Killing death

We’ve gotten emails from a conservative group proudly announcing that the conservatives appear to have realized the death penalty needs reassessment.

It’s interesting that there is a certain amount of chest-thumping about this discovery because until now the conservative majority in the Missouri legislature has turned up its collective nose at any proposal by Democrats to study the issue or to just repeal the death penalty.

You can ask Senate minority leader Joseph Keaveny about the seemingly sudden shift. He has tried to get legislation approved to study the issue for several years but has been rebuffed repeatedly.

Be that as it may, Senator Paul Wieland’s bill to repeal the death penalty has cleared a Senate committee and is going to the full senate for debate with a committee recommendation that the Senate approve the bill. Wieland’s latest press release squarely addresses an issue that critics say the pro-life forces have sidestepped for years—at least in the eyes of death penalty opponents. “I am a devout Catholic,” says Wieland in his release, “and I believe if I’m going to be pro-life, I should be so on both ends of the spectrum—from conception to natural death.”

No one will be watching this bill more than Earl M. Forrest.

The state Supreme Court has set a May 11 execution date for him because back in 2002 he got into an argument with a woman about her purchase of a mobile home and a lawn mower from him. He killed her and a man who was at her home, took $25,000 worth me meth and went to his home. When law enforcement officers showed up, he got into a shootout with them and killed a Dent County deputy sheriff and wounded the county sheriff. Forrest was wounded. He’s now 66 years old. The U. S. Supreme Court has refused to review his case and all of his state and federal appeals otherwise appear to have run out. The legislature is to adjourn two days after his scheduled execution so there is some urgency to deal with Wieland’s bill.

Lloyd Leo Anderson, the last man to be executed by lethal gas in Missouri, was in a position similar to that of Forrest. After Anderson’s appeals ran out, St. Louis Representative Jay Howard introduced a bill to end capital punishment. Governor Warren Hearnes stayed Anderson’s execution until the legislature decided the issue. When the legislature killed Howard’s bill, Hearnes lifted the stay and Anderson was gassed on January 26, 1965. But not before some angry last words: “Tell them I didn’t get a fair trial. Tell Hearnes to kiss my ___ ass. The same to the rest of you guys,” apparently referring to the large number of witnesses that crowded around the gas chamber, peering through windows to watch him die minutes later.

Missouri executed eighteen men between November, 2013 and September 1, 2015 when I watched Roderick Nunley die quietly for the kidnap, rape, and murder of a fifteen-year old Kansas City school girl a quarter century earlier. He was the eighty-sixth Missouri inmate executed by drugs. The first drug-induced execution was that of George Mercer January 6, 1989—in the gas chamber at the old penitentiary. No new execution facilities were available then.

There are twenty-seven men left under a death sentence in Missouri. No one has been sentenced to death in the last two years, mostly because of plea bargains—as we understand the situation.

Wieland’s bill says anyone sentenced to death by the time his bill would become law on August 28 would be re-sentenced to life without parole. At least twenty men who had been sentenced to death already have been re-sentenced to life without parole after further re-evaluation of their cases. Two men, Robert Driscoll and Joseph Amrine, have been released after their death sentences were overturned. One has been declared mentally incompetent to be executed although he’s still under a death penalty.

Your correspondent has watched more than twenty men die on a gurney from lethal injection. After several of those executions, relatives of the victims have spoken with reporters in a prison press room. No one has ever indicated any regret about the inmate’s ultimate fate. And in the last few times, they have expressed resentment at a system that has taken so long to put a killer away. More than once they have complained about the cruel and unusual punishment that the system has inflicted on the survivors of the victims. We wonder how the families of the victims of the twenty-seven men under a death sentence feel about Wieland’s bill.

Missouri has repealed the death penalty before. It did it in 1917 only to have the legislature reinstate it in 1919 when sponsors spoke of a marked increase in murders since the repeal. It was repealed again after Anderson’s 1965 gassing and a U. S. Supreme Court ruling in 1972 that gassing was cruel and unusual punishment. That let every inmate in America under a death sentence be re-sentenced to life. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that a new system of executions was not cruel and unusual punishment, leading Missouri to reinstitute the penalty in 1977. The legislature changed the law allowing executions by gas or lethal injection in 1988 with lethal injection the preferred means.

So now, it appears, conservatives seem to be deciding that liberals might have had a good idea after all. Is this just the start of a new cycle of thinking or has society forever changed on this issue? Is there nobody whose crime is so abhorrent that the forfeiture of life is the only just punishment? Is life in prison with no hope of ever getting out the worst possible penalty?

Consider part of the last statement of David Zink before his execution July 14, 2015:

“For those who remain on death row, understand that everyone is going to die. Statistically speaking, we have a much easier death than most, so I encourage you to embrace it and celebrate our true liberation before society figures it out and condemns us to life without parole and we too will die a lingering death.”

Open government

A government of the people, by the people, and for the people SHOULD operate from the presumption that its actions are open to those people.  But government is more likely to indicate it fears the people and tends to keep things secret.

There’s probably not a lot of objection to the first sentence. The second sentence has a certain two-way paranoia about it that might be more difficult to accept.

