Michael Bushnell is a senior print journalism and political science major from Silver Spring, Md. This is his second consecutive year covering the Missouri state legislative session, and he'll be on the ethics beat.
Posted May 12, 2009: Transformers
It's the final week of the General Assembly, but the Senate surely didn't mind taking advantage of the power outage that randomly came through the capitol on Tuesday. According to Ameren, a transformer blew downtown and shut off power to about a six block radius that happened to include the center of Missouri's government.
At around noon, the Senate was getting ready to adjourn for a 45-minute lunch break when the power blew. Senate floor leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, proposed to take a break until 2. That wasn't good enough for most Senators.
"Senator, aren't there enough important committees that need to meet until at least 2:30 or 3?," inquired Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit.
"You're not getting enough time to play golf, Senator," Engler replied.
Senators then began shouting out numbers as if it were an episode of 'Sesame Street.'
"Three! Let's break 'til three!," yelled one Senator.
"Four!" said another.
"Can I get a 3? Going once, going-- oh, there's a 3:30, can I get--," replied Engler jokingly.
Engler asked if any Senators cared to make an announcement. Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Arnold, couldn't resist taking a shot at the older-looking Senate clerk and referencing the lack of electricity.
"Can you ask the secretary of the Senate if this is what it was like when she started?," he asked to uproarious laughter.
Engler agreed to let the Senate adjourn until 2:30, 105 minutes after he had originally planned to. The power was back on by 12:45.
Posted April 30, 2009: Kiss me thru the phone?
One lesson learned from the Senate session on Thursday? Don't leave your cellphone around Sen. Jeff Smith, or people will think you're running for governor.
After Smith introduced some guests, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, chimed in.
"Don't leave your cellphone around the senator from the fourth," Dempsey said, looking at Smith's guests. "He'll probably do something mischievous with it."
Dempsey seemed partially okay with it, and somewhat peeved.
"After the Senate bowling tournament, (Dempsey) left his phone by accident so I sent some text messages to some people that were of questionable nature," Smith said. "He had a strange morning. There were some people who thought he was running for governor, and other people thought that he missed them very much, so that was awkward for him."
Posted April 28, 2009: Every day is a holiday
On the day it was announced that the U.S. economy was shrinking even faster than expected, the Missouri Senate was busy with other things. Like what to call December 25. A bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, that would make that day officially recognized as "Christmas" made its way to the Senate floor, and some Democratic senators decided to have fun with it.
Democratic Sens. Rita Days of Normandy and Joan Bray of University City wanted to know why other holidays were being left out.
Days: "Cinco de Mayo, is this in here?"
Bray: "Oh my gosh, Cinco de Mayo. And you know what? Dieceiseis de Septiembre (Sept. 16) is Mexican Independence Day...my birthday."
Days: "Okay, well your birthday ought to be in here."
Bray: "St. Patrick's Day?"
Days: "Well that absolutely is true...that's not here."
Bray: "He said, 'Begora and thank ya.'"
Days: "St. Patrick. We're going to have lots of amendments for this one."
Days also asked about the recognition of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas. It is actually recognized in 29 states and D.C., where it is also a government holiday. The Christmas bill still needs to pass the Senate before it can go to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk to be signed.
Posted April 23, 2009: Know your Senator- Part 5 of 34: Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis
Some state Senators have done some pretty cool things in their lives, but only one can say he was the star of an award-winning documentary. "Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?" covered a then-30-year-old Jeff Smith's campaign for U.S. Congress in 2004. An little-known Washington University political science professor with no history in elected office, Smith ran against the far-better known Russ Carnahan and the political machine that his last name brought. In the film, Carnahan is portrayed as aloof, not very engaging and running off his family name (his late father was a governor, his mom a U.S. senator and his sister is Missouri's secretary of state and is running for U.S. Senate). Smith finished second behind Carnahan in the Democratic primary, losing by fewer than 2,000 votes, and Carnahan has been in Washington ever since. Two years later, Smith ran for State Senate and overcame long odds once again, defeating three state representatives in the primary and winning 36.4 percent of the vote, more than 11 points better than the second place finisher, Rep. Yaphett El-Amin. Smith, 35, is an Olivette native and still teaches part-time at Wash-U.
Posted April 7, 2009: Freshmen...
