I met a man Tuesday at the Tax Credit Review Commission meeting. Of the dozen or non-committee members in attendance, there was just one who introduced himself not as a member of an affected organization or the media; he was a self-proclaimed concerned citizen.
When the group broke for lunch, the man approached the small group of MDN reporters gathered at the front of the room. He reached out his hand in introduction and began to talk.
Five years ago, the Bolivar man read an article in the Springfield News-Leader about the millions in profits a developer made when he utilized the state's historic preservation tax credit. He got interested, got himself informed, and has been actively keeping tabs on the tax credit ever since.
What he told us was that the subcommitte for the historic preservation tax had been stacked with 14 additional members -- all of whom had an interest in keeping the tax credit program intact. Some had donated over $1,000 to an organization whose mission is to prevent changes to the tax credit. He had an entire folder full of materials he had printed and highlighted and e-mails he had exchanged with chairs of committees and a senator. He said he had already peddled his story about the stacked subcommittee to the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and was hoping that some media outlet would publicize the story.
I was struck by the amount of time he had dedicated to attending meetings, researching, and simply connecting the dots. He had a fire in his belly. He was the uber-informed citizen.
Had the subcommittee's recommendation to keep the tax credit's cap at $140 million not been ignored by the greater Review Commission, this would have been a great story. I was ready to write it. It was an honest to goodness investigative look into the inner workings of the government by an average Joe, and it was inspiring.
I know that I'm still a newbie reporter, and that fact is fortified every time I'm in awe of where I am and who I'm talking with. Go ahead, call me starry-eyed, but I still get excited when I talk to candidates, policymakers, and the practically famous. It makes me giddy to know I'm somewhere special, somewhere I wouldn't otherwise be allowed, just because I'm a journalist.
My story this week combined both those factors. I got to venture across the street from the Capitol to a no-nonsense red brick building that I'd eyed since Day One in Jeff City: the Missouri Supreme Court. The arguments I heard were given in the Division 1 courtroom in front of seven Supreme Court justices, and then the media met with the lawyers, plaintiff, and Guatemalan ambassador to the United State in the Division 2 courtroom afterward.
I had one of those nerdy history moments where I stepped in the building and felt the significance of the walls around me -- this is the place where people have met their fate in the state's highest court, where rulings have changed the lives of individuals and Missourians, and justice has found a home in my state. And then I got to watch it in action.
The case and experience have been the thing I tell people about when they ask me what I've been up to this week. "Oh, well, I interviewed the Guatemalan ambassador at the state Supreme Court Tuesday. He was a dapper fellow, very eloquent." Yes, it's been a good week.
The first time I covered Gov. Nixon and came back giddy, I was told that feeling would wear off once I became a pro. To a point, it could be good to stop getting excited, just so nerves don't interfere with an interview. But on the other hand, I don't particularly want to lose that wide-eyed wonder with all the places I go.
Legislators returned to the Capitol Thursday for caucuses, figuring out who their new leaders will be. It was fantastic -- the busiest the statehouse has been since I've been reporting. It's a little taste of what next semester will be like when everyone is in session.
After covering elections Tuesday, then jumping to the Republican Senate caucus on Thursday, the difference between the two really stood out to me. Running for office and running an office are really quite opposite. A friend and I were talking about the difference last night. The conclusion was that elections are like horse races -- the competition, egging each other on, one pulling ahead then dropping back, all with the end in sight. The goings-on of the Capitol are a game -- everyone is playing, or else they're being played. Every relationship, every bill, every promotion is all a part of the game. And it's our job to figure it out.
The flurry of activity in MDN yesterday was a sharp contrast to our usual relaxed atmosphere as we would slog through long-term stories and profiles. The busy preparation for election day finally got us up, moving, and excited again. Tuesday is going to be pure chaos... and I can't wait.
I was one of four reporters covering the primary elections in August for the Missourian and I'm on Scott Swafford's e-mail list about Tuesday's election also. I've seen the Missourian budget for election day -- it looks equally crazy as well with reporters all over Boone County. MDN is sending reporters to St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Lexington, and Garden City. And that's just for two newsrooms.