But the two sentences indicate a collision of the ideal with the practical and we’re seeing them played out—again—with legislation in Missouri and in other states on a topic that has emerged in recent years: police body cameras.

At this writing, the legislature has four bills before it instituting the use of body cameras by police officers when they’re on duty.  In three of the bills, the images captured by the cameras are to be kept secret by the police agency unless a citizen can prove to a judge that they should be made public.   It’s not a new standard.  The state open records/open meetings law has a lengthy list of exemptions for certain records, particularly police records.

Those of us who lined up years ago in favor of the so-called Sunshine Law and those who live by it and with it today have never been comfortable with the exemptions written into it even while admitting the difficulties in reconciling free press/fair trial issues.  Likewise, it’s a conflict between the general public’s right to know and the general public’s right to privacy.  It’s hard to believe a lasting solution to this matter of competing constitutional and public interests will ever be found.  That’s why courts have to consider the proper weight of arguments of the two sides in specific instances and decide which argument moves the needle on the scale of justice one way or the other.

There is a precedent of a sort that comes readily to mind.  As we recall, Jefferson City television station KRCG  asked the Cole County Sheriff in 1997 for county jail security video tapes showing the booking of a state representative picked up for DWI.  The sheriff didn’t want to release the images and filed a lawsuit to protect his position, naming the station as the defendant.  A circuit judge ruled the tape was not a public record.  A state appeals court upheld that ruling but sent the matter back to the circuit judge to calculate how attorney fees should be calculated.  The state supreme court intervened at that point.

The state Supreme Court ruled the videotape WAS a public record and ordered the sheriff to pay the attorney fees and other costs of the television station since the station was the requester of the records.  A pretty readable analysis of the case can be found at  That’s Missouri Law Review, 2001, issue two, article five.  Author Michele L. Mekel wrote that the court’s ruling eliminated “the possibility that a government agency will employ its resources to force an economically weaker record seeker to forego his or her right of access to public records due to the costs associated with being forced to defend in court.”

Two bills introduced in the Senate, however, provide that the person seeking the disclosure might have to pay the costs and attorney fees of the government agency if the citizen loses.  A bill introduced in the House contains the same provision. So a citizen or a media organization wanting to get the video from police cameras, under the proposed laws, would get stuck with attorney fees if they lose.  The situation recalls the story of a sixteenth-century British livery stable owner, Thomas Hobson, who told people visiting his business that they if they didn’t take the horse in the stall closest to the door, they couldn’t get a horse. We call that a “Hobson’s Choice” today.  As Frank Sinatra sang it, “All or Nothing at All.”

So the proposed bills appear to lean toward government forcing citizens into a Hobson’s Choice that the state Supreme Court seems to have addressed in the KRCG-sheriff case.

A similar issue is brewing in Indiana where the head of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, Jason Dombrowski, says police would be reluctant to give up the body camera footage because of, among other things, the potential costs of open records lawsuits could lead police agencies to not use the cameras.   On the other side is the Chairman of the Indiana Broadcasters Association, Dave Crooks, who thinks that “most people would have never seen the videos that have been released out of Chicago involving the police incident shootings” if Illinois had the law being considered in Indiana.

And we can’t ignore the issue of harassment.  Some will argue public release of body cam footage will help curtail what they see as police harassment of private citizens.  On the other side is a concern that the blanket ruling that all body camera video is a public record can produce citizen harassment of police in one way or another.

But in a government of the people, should a person who thinks an officer has abused him or her in a traffic stop have to risk paying the police department’s attorney fees if the motorist wants to see the body cam footage?   Or, should police departments have to face lawsuits by motorists who are angry about being stopped and seek revenge by filing a lawsuit?

Legislators are asked to balance those issues.

The state laws—several touch on assumptions that government shall operate in an open manner—generally say openness will rule UNLESS otherwise provided by law.  That’s why the introduced bills include the loser-pays language (that the Missouri Supreme Court ruled many years ago could tilt the scales against the information seeker).

Should the language in law say government records will be open unless the agency takes action to defend its decision to withhold them—and the agency shall bear the costs of defending its position, win or lose. All the citizen would have to do is notify the agency that the citizen disagrees with the position and asks for arbitration through the court system.  If the agency wins, it’s a cost of doing business and the citizen is not liable for the agency legal costs.  If the agency loses, it should pay any costs that the citizens have borne in questioning that policy.  If government of the people, by the people, and for the people really means anything, this might be worth considering.

Admittedly, this could be called “the lawyers’ full employment” position.  But in a country that supposedly believes in a system that puts the people above the government, the issue is worth discussion.  And if we look at history, we find ample examples the political system and society will adjust, accommodate, and move on when authority over people is adjusted to lean toward the people—as long as the people act responsibly.

And that’s the balance.

Is this next?

Too bad Representative Mike Pitts serves in the South Carolina legislature—because he’s the Missouri Senate’s kind of guy.