The Senate was busy discussing cell phone access rates, when debate came to a screeching halt.
"Excuse me senators," said Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, moderating the debate for the day. "The senator from Boone has a beverage receptacle that is not allowed down here."
A chorus of "awwww" and "shame, shame, shame!" came ringing from the chamber, reminiscent of a middle school lunch cafeteria. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, holding a soda can, made a beeline for the nearest door.
Posted April 2, 2009: Screwing decorum and Tilley saves the day
While the state Senate is generally civil, the House of Representatives sometimes has the vibe of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange mixed with a coop at a chicken processing plant, with a little anger on the side. It was probably a good thing that the House gallery was mostly empty on Thursday morning, because HB 681 brought out the fiesty side of some state Representatives.
It was judgment day for Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, and his bill which would dramatically change the way vacancies in statewide offices are filled. If a vacancy occurs in the middle of the term of a U.S. Senator, State Auditor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, or, most importantly in this case, Secretary of State, the rest of the elected time would be filled through a special election rather than a gubernatorial appointment as is currently protocol. This brought up some heated opinions on both sides, with multiple Democrats assailing Smith for introducing a bill they called nothing more than a partisan ploy.
While Republicans have comfortable majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, the Democrats hold six of the eight statewide offices in Missouri, and could potentially hold everything except the Lt. Governor's job after the 2010 election. Smith said the bill was in response to the debacle in Illinois, where former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D, was thrown out of office after being caught on tape trying to trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, for political favors. Smith told the House floor that holding special elections would remove any chance of corruptions. Democrats didn't buy that; some of them said the only goal of this bill is to give Republicans a chance to take the Secretary of State's job before 2012.
Popular Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, D, who was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote in 2008, has announced her candidacy for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R. If she were to win, under current law, Gov. Jay Nixon, D, would pick someone to fill her spot until the 2012 elections. This bill would allow a Republican to potentially win an election sometime in 2011, giving them the advantage of incumbency for 2012. Democrats did not like that, and some pulled no punches.
Calling the legislation "a silly bill," Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said Smith was being disingenous when he said HB 681 was promoting Missourians' freedom. "If there was still a Republican governor in this state and we had bad candidates running for statewide office, we would probably do the same thing." No statewide vacancy in one of those six offices has occured during a term since 1994.
Turns out that was about as cordial as it would get. Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence, the assistant Minority Leader, was the first to call out Smith. Before he called the legislation "ridiculous" and "uncalled for, unjustified and unneeded," he said he didn't believe the Salem representative's claim that his constituents asked for this bill.
"The gentleman from the 150th district says he got calls about this after what happened in Illinois," Kuessner said, referring to Smith. "I say this didn't happen unless it was solicited by him. He had to be speaking detrimental of Missouri in that case."
Smith did not back down, however. In response to Kuessner, he portrayed himself as the champion of election freedom. However, this bill would only apply to those six statewide offices that the governor has power of appointment over; no local offices would be impacted.
"This has nothing to do with who is running or not running for Senate," Smith insisted. "I'm trying to give the power back to the people."
More Democrats didn't buy that and that's when the fun really began. Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, called that argument "hollow." He also began the trash talking.
Smith said the Democrats were being too full of themselves, to which Talboy replied, "a twenty point victory will do that to you." Nixon beat Hulshof last November 58% to 38%.
Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Claycomo, took the microphone to defend Smith. That's when the decibel level was rasied. Talboy said the bill "smacks obviously of political expediency" and called the Republican's goal disingenous because it doesn't cover local elections. Silvey got testy.
"Did you try? Did you try?" Silvey asked Talboy about whether he offered an amendment when the bill went through the perfecting process on Tuesday. "You didn't try to make this bill better. You're just looking for a soundbite, you're not looking for a solution."
The Republicans also tried to compare the decades-long battle for women's suffrage in the U.S. to the off-chance to holding a special election for Missouri State Auditor. After Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Grantwood Village, said this bill would change the same protocol that has been the norm in Missouri since 1875, Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, gave Susan B. Anthony's fight a shout out.
"Women couldn't vote until 1921," Jones said. "If you use the minority party's argument, should they not have been allowed to vote? That's the way it was."
