Are we there yet? Yes, thank goodness

I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, I thought you knowed
I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, way down the road
I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, hard ramblin’, hard gamblin’
I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’, lord

–Woody Guthrie, “Hard Travelin’”

A woman who works at the Capitol walked up to me at a banquet Friday night, shortly after the legislature had slouched to adjournment, and asked my thoughts about the “ugly” session.  It was an interesting choice of words, particularly since I had begun to write this entry shortly before heading to the banquet and had used the same word.

The first legislative session since 1974 has concluded without me.  I was reminded as I read the things that former  Capitol colleagues such as Mike Lear and David Lieb and Bob Watson were writing about the disintegration of things in the last few days of the old saying about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.

It feels so good when you stop.   I have spent the last five months feeling good.

Legislative sessions are brutal for everyone even if things go well.  But your scribe here on this quiet street who kept up with the proceedings by checking or by reading the morning papers while starting a relaxing day with a bowl of cereal thought this one was pretty ugly.

The majority party, as usual, proclaimed it a great success.  The minority party, as usual, proclaimed it a failure.  In truth it was both.  All sessions are both.  But few are as graceless as this one seems from this distance to have been.

Two-thirds majorities are not good in today’s political climate.  Regardless of party, two-thirds majorities tend to display bully tendencies at times.  They are more susceptible to agendas that benefit a few and make broader public service a lesser responsibility.  There is no need to consider views or proposals from the other side and the other side knows it—which makes the minority a little prickly.

Or a lot prickly when it thinks it’s been bulldozed. And when Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard announced on the Friday before the last week of the session, “There’s priorities on both sides of the aisle and if mine don’t make it, nobody’s bill will either,” the minority started hearing the sound of a big diesel engine firing up and a blade being lowered.  When the Senate voted to shut down the minority filibuster against the so-called Right to Work (or as reporters sometimes refer to the other side preferred title, so-called Paycheck Protection) after more than eight hours, the minority party retaliated.

The sponsor of the bill, Rolla Senator Dan Brown, told the Senate, “I don’t know how you’re a Republican if you don’t support right to work,” a remark that highlights how far the Senate has deteriorated from the times when Senators did not try to denigrate one another because of the way they cast their votes.

We don’t know whether several Republican Senators resented that characterization of them, but five Republicans opposed all of the motions cutting off debate and opposed approval of the bill.  That included the Senate President Pro tem, Tom Dempsey, who was joined by Senators Bob Dixon, Gary Romine, Ryan Silvey, and Paul Wieland.  It will be interesting to see if they become “good” Republicans before the September session that considers whether to override Governor Nixon’s certain veto of the bill.

The Democrats might have been bulldozed but they certainly weren’t buried.  They retaliated by stopping consideration of almost all legislation for the rest of the session, allowing passage only of a bill letting hospitals tax themselves to raise enough money to bring $3.6 billion federally-collected tax dollars to Missouri for the Medicaid program. (Some folks continue to find it interesting that Republicans who generally favor tax cuts were so concerned that hospitals wanted to keep their taxes up so they can get federal Medicaid money while at the same time the party continued to oppose an expansion of the Medicaid program generally that would have bought even more billions of federally-collected tax dollars to Missouri for health care).

The stalemate resulting from the GOP’s insistence that it pass the bill backed by individuals and organizations that traditionally support Republican causes (while also weakening the financial foundation of unions, which traditionally support Democrats), ticked off another group that Republicans are cozy with.   Missouri Right to Life said it was “profoundly disappointed” that Richards’ emphasis on his issue ultimately killed the enactment of MRL’s big issue this year—a requirement that any licensed abortion provider be inspected once a year.  “While we know that other issues are important to Missourians, there was no need to call for the PQ…when there were other extremely important issues still on the calendar needing passage by the Republican majority,” said MRL, which apparently overlooked “other extremely important issues still on the calendar needing passage” by Democrats.

On the front wall of the Senate are carved the words of Scottish minister George Campbell, “Free and fair discussion will ever be found the firmest friend to truth.”   Some might suggest after watching the last days of this year’s session in the Senate that those words be replaced with words from the Old Testament Book of Hosea: “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.”

While the Senate was self-destructing, the House was dealing with the sudden revelation in the Kansas City Star that Speaker John Diehl had been carrying on with a Missouri Southern State University freshman who was another representative’s intern.  Nothing sexual, said Diehl, just some sexy talk in texting.   In our time we have covered the conviction and imprisonment of two former Speakers of the House and the case of another former Speaker who faced that possibility until his case was resolved without seeing the inside of a cell.  But we have never seen the roof fall in on a Speaker of the House as quickly as it did with John Diehl, nor have we seen someone who got out of town as rapidly as he did.

The House soldiered on as best it could after picking a new Speaker to get it through the last day and after the Senate gave up on the session three hours early. When all was said and done, some good things were done, some bad things were done (we will let you decide which is which from your perspective) and some things that seemed so important in January became road kill during the 71-days of hard travelin’ to the end of the road last Friday.

Road kill on a bad road.   And the legislature’s record on fixing roads, whether those in the state highway system or its own road through sessions of the general assembly, seems to offer little hope for pleasant journeys to come.