Pitts has introduced a bill he calls the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law.”  Missouri Senate leader Ron Richard might want to take a look at it.  Richard, you know, has decided the Senate just cannot have reporters at the press table on the Senate floor because one of them had the temerity to tweet something the former Senate leader thought he was saying privately to another senator (within hearing distance of the press table) and instead of the former leader talking to the sin-filled former press table occupant, he complained to Richard who, now that he is in charge of the joint, has decided EVERYBODY who covers the Senate is too leprous to be that close to senators.  He’s establishing a special colony in one of the side galleries. The Senate has voted 24-6 to support the establishment of the colony and the Senate Ministry of Information is trying to restrict access to senators even from there.

Representative Pitts has a bill in a South Carolina House committee that would “establish requirements for persons before working as a journalist for a media outlet and for media outlets before hiring a journalist…to establish fines and criminal penalties for violation…”

He demands that anyone “seeking to register” has to provide a criminal record background check, a document from the journalist’s employer attesting to the person’s journalistic competence, and pay a registration fee.  In return, the person can cover the news for two years.  But the South Carolina Secretary of State can revoke the registration if, among other things, that person is later fond “not competent to be a journalist.”

Who, in Pitts’ view, is not competent to be a journalist?  Anybody who has been found by a court to have committed libel, slander, or invasion of privacy, someone convicted of a felony if the felony was committed “to collect, write, or distribute news or other current information for a media outlet.”  Of course, people like Pitts are the ones who write definitions of “felony.”

Here’s a good one: A person is not competent, in Pitts’ view, if that journalist “has demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability, as applicable to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.”  Someone like Pitts, I guess, would make that determination.

What happens if someone works as a journalist without being licensed by the state?

First offense is a $25 fine.  Second offense is a $50 fine and maybe fifteen days in jail, too.  A third offense is a $500 fine and perhaps thirty days in jail.  And if the employer doesn’t ditch the creep, the employer can be fined.

BUT, if this were law in Missouri, that person could still sit at the press table in the Senate, at least until March 29 when the leper colony is supposed to be open.

Rep. Pitts has told the Charleston Post and Courier that he’s not a “press hater.”  He’s just upset that the press doesn’t respect Second Amendment rights and “has no qualms about demonizing firearms.”   And he asks, “Do journalists, by definition, really adhere to a code of ethics?”

The answer is, generally, yes.  And, generally, it is adherence to professional standards that makes politicians uncomfortable, especially when money is tied to their political positions.  And Pitts was the target of a Post and Courier investigation on that subject when it reported that Pitts, a hunter, took trips to Alaska and three other western states to “hobknob at summits with ‘sportsmen legislators.’”  On one trip, he used campaign money to pay for gas in his rental car.  Pitts is a member of the South Carolina House Ethics Committee.

The newspaper quotes the head of the South Carolina Press Association, Bill Rogers, who points out that “The Constitution doesn’t say anything about responsible journalism, it says free journalism.”

Pitts, by the way, also once tried to have the state ban the use of United States currency and replace it with gold and silver coins minted in the state because he objected to the way Congress spends money and the way the federal government prints it.

Yep, he’d fit right in here.


Missouri Monocracy

Monocratic rule refers to complete political power or control resting with one party.  We have it in Missouri now and with the opening of candidate filing getting closer—February 23—it’s worth examining.  We hope to avoid indications the discussion will take a partisan tone although current conditions make partisan references unavoidable. 

It could be argued that the normal system of checks and balances does not check and does not balance under monocratic rule.  We have been here before although it has been many decades since the partisan breakdown in our legislature has been as lopsided as it is now, or worse. 

We are going to base most of our comments on the state senate, not because that’s where we lived for about 25 of the forty years we spent reporting from the Capitol but because it’s a small enough sample for the time we wanted to spend on this superficial study of a complex issue. 

Let’s start here:  Missouri’s legislature is controlled by one party that holds at least two-thirds of the seats in each chamber.  Missouri is the only state that has no controls on how money flows into the political campaign system.  It is easy to connect those two statements but it might not be entirely fair to do so. Life and politics are too complicated to be summarized that way.

One-half of the senate seats will be up for election this year.  Five seats will be open because three senators have reached the end of their limited terms and two have quit early.  Four of the five open seats are held by Republicans, one by a Democrat.  

All 163 seats in the House will be in play. 

Eight of the seventeen races for the state senate four years ago were not contested.  Two years ago, ten of the seventeen races for a seat in the senate were not contested (one had a write-in candidate who got six percent of the vote so we have considered that race “uncontested.”).  That makes eighteen of the thirty-four senators who are serving right now had no general election challengers or effective challengers in their last election.  

A quick survey of the House showed seventy-four members were elected two years ago without opposition in November.  That means 92 of the 197 seats in the General Assembly are from places where voters did not have a choice whom to elect and where candidates’ positions went unchallenged.  Forty-four percent of the people who are supposed to represent one-hundred percent of people in the state of Missouri in its government were elected without serious question about what they think, who’s behind them, or how they will balance the needs and competing interests of all of the people in their districts. From the perspective on this quiet street, that is an indication that Missouri politics is sick. 