But the biggest fireworks came in an exchange between Smith and the Missouri General Assembly's closest thing to an invisible man: a first-year Democratic legislator from the St. Louis area. Rep. Don Calloway, D-Vinita Terrace, was very critical of the idea that the Governor could potentially be controlling the Attorney General's office before a special election could be held. Smith was not happy.
"You should get an award for the freshman who talks the most," Smith said.
"You should get an award for the biggest-- nevermind, I won't say it," Calloway said. "Two preachers' kids going at it, this is fun."
But then Calloway committed a cardinal sin in parliamentary procedure: referring to a representative by his or her name. After two or three minutes of heated back-and-forth between Calloway and Smith, often to the point where it was impossible to understand what either man was saying, he called Silvey out.
Calloway: "It's so unbelievably rude that we can't have a dialogue. Maybe you didn't read the bill you drafted, but you guys; I'll get to you, Silvey--"
Smith: "Don't refer to him by name on the floor!"
Calloway: "Fine, call a point of order then!"
Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, came to the rescue, calling said point of order. "I would appreciate some decorum." He didn't really get what he wanted.
Calloway (to Smith): "This bill is like swiss cheese, there are so many holes in it."
Smith: "You want to tax but not represent. If you had a problem with this, why didn't you offer an amendment."
Calloway: "Some things slip by me."
Smith: "Imagine that, some things slip by you."
It got better. After Smith said Calloway was making "false accusations" against him and the bill on the floor, Calloway got the last word in.
"You're the son of a preacher, you should know better," Calloway said to jeers from the Republican side.
"I think that was a personal jab," Smith said, looking at Speaker Ronald Richard, R-Joplin, for some support. Richard banged his gavel.
"I think both of you have broken enough House rules today," he said.
Rep. Jonas Hughes, D-Kansas City, holding a rolled-up piece of green paper and pointing it at Smith from across the House floor, said the Republicans were beating a dead horse talking about Blagojevich.
"You talk about Illinois over and over," he said. "This isn't Illinois and this is not the will of the people."
Smith: "What my bill does--"
Hughes: "I know what your bill does!"
Smith: "You're the one trying to take away democracy!"
After nearly 90 minutes of debate and just when it looked like we were on the verge of a duel/gang fight in the middle of Jefferson City, like Spiderman repelling from the top of a building, Tilley came to save everyone from themselves.
"Motion to move to previous question," he said to cheers and sighs of relief from both sides of the aisle. Finally something they could both agree on. Until Smith equated special elections to the crux of America's foundation.
"If you believe in democracy, then you will vote for this bill," he said.
Based on that standard, democracy prevailed on basically a party-line vote. Five Democrats voted in favor and no Republicans voted against and the bill passed 94 to 63.
Posted March 31, 2009: Got their priorities in order
With time ticking down until the end of the 2009 legislative session, it would seem important to make the most out of every second that the Senate is gathered together. Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, pleaded for his colleagues to make the most of their time by not wasting energy debating non-essential bills. His words were heeded for maybe 45 seconds.
Immediately after Engler finished speaking, Sen. Dan Clemens, R-Marshfield, took the floor to speak on behalf of his SB 364, which would create something known as the "Television Electronic Recycling Act."
Clemens' legislation would require any television manufacturer who wishes to sell their wares in Missouri to register with the state and pay a $2,500 fee on Jan. 1 of each year. They must also recycle a certain number of televisions that would be based on the number sold. This did not go over too well with some of his fellow Republicans, a couple of whom were more than happy to give anecdotes in opposition of the bill.
"My son eats nearly a box of cereal every day," Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, told the chamber. "And he finishes off doggone almost a whole gallon of milk a day, so we have all those plastic milk things and cardboard that we recycle. Should we make the milk people register too?"
"If you're gonna filibuster my bill, I'll just let it go," Clemens said. But Bartle was not done speaking about how this wasn't important enough to speak about.
"This doesn't rise to the level of filibuster passion for me," Bartle said. He continued to speak about how he only bloviates for specific bills. "I only filibuster important life issues."
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, wondered how this law could possibly be enforced on major television manufacturers from overseas, or even against corporations such as Wal-Mart, which are not headquartered in the state.
