Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL226.PRB - Passing Echoes of Legislative Bipartisanship
This summer, Missouri lost one of the two state leaders involved in an historic partnership of cross-party collaboration.
The partnership arose after the November 2000 elections that cost Democrats control of the Senate that they had enjoyed for generations.
But Republicans could not take over because voters handed the Senate a 17-17 tie with neither side holding a majority.
Compounding the problem was that three Senate members with two years left in their terms were elected to higher offices and resigned from the Senate.
It left the chamber in a potential grid lock for the start of the 2001 session in January. Neither party had the power to name committee members or chairs.
In that period of chaos, two party leaders with a history of intense partisan rivalry rose to the occasion.
One was Ed Quick, the Democrat's Senate president pro tem in 2000. Quick was a blue-collar Democrat with a deep passion for traditional Democratic values. He sponsored the governor's bill for a major expansion of government-funded health care coverage for children.
His partner in the 2000 agreement was the Senate's Republican leader, Peter Kinder. Like Quick, he was a forceful advocate for his party's issues including opposition to Quick's Medicaid health care expansion bill.
That Quick and Kinder could find grounds for compromise in leadership was a surprise for many of us covering the statehouse.
Yet somehow, despite what I was told was intense opposition within both of their party caucuses, those two leaders formed a collaboration of bipartisanship that was unique to Missouri's history.
Under their plan, adopted by the Senate at the start of the session, the chamber's leadership was split between the two parties.
There would be two co-president pro tems -- Quick and Kinder. They rotated between days as to whom exercised the pro tem's chamber powers. Committees where headed by co-chairs from each party with the memberships equally divided.
In my interviews with Quick and Kinder, they both expressed pride that they had found a way to rise above partisan politics to preserve order in the Senate. They were old school. An orderly Senate process was important to them.
But the bipartisan Senate they created did not last very long.
In late January, special elections turned control of the Senate over to Republicans. And despite warm words, the bipartisan collaboration evaporated within a few years.
Democrats, who became the minority party, began filibustering almost every issue to block the Republican-controlled Senate agenda.
In response, Republicans -- led by Kinder as president pro tem -- began using or threatening to use a rare parliamentary tool to stop Democrats from talking.
It led to an ugly and largely unproductive few years in Missouri's Senate.
I had thought that spirit of bipartisan collaboration formed by Kinder and Quick had passed.
But a few years later, a spark of bipartisanship returned.
Frustrated by the partisan grid lock, a small group of Republican and Democratic senators essentially took things into their own hands.
The Democrats in the group agreed to limit filibusters to core issues for Democrats.
The group's Republicans agree to not support any motion to stop a Democratic filibuster if it did involve core Democratic issues.
There were enough Republicans in the bipartisan group that a motion to stop a filibuster would fail without their support.
But, as one of the Republicans in the group repeatedly stressed to me, they were not giving Democrats a blank check to filibuster. Democrats would have to make serious efforts to find compromises.
The Democratic member of that group later became the Senate's Democratic leader, Maida Coleman. The Republican member became the Senate's president pro tem, Tom Dempsey.
It was another example to me as to how party leaders can rise above partisanship.
Coleman and Dempsey have since left the Senate. Peter Kinder, who lost the primary for governor this summer, leaves office as lieutenant governor in January.
And Ed Quick, that quiet-spoken but passionate Clay County Democrat I had covered, passed on August 27, several years after his own departure from the Senate.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.