Of the eight senate contested races in 2012, five winners received 51-56% of the votes.  Two were in the mid-60s and the victor in the other one got 82% in a district acknowledged as being overwhelmingly one way.  

Of the seven contested races in 2014 (not counting the write-in race), three had winning percentages of 50.088-56%.  Three percentages were in the seventies and one just barely missed that number. 

In the end, one party gained enough strength in both chambers of the legislature to make the other party mostly inconsequential unless something like last year’s right-to-work debate shutdown starts a minority forest fire the majority can’t put out.  That can and did happen in the Senate.  It’s pretty difficult in the House. 

Vetoes by a minority-party governor can likewise be largely inconsequential because of the two-thirds majority by the other side.  The check and balance system breaks down.  And has broken down.

The argument can be made that the voters decided they want a system where checks and balances are minimized and by looking at the raw membership numbers that seems apparent unless the thought arises that in more than half of those senate elections, voters were not offered a choice and candidates faced no scrutiny from an opponent. But as the folks at the state lottery tell us, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”  The failure of both parties to even try to contest races for a majority of the seats in the Senate and many seats in the House points to flaws in the Missouri political system that those who most benefit from the flaws seem in no hurry to fix. 

Controlling party justification of monocratic rule by noting two-thirds of the legislators are members of that party is, in effect, a dismissal of the needs or wishes of thousands of citizens who voted on the losing side or who had no choice through which to express themselves. The justification seems to follow the sentiments of UCLA football coach Red Sanders who said, “Men, I’ll be honest.  Winning isn’t everything.  It’s the only thing.”  (The quote is often attributed to Vince Lombardi, who did say it, but he was quoting Sanders.)   

Sanders seems to be the inspiration for today’s political climate.  Our experience indicates some people care only about winning.  Others care only about fighting.  Those who care only about serving are easily lost in the dust and smoke of the battle.  

Eight of the fifteen senators who had contests in their last elections won with 56% of the vote or less. When it comes to questions of policy and agenda, should they be softer on strictly hewing to the party line if they are to represent ALL of the people in their district?  In a more altruistic climate, the answer would likely be “probably,” which is about as positive as one can get in real world politics.  But what motivation is there under our present system to even go that far when the only thing that counts is winning and the losers seem to count for nothing?  

Only five winners got more than two-third of the votes in their districts (not counting the write-in district), which raises the question of how big a majority one needs to achieve to be able to dismiss the needs or wishes of the other side and make decisions or arguments on a completely partisan basis, or on the basis of the interest that seeks a benefit that is superior to any benefit losing voters might be entitled to as fellow citizens of the state. 

Much of this discussion is, of course, an exercise of political idealism likely to carry no weight in the blacksmith shop where the party with the big sledgehammer shapes the shoes everybody’s horse must wear.  But from time to time, someone must be naïve enough to mention it lest we become a state without hope for those out of power. There are a lot of voters who talk about these things although they have no way to rewrite the rules.

How, then, to bring some balance to a system that seems to lean strongly toward saying “winning is the only thing?”   Deeper thinkers than those of us on this quiet street can have more profound answers but one seems pretty obvious.  As long as Missouri has no limits on the flow of money into campaigns, there is only an incentive to funnel funds directly to candidates, making our political system one that is undeniably influenced heavily by those who seek to buy policies and those who find those funds the lifeblood of their careers. Those who benefit will and do deny that they are bought.   And perhaps they feel in their heart that they are correct and many probably are.  But if they are not bought, they surely must realize that in their contests they were able to afford better armor, stronger weapons, and faster horses and gratitude for those gifts takes many forms, not the least of which involves carrying the patron’s colors.  

While the focus on campaign funding has been the candidate and the individual donors who believe big donations mean big access, the political parties struggle.  We wrote about the situation last August 20 (The Party). 

Some suggest the rules should be changed to favor the contest, not the contestants–in modern terms, to seek a system that rejuvenates political parties that can field more candidates and give them stronger support. Will such policy solve the problems of the political system and neutralize the (dis)advantages of monocratic rule?  We have talked to no one who believes it is a complete solution.  But to some people, such a change stands a better chance of equalizing the floor of the arena and it stands a better chance of furthering conflicts based on a battle for ideas rather than on a fight for advantage.

Some of our associates think that “winning is the only thing” is okay in high-stakes sports but it makes for poor political systems. In politics, they think, the “winning” philosophy is a short-term goal that does not serve the long-term strength of a government and the needs of its people. One has cited the poem “Alumnus Football” by the great 1920s sportswriter Grantland Rice, which concludes:

            For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.

And they suggest the people benefit—all of the people benefit—when the fairness of the game is improved so that more can play it and can afford to play it well.  But they are skeptical about the willingness of today’s “winners” to make the game itself more representative of all of the participants.

Missouri faces a decision this year about whether we will continue a monocracy, where one side makes all of the decisions, versus regaining a democracy, where all of the people are involved in making decisions.  The monocracy will decide if there is such a choice. 

I have an amendment

Representative Bart Korman, a Republican from High Hill, has introduced a bill defining sex between lobbyists and legislators or legislative staff as a “gift” and requiring lobbyists to list such gifts along with the more usual tickets to sporting events, meals, booze, and other favors in their reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.  He says his bill “will improve the integrity and transparency in our process.”  It is also the most titillating proposed law in many years.