"So LG in Korea actually manufactures every TV. I don't care who says it, they've got about 90 percent of the market share," Crowell said. According to Reuters, LG's LCD television market share in the U.S. was around ten percent. But he continued.
"We're gonna make LG pay $2,500 each year to sell TVs? How do we do that? Are we gonna send (Attorney General) Chris Koster to Korea and clean house?"
"If we have to," Clemens replied timidly.
"So he's going to fly all the way over there and tell LG to give us a $2,500 annual fee? He'll probably stop in Hong Kong to get some suits."
Crowell then gave a shout out to a Cape Girardeau electronics store, making sure that the name and location were forever kept in the state Senate record. He said only local manufacturers and retailers could logistically have this law enforced on them. Clemens all of a sudden was in a time crunch.
"Senator do you want to waste our time with this?" Clemens asked Crowell.
"I don't like this bill at all, you're wasting our time!" Crowell responded.The Senate did then go on to debate appropriations of certain federal stimulus funds. But only after the important stuff, like television recycling, was taken care of first.
Posted March 17, 2009: Not quite Cancun
A stereotypical college spring break is known for alcoholic excess as well as lowered standards of physical attractiveness and personal respectability, to go along with the $125 nights out that would normally cost $15 back at school. But spring recess at the Missouri state capitol has not been quite as rowdy. In terms of excitement, it resembles the college itself while everyone else is in Panama City Beach or Acapulco bonging beers; a nearly barren campus, and the only people there are either horribly lost or trying to appear busy because they are still getting paid to do something. Some staffers in the few offices open were wearing green t-shirts (it being St. Patrick's Day and all), a far cry for the business professional gear that is standard. One receptionist was overheard in the hallway talking on the office phone about who was going to get kicked off "American Idol" this week. At 2 p.m. today, fewer than five Senate offices were not locked, and of the ones that were open, at least a couple appeared unlocked by mistake.
Many school districts across the state are also on spring break, and there were still dozens of tourists (some wearing matching shirts, of course) soaking in the Missouri State Museum and nothing else, because what is there to do at the capitol when there are no legislators in town?
"That explains why this place is so quiet," said Sue Jarrett, who was visiting from Joplin with her husband and two sons, as she asked a reporter to take a family picture for the third time because the kids messed up the first two. "At least today is a nice day, and we have more time to wander around the city than we thought we would."
Perhaps they could have spoken into the microphone that was left on for hours this afternoon, at times creating an unbearable feedback noise. If last Tuesday was one of the busiest of the whole session, this Tuesday was the exact inverse in every way. And, for the record, this week will be the merciful end for Mary Joy Corkrey on "Idol."
Posted March 14, 2009: Know your Senator- Part 4 of 34: Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington
If you look at the list of the full-time occupations of many state Senators, there are a lot of common trends; lawyer, professor, lawyer, doctor, farmer, lawyer...car salesman? That was Sen. John Griesheimer's occupation and "lifelong dream" in Franklin County before he won his first election, to the Washington City Council in 1982; a race he won by four votes. He has been an elected official ever since, serving six years on the council, four years on the Franklin County Commission, ten in the state House of Representatives and what will eventually be eight years in the Senate before he is forced out by term limits in January, 2011. Griesheimer, 56, is native to the Washington area and a number of his colleagues have called him one of the biggest and friendliest personalities in Missouri's most exclusive legislative body.
Posted March 10, 2009: Free stickers for some, lobbying for all
If you're struggling to find good entertainment for cheap in this recession, the place to be might just be the Missouri State Capitol. Tuesday was heaven for someone with a love of the arts, bad audio setups and masses of people wearing matching t-shirts.
With bills needing to be out of committee before the General Assembly adjourns for spring break on Thursday, all sorts of groups stepped up their lobbying frenzy this week. Some were more about entertainment than others. The Missouri chapter of the National Right to Life Committee was out in their largest numbers of the year, bringing members from all over the state dressed in red t-shirts, and handing out pamphlets and enjoying their "Action Day Rally."
Anyone feeling the pinch of the recession could have also picked up adornments for their automobile, assuming one hasn't sold it yet to help pay for this month's heating and gas bills. For absolutely free, you could get pro-life bumper stickers such as "Blacks didn't choose slavery, Jews didn't choose genocide, Babies didn't choose abortion," or "Abortion = Terror."
