politics is sports, and the playing field is the voters and the Chambers."

I had completely made that up at the moment, but it now strikes me as somewhat true. If only there were a way to make a coherent bracket for bills and elections -- then the analogy would be complete.

 

Posted on Monday, March 30, 2009 at 3:40 p.m.:

The past two weeks have been fairly uneventful. This is because that first week was the legislative spring break and this past week was MU's spring break. But everyone's back in the statehouse, and I feel a little strange wearing business clothes and heels after spending a week in jeans and Chaco sandals.

My agenda for the next two or three weeks: get my features done. Phill says the last few weeks of session will be characterized by an insane level of activity, about which I am really excited. Since I'm on the budget/economy beat, I haven't had a lot of hard news to work on since the start of session and then when the House Budget Committee passed the House's version of the budget a few weeks ago. But for now, it's the features.

 

Posted on Friday, Feb. 27, 2009 at 2:55 p.m.:

I haven't posted in a while, and a lot has happened this week, even though I haven't completed a story per se since last week. The Rocky Mountain News published its final edition today, I live-blogged President Barack Obama's first Congressional address and Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R-La.) response and Missouri received its first federal stimulus dollars yesterday. Phill has assigned me three long-term pieces, so those should definitely be keeping me busy.

 

Posted on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 at 3:35 p.m:

The first few weeks were a flurry of activity, but now everything seems to be settling into place in Jefferson City, both in the legislative chambers and in the bureau. For now, following a few bills and the federal stimulus package are my priorities, as well as a state budget feature profiling two House legislators.

 

Posted on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009 at 6:20 p.m.:

I have just completed my eighth story this semester. The article is about MOHELA's inability to finance the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative Fund proposed by former Gov. Matt Blunt in January 2007. I think I can safely say I've learned a lot today, since I began reporting on this story with almost no knowledge of what exactly MOHELA is (besides the state's student loan agency), what the Lewis and Clark fund finances and how everything is tied together.

Reporting on the state budget is proving to be a more diverse beat than I'd expected.

 

Posted on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009 at 3:15 p.m.:

I have never seen the statehouse bureau so full of people. We have two priests who will be keeping us company for this session, as well as all the returning print/radio reporters and a slew of new radio reporters. Normally, I am here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I just have to be in town for Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address. The level of activity in and out of the bureau is unlike any I've seen since Nixon's inauguration on the 12th.

 

Posted on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009 at 5:01 p.m.:

I'm back in the statehouse! So far, it seems I am the only print reporter in the bureau for the next two weeks. Jumping headfirst into legislative session -- which opens tomorrow at noon -- will be a challenge, but I'm ready and excited.

Today, Sarah Wire and I made a few rounds around the entire building to see which legislators are already here. Obviously, everyone will be in the building tomorrow, but today one or both of us talked to Speaker-designate Ron Richard, House Minority Floor Leader Paul Levota and Rep. Mary Still (D-Columbia). It seems this session's buzzword will be "bipartisanship," especially since Democrats will occupy all but one of the statewide offices and face a Republican majority in the House and Senate. Should shape up to be a good, interesting session!

 

Posted on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008 at 1:40 p.m.:

My budget piece and Holden piece have officially become one and the same. In other news, Gov-elect Jay Nixon is having 600 state employees reapply for their jobs. Brenda Martens is working on that story, and I'm excited to see what comes of it. And in old news, the Department of Higher Education has asked the University of Missouri system to create "budget cut scenarios." Excerpts from UM-system president Gary Forsee's e-mail from yesterday:

Last week we learned that our state is facing an estimated $340 million shortfall in its budget through June 2009.  We have been asked to prepare scenarios describing how we might operate with drastically reduced state appropriations that could range between 15 and 25 percent for FY2010.   We typically receive more than $400 million in state funding, so these scenarios will reflect between $60 million and $100 million in potential budget cuts across our campuses.

The magnitude of this potential reduction is unprecedented and will require an extraordinary response on our part.  The deadline for this response to the Missouri Department of Higher Education is Dec. 18.  In addition, we will need to anticipate a 01Cwithhold01D from our current 2009 operating plan.

This is my penultimate day in the Capitol this semester, but radio reporter Max Hyman and I will be return from winter break three weeks early in order to report on legislative session as soon as it starts on Jan. 7. We are already so excited to get rolling with reporting.

 

Posted on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008 at 1:50 p.m.:

The governor's office has not commented on either the white powdery substance that was supposed to be mailed to the State Capitol yesterday (as well as to Capitol buildings in five other states) or the arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (Ill.).

 

Posted on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008 at 1:47 p.m.:

Former state Sen. Wayne Goode (appointed to Nixon's transition team as Deputy Director for Budget Review) has announced a $342 million shortfall for the fiscal year. This changes a lot about the state budget article Brenda and I are working on, as well as some of the Holden piece Christine and I are working on. But right now, another reporter is working on that specific story about the shortfall. I think the biggest question is, "Exactly what happened to the $281 million surplus that was supposed to cushion the state budget through next year?" Everyone has said that Missouri's state economy is secure, in comparison to many other states -- which is true, since California faces a $12 billion deficit. Nevertheless, the state still lost more than $600 million in the past year. We'll see what Gov.-elect Jay Nixon wants to do.

 

Posted on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 at 2:15 p.m.:

Election withdrawals are hitting hard. More than two weeks have passed since the Democrats were elected into statewide office (except the lieutenant governor's office), and I'm feeling the post-election blues. Trying to contact people in this post-election season is more challenging than in the general election season: whereas the candidates were more receptive to reporters' questions (publicity?), reaching the elected officials is much more difficult, especially during this transition period.