One weakness is that it is not clear whether the legislation requires a report to be filed for each “gift” or if the filer has to file during each filing period if the gifting is continuing, and whether a report should be filed with the giving ends,  much as a report is made when a campaign committee or continuing committee shuts down.

Some people would be exempt.  Lobbyists who are married to legislators would not have to report the amount of gifting that goes on within their marriage (although, apparently, any gifting on the side would have to be reported).  And if the two started exchanging gifts before they became lobbyists or legislators or legislative staff member, they’re not required to file a report, either.  So if you are a lobbyist who is a friend with benefits with someone who becomes a member of the legislature, you can continue to exchange gifts without reporting.

In other words, celibacy should not be a penalty for the companion of a lobbyist who is elected to the legislature or a legislator whose FWB becomes a lobbyist.

This is a great example of compassionate conservatism but we think it can be improved.

THE SPEAKER:   Gentleman from the 164th.

GENTLEMAN: Thank you Mr. Speaker.  I want to thank the Gentleman from the 42nd for this fine piece of legislation that will drive thousands of Missourians to the Missouri Ethics Commission’s internet site. I think that website is not used nearly enough by citizens who should want to know more about the people wanting their money and their votes. However, I think we can make those reports more likely to draw public attention to the commission website and make the reports more, uh, valuable to the public with a few minor changes.  Therefore, I have an amendment.

THE SPEAKER:  Send it forward

(Doorman takes amendment to clerk).

THE SPEAKER:  Read the Amendment.

CLERK:   House Amendment Number One to House Bill Number 2059, page three, Section three, line 67, by striking the last sentence reading, “The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall not require a dollar valuation,” and substituting thereto the following language: “The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall require for each instance a dollar valuation, including but not limited to the cost of any meal, movie or other show or attraction, wine or other drink, limousine, carriage ride, or other forms of conveyance including but not limited to merry-go-rounds and airplanes affiliated with the gift, and any special clothing purchased or provided for the exchange of said gift. 

Further amend said bill with the following:

(4) The Missouri Ethics Commission shall require such information to be filed for each instance on a special form designated as Form 50, said form to also include the following information:

            —Was it as good for you as for the giver/recipient?

            —On ten-point basis, rate quality of giver.

            —On ten-point basis, rate quality of the receiving experience

            —Approximate length of time from beginning to end of gift exchange including any unwrapping. ______ hours ____minutes (approximations accepted)

            —Number of gifts given in 24-hour span ____

—Description of any restraints used (additional pages supplementary to the form are allowed).

—Mark one:  Daylight ___    Night ___

—Mark one:  Lights on ___ ­­­­Lights off ___

—Indoors ___ Outdoors ____

–Feathers?  Yes ___ No ___

—Were mirrors involved?  Yes ___ No ____

—(If applicable) Kind of vehicle in which gift was given

—(If applicable) Room in Capitol in which gift was given

—(If applicable) Description of non-Capitol room in which gift was given

—Description of any toys that facilitated exchange of gifts (use back of form if necessary.)

—Describe position(s) of the gifting parties during the time of the exchange (Additional pages supplementary to the form are allowed.).

—(If applicable) Describe any medications or other special applications that made the gift possible or of greater experience including but not limited to fruit and whipped cream (additional pages supplementary to the form are allowed.). 

—Number of participants:  two ­­­­­­­­­___   three ­­­­­­___Not to boast, but ­____

—Gift given to someone of different gender? Yes ­­­___ No ___ 5th Amendment ­­­___

—Was safe gifting exercised?  Yes ____  Uh-oh____

And renumbering following sections accordingly.

THE SPEAKER:  Gentleman from the 164th , Would you like to explain your amendment?

GENTLEMAN:  Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  I think the amendment is self-explanatory. As I said, I think it will encourage more people to find valuable information on the Missouri Ethics Commission website.  I move the adoption and will welcome any questions.

Get over it and fight back

St. Louis Rams merchandise has become St. Louis Rams memorabilia.  Look for big markdowns in sporting goods stores for jerseys that say “Gurley” on the back.  Don’t bother calling Stan Kroenke and the National Football League all kinds of nasty names. They don’t care and while you’re thinking up creative new epithets to apply to the situation, time is a-wasting. 

Mayor Slay wants to pout and says he’s through with the NFL.  And Offensive Line Coach Nixon says the league talks out of both sides of its mouth.  Get over it.  There are worse things than hearing the NFL say St. Louis is not an NFL town.  One of the worse things is accepting it.  There’s got to be a better answer to the NFL blasting St. Louis as “inadequate” than saying “am not!”

There’s a line in Meredith Willson’s Broadway musical of years ago, The Unsinkable Molly Brown “Nobody wants me down as much as I wants me up.”

St. Louis will survive and thrive without a pro football team. They’ve done it before.

But if St. Louis wants a replacement NFL team, it has to regroup immediately and be aggressive.  And go get the Oakland Raiders.  