The sheer amount of preparation and journalistic activity for election day is exhausting. The weeks and months of stories covering campaigning, funding, debates, profiles, and polls is about to culminate in one decision for each race. Each local election means something about that small community within a state. Each state is electing statewide officials, another greater pulse on the will of the electorate. Fifty statewide races that change the composition of our national legislature. And for each and every one of these races, there's a journalist covering the candidates and the resulting. It's kind of mind-boggling. It's chaos.
It makes my small contribution to election coverage seem very small in comparison to the big picture. But it reminds me that I'm an important part of that process. And that's just awesome.
Now there's no audio, and the video has suddenly disappeared from our projector screen in our sequestered room. We wait. Suddenly the black screen bursts into color as the AARP sponsorship ad revs us up for the debate to come.
* * *
Sadly, the debate that came was a letdown. In my naivete, I believed that the candidates would have a clean debate about the issues; just tough questions with honest answers. That was not what Blunt and Carnahan had in mind.
I was blown away by the way Carnahan immediately delved into attacks on Blunt, aggressive throughout the debate. I was struck by the cool-as-a-cumcumber attitude Blunt was able to maintain throughout the beginning of the debate. This guy was practiced at taking crap from people. Of course, they both snapped in the end.
This Senate campaign has been marked with mudslinging from both parties. This debate was no different. Blunt left me wishing for instant fact-checking feedback from Politico; Carnahan left me incredulous that anyone could believe the kind of attitude she displayed could win her votes.
Maybe there's hope for the debate in the morning. Maybe, suddenly, these two practiced politicians will decide on an open, honest, kind debate. Most likely, they'll just keep playing politics.
On Thursday at 2:30 p.m., I received a call from a man named Tyler, who identified himself as a member of Tom Schweich's campaign. I was enthralled; I was expecting a call from Schweich's campaign manager Matt and I was sure Tyler was calling on his behalf - which was much better than not receiving the call at all, as has been the norm the past few weeks. Excited to get the details of the interview I was hoping to have with Schweich, I let Tyler know that yes, this is Alysha Love of Missouri Digital News.
And then the letdown.
No, Tyler was not calling to firm up any plans for an interview; in fact, he was calling on behalf of Mrs. Kathy Schweich. Molly Boland and I had placed two calls to her earlier in the day, hoping to ask a few quick questions of her to add some flavor to our profile of Schweich. Apparently, Mrs. Schweich is not part of the campaign, does not want to speak with us and does not want us calling her.
It's possible that our college student status is an immediate turnoff to candidates running a statewide campaign. However, that leads me to wonder if these candidates - and other state leaders - are such proponents of higher education in Missouri (particularly MU and its gem of a journalism school), why is there no time to actually provide support to the students? Fighting for funding and debating the merits of higher education in the legislature, sure, no problem. Taking ten minutes to speak to a student enrolled in the program that puts MU on the map? Not so much.
Or, perhaps, there's a wider aversion to all media outlets. Is this warranted? I can't help but think that it may be. I'd be scared to speak with a journalist who may twist my words or turn the one stupid off-hand comment I make in the interview into a story. Sure, if I were the spouse of a candidate, I might not want to end up saying the wrong thing and ruin the campaign. But I don't think saying nice things about your candidate-spouse could get you in much trouble. And any publicity is good publicity, right?
Not this campaign season. It seems controlling the media's interactions with a candidate is of utmost importance. In a mid-term election, that seems like a poor ploy, but maybe the aversion will dwindle the closer we get to Nov. 2.
Incurring greater costs
Big insurance companies will not have trouble staying afloat despite the added costs of covering children's pre-existing conditions, said Brent Butler, governmental affairs director for Missouri Insurance Coalition, a state association that represents the state's insurance companies.
However, he said he's less optimistic about the outcome after January 1, 2014, when all pre-existing conditions for adults must be covered and the costs of care must be spread across all plans.
"It'll be a lesser impact now with just kids, but when 2014 rolls around, it's going to be very difficult to try to price this," he said. "You're going to have to charge a lot of people a lot more than they would be paying now."
Butler said the law limits how insurance companies can charge customers. Rather than the status quo -- basing the cost of a plan on an individual's risk -- companies can only base their rate on an age group.
