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Forgive the long absence of my columns. I was distracted by a pile of unexpected tasks and assignments for the fall.
I must confess another interruption to my schedule. It was the death of our cat, Sassy, who had lived with us just short of 20 years. It was a painful and depressing loss for both my wife and me to an extent it disrupted us more than we expected.
My wife and I have had cats for all the decades we've been married. But none lasted as long as Sassy. For a cat, her age was almost the equivalent of 90 years for a human years.
Part of the pain for her loss was Sassy's history. We got her from a former student working in Jefferson City who discovered a young cat dropped outside her house with a broken back leg. She asked us to take the cat knowing our history with felines.
Our vet put her leg in a soft cast. But that didn't stop her from walking inside and outside our house dragging her broken leg while showing a pretty determined face and wearing a doll sock my wife got to protect her dragging paw.
That's what caused us to name her Sassy. She lived up that name by becoming the near feline boss of our few other cats. If one of us yelled at another cat for trying to sneak outside through an open door or refusing to return home when we called, Sassy promptly would swat the misbehaving cat with her paw.
We learned we were not imaging things when at a later visit for a regular checkup/vaccination of another cat asked how Sassy's departure had impacted our three other cats.
It sure did. In fact, our cat Sassy disciplined the most frequently, Spike, was meowing at us while wandering around where Sassy had spent much of her time.
It took Spike about as much time as Lori and me to get over her loss.
Forgive the long note, but I thought those of you with cats might appreciate Sassy's story.
On another matter, please let me know if you can think of any subjects for my next Capitol Perspectives columns. I fear I may be running out of ideas.
I'm planning my next column to be on the latest state tax collection declines and how accurate legislative staff were in predicting those tax losses when the bill was in the legislature.
As always, feel to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org -- but please do not distribute that address to the public. I'm already flooded with spam emails.
By Phill Brooks
This column is prompted by the problems plaguing Missouri's House Speaker Dean Plocher who is facing calls by his colleagues to resign because of financial double-dipping by seeking reimbursement from the House for travel expenses that had been paid by his campaign.
His troubles continue a pattern of House speakers who have run into trouble despite holding one of the most powerful positions in Missouri government.
Of the 15 House speakers I've covered in the past half century, five were subjects of criminal investigations or allegations of improper behavior.
That is a staggering percentage of scandals for the top leader of the House compared to the Missouri Senate's top official, the president pro tem.
The only involuntary removal of a Senate president pro tem I covered was the ouster of Sen. Earl Blackwell in 1970 after he successfully won statewide voter approval to overturn the tax increase pushed by the fellow Democratic governor, Warren Hearnes.
So why the difference between the two chambers?
One obvious factor is the enormous powers of the House speaker to control the political futures of House members as well as the fate of legislation sought by special interests.
In contrast, the powers of the Senate's top leader are restricted by rules and a long-history of tradition that no leader has absolute control of the
Almost every time a House speaker faced allegations of wrongdoing, I remembered the quote attributed to British Lord Acton two centuries ago that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Another factor could be the Senate is much smaller, with only 34 members compared to 163 members in the House.
For years I've sensed that the smaller number of Senate members helped create a stronger bipartisan community within the chamber that fosters adherence to appropriate behavior.
It can be a bipartisan standard as demonstrated when Senate Democrats joined Republicans in 2017 to censure a fellow Democrat, Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, for a social media post expressing hope about a presidential assassination.
Every Republican voted for the admonition against her, but so did six of the Senate's nine Democrats, including the Senate Democratic leader.
I wonder if fewer Missouri House members might be a vehicle for imposing stronger standards and pressure for appropriate behavior by their leaders.
Some senators confidentially described how the Senate was like a family where they could provide personal advice of "don't go there" when a colleague was considering unwise behavior.
The five House speakers I've covered who might have benefited from that advice were:
1976: Richard Rabbit was the first speaker I covered when I became a full-time statehouse reporter. Rabbitt resigned in 1976 to make an unsuccessful race for lieutenant governor. However, he also faced a federal criminal investigation that subsequently led to conviction for seeking funds in exchange for favorable treatment of legislation backed by transportation interests.
1996: Bob Griffin was one of the most influential speakers I've covered. He served longer than any other Missouri House speaker. But he resigned in 1996 after pleading guilty to charges that involved recommending to various special interests they hire a lobbyist from whom he subsequently got payments.
2005: Rod Jetton served a full four-year term as speaker. But he subsequently pled guilty for sexual assault of a woman and was investigated for a pay-for-play scheme involving legislation to restrict sex shops. Jetton now has been hired by Plocher to be his chief of staff.
2012: Steve Tilley resigned as speaker five months before his term as speaker would end to become a lobbyist. The financial records of those lobbyist payments came under an FBI investigation. He faced FBI scrutiny over his activities both before he left the legislature and for years afterward, but he's never been charged with a crime.
2015: John Diehl after the Kansas City Star reported he had been sending sexually inappropriate text messages to a 19-year-old House intern. He announced his resignation after he could not win sufficient support from a closed-door caucus of fellow Republican House members. Diehl's tenure as speaker lasted less than six months.
I'm indebted to Springfield News-Leader reporter Kelly Dereuck for her story on Plocher's problem that included a list of Missouri House speakers who resigned.
Her story helped confirm my own memories of those speakers.