The Raiders are the odd man out in the Los Angeles sweepstakes. They probably feel bruised, too. Speculation already is being offered that the Raiders will move to San Diego to replace the Chargers, who are likely to become Kroenke’s alternate-weekend tenants in his new stadium in a Los Angeles suburb.  St. Louis needs to nip that San Diego talk in the bud. After all, the NFL has dissed San Diego, too,. And there are all kinds of good reasons fans should be going to St. Louis Raiders games sometime in the future and some good reasons why the Raiders should want to play in St. Louis.

We know the Raiders don’t want to be in Oakland.  Heck, they’ve already left it once to go to Los Angeles from 1982-1994 and (believe it or not) decided to return to Oakland.  So we know the Raiders have shallow roots.  They also share a stadium with the Oakland Athletics, a team that once was the Philadelphia Athletics before they were the Kansas City Athletics and then the Oakland Athletics.  And the city of Oakland has refused to commit any taxpayer funds for a new football stadium.

Think of some other NFL history.  Think of the great Chiefs-Raiders rivalry.  Think of the marketing opportunities that could come if that rivalry was a cross-state rivalry that would make the annual Governor’s Cup competition TWO regular season, inter-divisional contests, not just an exhibition game.   

Stadium?  St. Louis already has one. It’s domed so the first Chiefs-Raiders game could be played in the sunshine early in the NFL season in Kansas City and the second one could be played as a season-concluding, everything is on the line on a frigid day game—indoors. 

Remember that Stan Kroenke felt the dome could be a top-tier stadium worthy of keeping the Rams in St. Louis if it got a $700-million upgrade, which now looks like an offer that shouldn’t have been refused.  So instead of the Raiders moving to Los Angeles to play in a $1.9-billion dollar stadium they wouldn’t be able to call their own, they could move into the domed stadium in St. Louis that would be upgraded to top-tier quality and they would be the only football  tenants.  And St. Louis can be an NFL city again with a Kroenke-certified top-tier facility for a price that is in NFL terms reasonably sane, not the financial disaster Kroenke claimed the riverside stadium would be.  

The team could keep its “Raiders” name because it would be appropriate to St. Louis.  Let’s not forget that Lambert-St. Louis Airport was once a world-class airport until a corporate RAIDER named Carl Icahn got his hands on TWA and messed around with it until TWA disappeared into American Airlines and the St. Louis hub just disappeared.  Don’t forget that some folks in Los Angeles might think of St. Louis as a city that pulled a raid on LA and took the Rams away to begin with.  We could probably find other examples of raids (including prohibition times in the city once called “Anheuserville” by some critics).   

 ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez, who covered the Raiders for eight years, says the NFL has declared San Diego and St. Louis “non-viable” for an NFL team (which might preclude the Raiders from moving to San Diego if the NFL is consistent).  He suggests San Antonio and Portland, Oregon might take a run at the Raiders.  But the “non-viability” of St. Louis  was based on comparisons to Los Angeles and the St. Louis plans for a new stadium that raised questions about financial viability from the NFL.  But if Oakland WANTS to move to St. Louis to play in a stadium renovated the way Stan Kroenke would have found acceptable—-well, we know the NFL is sometimes not a synonym for “consistency.” 

Don’t waste time crying in your foreign-owned beer, St. Louis.  Regroup.  Raid the Raiders. Convince them you’re much better than what they have and what they get can continue to improve.  And start squirreling away cash for the entirely new stadium you know will have to be built someday. 

IF, however, the name of the game is to spend an INSANE amount of money for a new stadium, then do something that fits with the city’s history and spreads the costs around.  Such as?

A new stadium OVER the Mississippi River, not next to it.  

Don’t bloody your nose snorting over this “impossible” idea.  One hundred and forty years ago or so, there were plenty of people who told James B. Eads that his idea of a bridge over the Mississippi of the kind he proposed to build was impossible.  Eads, not being an engineer, saw no reason to listen to his critics.   His impossible idea is now one of the symbols of St. Louis. 

There was a time when the idea of building a 630-foot stainless steel arch on the riverfront was ridiculed.   Yet, there it is and the city and the federal government are spending a lot of money to rehab it and the area around it.  It has turned an eyesore of a riverfront into one of the world’s great entrances to a city.  

A stadium over the river.  It would never work, you say, because it would weigh too much.  Not if you built it out of carbon fiber and industrial grade aluminum (if industrial grade aluminum is good enough for the Ford F-150 built in Kansas City, it’s good enough for a footballs stadium at St. Louis) or titanium.  What an engineering marvel that would be!   What an international symbol of a city forging a new technological identity in the 21st century it could become!  

The Eads Bridge is a 19th century symbol.  The arch represents the 20th century.  The stadium over the river would say so much about the 21st century people that we are, and it would be right in the middle of the nation, a draw for thousands, maybe millions of people, to see and visit on the other 41 weekends a year. 

Why build it over the river?  To spread the costs around.  Think of the Stan Musial Bridge.  Missouri didn’t pay for all of it.  Illinois paid for some of it.  Another Missouri-Illinois project that could lead to immense economic development on both sides of the river would revitalize both St. Louises and their surrounding areas would offer economic opportunities that would make the Lumiere Place and the Alton Belle casinos look like penny arcades when it comes to economic benefits. 