Radio reporter Brenda Martens and I are working on a story about the state budget as it will transpire under Gov.-elect Jay Nixon. The state budget does have a hefty surplus, but the cushion cannot bolster us for long, so we are especially interested in how the governor-elect plans to approach the budget. Also, radio reporter Christine Slusser and I are working on a background piece about former Gov. Bob Holden, and what budget policies he put in place as the previous Democratic governor. These are both long-term pieces.

According to Nixon's office, government performance reviews will begin shortly:

Jay Nixon will establish a Performance Review Commission composed of private sector executives, elected officials, and senior-level state employees who will be charged with reviewing state operations and develop recommendations for improvement. This Commission will review every state agency to evaluate how to improve performance and reduce cost to the taxpayer.  The Commission will also be specifically tasked with recommending ineffective programs for elimination. 

The health care sector is specifically mentioned in the same paragraph, which raises the obvious question of "What about Nixon's repeated campaign promises to restore Medicaid cuts?" It seems clear that these performance reviews pertain more specifically to actual state government sectors, but nevertheless -- what kind of cuts would be made to "reduce cost to the taxpayer"? Cuts in funding or in personnel or both, and to what extent?

 

Posted on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008 at 1:35 p.m:

Just a little over a week until Election Night!

We are already starting to work out details of post-Election Night coverage. The polls so far show the Democrats are far and away ahead in statewide offices, excepting the lieutenant governor race between incumbent Peter Kinder and Dr. Sam Page. But regardless of who's elected, the energy in the Jeff City newsroom is going to go through the roof after Nov. 4.

Next week for sure, I'll be contacting people at Rolla, and at Missouri wind farms.

In other news, the Missouri Department of Economic Development shows that Missouri is leading the nation in total number of jobs created in September. This is certainly good news for Missouri, but I have an inkling that the department issued this release at least partially in response to the turmoil on Wall Street these days. However, as far as I undersand this, it's important to note that surging numbers of new jobs in Missouri are necessarily a reflection of the Missouri market, as the full impact of Wall Street will probably not be apparent in Missouri's economy for at least another few weeks. This is definitely a job market to be observing over the next weeks, though.

1:59 p.m. on Oct. 23 -- In no relation to Missouri news -- Alan Greenspan just admitted to serious flaws in his ideology of a free market's needing absolutely no government regulation. You can check out the New York Times article here.

 

Posted on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008 at 1:25 p.m.:

Election Night is three weeks away, which means we are already figuring out who's going to be covering whom, and where, and when. Bureau reporters are also working on profile pieces of their assigned statewide candidates, which is proving to be difficult because most of those candidates are busy right around now. We are also supposed to get, or arrange for someone to help us acquire, audio and video of our candidates. I'm planning on covering the Oct. 20 debate between the attorney general candidates, so that should be a good opportunity.

Next week, I should be contacting people at Rolla again, for a supplementary piece about hydrogen fuel cells, as well as various wind farms around Missouri. I'm also hoping to investigate further into Wall Street's economic impact on Missouri. Gov. Blunt issued a release yesterday, in which he said that Missouri will be in the minority of states not in need of aid from the federal government. This corresponds fairly well with Sarah Steelman's office's statement that Missouri's state economy is holding up, but I do want to look more into this and spell things out for Missourians. Hopefully I can do this next week as well.

 

Posted on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008 at 4:48 p.m.:

Yesterday, I went to Rolla because Gov. Matt Blunt made an appearance at the E^3 Commons, which is the location of the state's first and only permanent hydrogen fueling station. Students and faculty at the Missouri University of Science & Technology have been working hard on the development of hydrogen fuel technology, and Rolla was one of the governor's stops on his "energy tour" throughout the state.

I was the only reporter there (excepting the student newspaper at Missouri S&T), and that was disappointing. In a way, it was wonderful because I had full access to whomever I needed to talk to, but it was also surprising. I know the governor visits a lot of places to make 10-minute speeches and shake hands and connect with the public, and that many in the industry write these off as publicity stunts, but nevertheless.

Next Thursday is the second A.G. candidate debate. It will be in Poplar Bluff, at the Three Rivers Community College at 4:30 p.m. Yours Truly is going.

 

Posted on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008 at 9:15 p.m.:

I accidentally deleted my previous entries. So here I go again - and the following weeks will be busy, but interesting, ones.

Keeping up on what's going on in Wall Street is a bit of a struggle for me. I did not do very well in my microeconomics class in freshman year, and I never anticipated actively covering the economy in the near future. But today I spoke with a business professor at MU, and I hope to speak with economics professors, to help me brush up on what exactly is happening at Wall Street. Figuring out how it impacts Missouri's state economy, as well as Missourians themselves, is more difficult because the state treasurer's office has enacted policy to prohibit the state government from investing in banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies. However, there is always the distinct possibility of a trickle-down effect, and that's what I'm hoping to find in my economic coverage.

Brenda Martens and I worked on a quick story about state treasurer Sarah Steelman's announcement of investment workshops to highlight the investment policies her office put into place, and to help other government agencies adopt similar policies. We plan on doing a follow-up this week. In addition, follow-ups on renewable energy as a ballot issue, and keeping up with Chris Koster's campaign for Missouri attorney general will keep me busy for the next two weeks or so. It's exciting times here at the Jeff City beat.


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