While equating abortion to terrorism, Missouri Right to Life was also passing out pamphlets which referred to itself as an "insurgency." Gutsy, to say the least.
"The rule of insurgencies is that if they do not wither away they will eventually win," wrote Cathy Ruse, a Senior fellow at the Family Research Council, and Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, in a pamphlet MRL was passing out. "The insurgency of the pro-life movement has done much more than stay alive. It has thrived."
Had you been able to adequately impersonate a conservative elected official, you could have gotten one of the boutonniŔres Missouri Right to Life Representatives were passing out to pro-life representatives and senators.
And there were also free photos to see. As State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, D, spoke informally on the south capitol steps to a group of children visiting from the St. Louis area, he paused because the kids were districted by a moving billboard depicting an 11-week old aborted fetus that drove by.
While pro-choice Missourians did not have similar access to free goodies and moving billboards today, they still could have taken in multiple free shows, with less divisive themes than abortion. The Missouri Alliance for Arts Education had their "Fine Arts Education Day," holding performances in the rotunda and on the steps of the building. Some school symphonic bands got the outdoor treatment, while others, such as the Linn High School band, played on the capitol steps in front of the band's parents, other bands, and a couple of people killing time on their lunch break.
"This sucks, I don't get why we couldn't have gotten to play inside," said a Linn band member, who didn't want to give his name. "But at least we got to miss school, right?"
But at least outside it was easy to hear. The program given out by the MAAE said, "keep in mind that the rotunda's acoustics are awful!" That's probably not something contained in most Broadway playbills.
The sound made it nearly impossible to understand the words that any group aided by a backing track was singing, although the crowd always obliged with polite applause.
When they weren't waiting to speak to representatives during the day's session, members of various lobbying groups were passing the time by checking out the youth art displays, put on by the Missouri Art Education Association. Their goal was to promote art awareness, and there is probably no better way than by putting up over a dozen sandwich boards full of paintings and drawings all over the third floor of the capitol on one of its' most crowded days.
Also in Jefferson City in full force on Tuesday were members of the Truman State College Republicans, Missouri Association of Republican Women, the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, among other groups.
For those looking for free goodies, it probably paid to be a conservative. This is Missouri, after all.
Posted March 5, 2009: Horsing around
While the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nearly 200 points, the Missouri Senate was focused on more pressing matters. Like horse processing.
Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 8, which would urge the U.S. Congress to not ban the process. Illinois has already banned the procedure. Shoemyer said it was unfair for the government to have to take care of horses that would otherwise be slaughtered. He had plenty of support in the chamber.
"Let me just say that I think this is one of the most important things that we will deal with this year," Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, said. He warned of a doomsday scenario in which Americans' access to all meat could be gone forever, not just horses.
"I'm not saying that before a Mizzou game we would go eat a horse's head," Bartle assured the chamber. "But we could see it in our lifetime that we could not be able to access animal meat in this country."
Some politicians have railed against the trillions of dollars committed federally for the stimulus and bailout packages as an example of too much intrusion by Washington. But for Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, the lack of horse processing was the apparent tipping point.
"I'm convinced now that Washington now is out of control and there is no responsibility and they listen to no one," he said.
The resolution passed 31 to 0, following some confusion from Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington. He appeared to vote against the resolution, drawing laughter from the chamber, although it was recorded as an "aye."
"How am I recorded?" Engler asked. When informed he apparently voted for the resolution despite saying no, he was not overly perturbed. "Eh, alright."
Over the course of the debate, the Dow Jones actually rose six points. Hardly a coincidence.
Posted February 28, 2009: Know your Senator- Part 3 of 34: Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vernon
With term limits taking effect after just eight years of service in one chamber, the Missouri Senate definitely has its fair share of young, promising politicians, who have their eyes on bigger prizes. One such man is Jack Goodman, who represents six counties south of Springfield, in the state's southwestern-most district. After U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R, announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated in 2010 by Kit Bond, Goodman threw his hat in the ring for Blunt's current gig. A native of southwest Missouri, Goodman, 35, is the Senate's assistant Majority Floor Leader, and he was re-elected to a second term in the Senate last year after serving from 2002 to 2005 in the state House. Goodman is an attorney in the Springfield area and received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Missouri.