Need an example?  The Kansas Speedway has been a huge economic development success just across the border from Kansas City.  And every time something new happens in that area there should be increased embarrassment on the Missouri side because our legislature had a chance to provide incentives for that track to be built near the Kansas City airport.  Legislative shortsightedness cost Missouri big-time then. St. Louis suffered the same disorder with the Rams (the same way it did with the Football Cardinals).  Time to get a new prescription.    

Sure, you’d have to consider what would happen in flood times.  But that’s an easily-addressed matter, really.  This is a time for boldness, not bruised egos.  Floods?  A small, occasional annoyance.  They can be dealt with.   

It’s halftime and St. Louis trails but the game is not necessarily over.  Coach Slay and offensive line coach Nixon need a stirring clubhouse speech. 

“There’s no time to sit around licking wounds.  They’ll heal anyway.  Get a couple of stitches, put a piece of tape over it, put the helmet back on, and get out there.  We aren’t playing for tie and we’re not going to accept a loss.” 

In the end, the city still might be on the short end of the fight but there’s no dignity in getting knocked down and deciding to pout on the canvas instead of getting up to punch back.


A loophole

Our lawmakers have some proposals before them that will try to limit campaign contributions.  We haven’t talked to many of our friends and neighbors who are confident they’ll pass them because there’s no strong political will to kill the political golden goose.  But they’re encouraged that the House leadership wants early debate and are willing to give lawmakers the benefit of the doubt.  For now.  They are concerned, however, about the campaign finance part of the issue.

In our experience, we’ve never seen a bulletproof campaign finance law.  The crafty contributor always finds a loophole somewhere and exploits it and the legislature is usually slow to plug the hole. 

But let’s suppose a bill is passed that puts caps on donations for various offices.  For simplification, let’s assume that the bill passed this year says a person cannot contribute more than $500 to a candidate running for a legislative seat.  For our purposes here we won’t get into dark money, the secretly-donated money that goes through independent committees to hide the identity of donors and the amount they donate.    We’re going to keep this simple. Dark money is a later topic.

Now, suppose you have a basement full of money and you think a $500 donation limit is absurd.  So you find ten people, give them $500 each and have THEM make donations to your chosen candidate.  Here’s how to stop that (we think) end-run around the limit. 

The new campaign finance law would consider any money given by one person to another for the purpose of making a campaign donation as income to the recipient that shall be reported on special employer withholding forms and shall be reported by the surrogate donor on another form as taxable income. The confidentiality provisions of tax return law will be waived so that the Missouri Ethics Commission will have access to that information for purposes of reporting and possible prosecution under tax fraud laws by the Attorney General or an outside counsel hired by the commission. Further, the commission would have subpoena powers and powers to investigate apparent unreported transactions. 

Here’s an example of how this would work: Scrooge McDuck goes down in his basement to bathe in his money pile and decides he wants to donate $5,000 to the Goofy for Governor campaign.  But he can only give $500 under the law.  He decides to drain off an additional $4,500 and give the money to nine other people—Huey, Louie, Dewey, and Donald and Daisy Duck plus to Horace Horsecollar, Ludwig Von Drake, Pluto, Clarabelle Cow, and Humphrey Bear and they each will donate $500 to Goofy.  This law would require Scrooge to file withholding tax forms on each of the other nine.  They would have to file a state version of a 1099 form as outside income.  The ethics commission under this law would have access to those specific forms (but none of the other income tax forms).  The commission could look for something fishy (which for our purposes we will refer to as “a Nemo”)  so it can charge the giver and/or the recipient with tax fraud.  If the Attorney General was the recipient of some of this end-run money, he or she would be disqualified from prosecution because of a conflict of interest and the commission would be able to hire a private lawyer.

Out here, a couple of miles from the capitol, this seems to make sense. 

This plan also has another important benefit.  It avoids any criticism from voters that the legislature has increased the general income tax.  And the proceeds from any fines or penalties could be used to bolster the state’s weak transportation funding.  

Of course, the real boost could come when we create a service fee on dark money funding.  But that’s a loophole for a different day.    

Disclaimer:  We are not saying any candidates for governor are Goofy.    

Ignore this memo

This is the first time that I wish I was still part of the Capitol press corps.

The Missouri Senate, once a collegial bunch that had a Senate press officer and then a Senate information office, now has a Senate information office that presumably works for all members of the Senate AND it has separate “communications directors” for the Republicans and the Democrats.

The Communications Director for the Senate Majority Caucus put out a memo to the press corps the day before the legislative session began that “many senators” do not want to be interviewed about what they have just said or done right after the senate adjourns for the day.  Reporters are now being told to contact the communications directors for the R’s or the D’s and tell them who they want to interview “so we can alert the senator beforehand.”  The Senator can then decide whether to do the interview on the senate floor after adjournment or in a couple of other places.  “Please do not try to catch them on the floor without letting someone know first,” says the memo.