"There's a limit of how much more you can charge a 65-year-old than a 25-year-old. But when you start throwing pre-existing conditions a person would get over those 40 years in, you'll have to spread that cost to the people that are 25 or 26 when they're first buying insurance on their own dime," he said. "They're going to have to pay more than what is really their true risk to cover these 50-year-olds."
Butler said the rates for young adults may be so high above their true risk that many will accept the penalty for not buying insurance, which would likely be cheaper than their insurance rate. Then, he said, if they get sick and need insurance, they're guaranteed coverage of the pre-existing condition without paying the inflated rate ahead of time.
Trey Davis, vice president of governmental affairs for Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said private employers in particular will have a more difficult time complying with the upcoming regulations because of the increased costs.
"During the federal health care debate, the Missouri Chamber fought to continue to allow employers, especially small business employers, to continue to have the ability to make the decision how to best provide coverage for their employees," Davis said. "Now, unfortunately, because of the federal health care mandate, they're having to make the decision of whether or not to continue the coverage they were previously providing."
Employers providing coverage will have to begin making tough choices soon, Davis said.
"I'm a little worried about what happens in about four years," Butler said. "I think (government-provided health care as the only viable option) may be the ultimate goal of this, but what that's gonna mean is you're gonna have to fund it. Everybody's taxes are going to go up dramatically and that may be what this ultimately causes."
A friend from high school told me that every day she would devote 30 minutes to thinking. Just thinking, about anything and everything. I always loved the idea of spending time with my own thoughts; I just never had time to do it. Now that I'm commuting 30 minutes to Jefferson City, I decided this was the perfect time to begin thinking. Just thinking.
I feel slightly philosophical, because the more I think, the less of an answer I can supply. Today's subject of thought, for example, was Terry Jones. Before I left the Capitol, I read the update in the New York Times that Jones had decided to halt his plans for the Sept. 11 Koran burning (of course he's rescinding the statement now, which opens up more discussion).
While driving home, I had a few questions about the Jones/Koran situation to think about:
These questions were particularly prompted by a quote that's no longer in the NY Times story about how Jones was "very very pleased" with the reaction he got, despite the fact that he was no longer planning on burning Korans.
((The New York Times has since reflected on the media's role in the fiasco, concluding: "The episode has given rise to at least a little soul-searching within news organizations. Chris Cuomo, an ABC News anchor, wrote Thursday afternoon on Twitter, 'I am in the media, but think media gave life to this Florida burning ... and that was reckless.'"))
What is right? What is wrong? And what have we done? What do you think?
I love the challenge of building a bridge of understanding between the government and the readers. I want to make the revenue collection data accessible and interesting for the average reader. I think a lot of times our government reporting becomes exclusive-- only someone who already understands the issue can read and understand many of the articles we write. This is how people get the idea that politics are above them or boring or too confusing. I maintain that anyone can understand politics. The information just has to be presented in a way that the average person can understand.
That was my goal with the article I wrote Thursday about August's revenue collections. It was a first attempt. Hopefully I'll improve and begin finding better ways to make these big numbers and percentage increases and decreases more relatable, because that's the only way we're going to get people to care.
I was immediately struck by how beautiful the building is. From the highway, I'd always thought it was a big, gray eyesore whose dome couldn't compare to the navy and white beauty of MU's Jesse Hall. I was wrong. This building is majestic, classic, supreme. I wish more buildings like this could be built in Missouri. The inside, of course, is equally impressive. The House and Senate sessions are held in exquisite halls with high ceilings, dark wood and stained glass. Everywhere I walked, I was granted the satisfactory click of my heels on the stone floor. The only thing missing was the bustle of activity that I'm certain must rule the Capitol while the General Assembly is in session.
There's something about old buildings that makes me feel at home. While our Capitol building is still relatively young, it has housed a lot of history. Important people have walked its halls, changing laws and lifestyles. I'm walking the same hallways they walked. The names of people who are currently a BIG DEAL are on little gold plaques outside their office doors. On the other side of that door, they're sitting there in a plush red chair behind a large oak desk, thinking up brilliant plans to make life better and safer for Missourians. At least that's how I like to picture it. I suppose that's the best part of the Capitol - that history is still happening in this building. And now I'm a part of it.