This person is a nice person with whom we got along nicely in our days at the senate press table.

But letting a senator know ahead of time a reporter wants to interview them?  When they’re right in front of us?  Working through a senate bureaucracy to interview someone who has had no reluctance to do or say something in front of everybody in the room, often just minutes earlier?

I’m standing right there, a respectful few feet away while they gather their papers or have a few comments with a colleague.  Who needs some partisan functionary to tell them a reporter wants to ask a question?  “Many senators” feel that way?  How many?  Who?  We’ve had senators tells us, “Let’s go to my office,” and we’ve gone.

Oooooooh, I wish I could be there just so I could walk up to some senator right after adjournment and ask a question, as has been the practice. Let someone know first?  Forget that.  They were there. I was there. You just did something or said something in a public forum and you’re accountable.  What are you up to?

The press corps has had its fill of managed access from the Nixon administration.  Now it’s spreading to the senate.

Sorry, senators.  Accountability shouldn’t have to wait. You’re a grownup and you don’t need somebody running interference for you and give you an easy opportunity to tell the partisan roadblock, “I don’t want to talk about what I’ve just done or said.”  And the roadblock goes back to the waiting reporter and says, “Sorry.”


The leader of the senate has nursed a grudge for months and months because a member of the press sitting at the press table on the Senate floor heard a couple of senators discussing something about a bill and tweeted it.  So he has decided the press should be booted out of the press table on the senate floor and exiled to a side gallery one floor above.  When that issue was put before the senate for approval, senators were told that the senate staff needed to use the table—a further tribute to the lost ability of senators to write their own amendments, perhaps. The senate leader admitted his real motivation later.

Significantly, the press is being thrown out of the senate because, as we understand it, one reporter broke an unwritten senate rule by reporting something a couple of senators believed they were talking about in confidence.  But the Senate is doing nothing to keep members from getting text messages on their cell phones from lobbyists in the halls who often tell them how to answer questions or what their positions should be during discussions of bills.   Reporters are not welcome physically in the senate chamber.  But the virtual presence of special interests gets a pass.


The session is beginning with pettiness and fertilizer in the state senate.

“It should be another exciting year,” says the memo to the press about not talking to senators.   It sure would be if this reporter was still at the senate press table.



Stan the Pan

To Pan:  To harshly criticize, to denigrate a performance, to give a poor review, to downgrade, to say anything about an opponent’s record while spinning your own performance to gain an advantage.

Stan Kroenke’s twenty-nine pages of vitriol aimed at St. Louis in his quest to move the Rams to more personally-lucrative Los Angeles is not anything new to those of us who have watched politics for very long.  His document sent to the NFL owners to justify his effort to return the Rams to Los Angeles sounds like the kind of stuff we find contaminating our mail box during election cycles.

The NFL might decide next week if the Rams can move.

It’s important in politics to paint as ugly a picture of your opponent as you can, particularly if you can do it before your opponent has the chance to put his or her superior virtues before the public.  In this case, though, St. Louis interests have been praising their purity to the NFL for several months.  The thing to watch now is to see if Stan’s fellow NFL owners believe him or believe St. Louis interests.

He has come down heavily on a city that hasn’t seen a winning Rams season in almost a decade, accusing fans of failing to support a team in which he has heavily invested.  He is critical of them because the team under his ownership has improved its win-loss record by fifty percent. We can’t call that “spin,” a political term, because we’re talking about football and footballs don’t spin unless the passer is really, really good. They wobble, flop, flip, bounce, go end-over-end.  The fifty percent improvement means that the Rams who were 15-65, the worst five-year stretch in NFL history, before Kroenke bought the team, have “improved” in the last five years to 27-36-1 in the last four years.

Here’s a great truth about statistics.  When somebody starts talking percentages, look at the actual numbers.  A one-hundred percent improvement in nothing is still nothing.

Fans whose annual economic base is measured in tens of thousands of dollars and therefore have some trouble grasping the concept of the costs of a new stadium in St. Louis or in LA, can understand the nine-year total of 42-101-1 and should be excused if they question whether that’s worth their own financial investment—particularly when the owner of the team has earned the image of a flint-hearted, isolated, potentate who thinks the sport they love is nothing more than a bottom-line focused business.

The truth is, that’s precisely what the National Football League is.  It’s a business.  It’s all about money.  And Kroenke is a shrewd bottom-line businessman who has not become a billionaire by being too cozy with people at the stadium hot dog stand.

We met his wife’s uncle one day.  Briefly. Sam Walton was in Jefferson City to meet with the folks who worked at the local Wal-Mart store.  Flew in in his little single-engine airplane.  Wore a suit that looked like something he would buy at a, well, a Wal-Mart store.  Mr. Sam looked like the kind of person who could stroll into one of his stores and nobody would notice him.  And he had that public image.  Mr. Sam seemed like the kind of guy who’d sit around a table at the coffee shop and talk with the folks.

Not his nephew-in-law, at least not to hear St. Louis interests describe him.

His request to move is a huge hatchet job on St. Louis and St. Louis interests are understandably outraged at some of the nasty things he’s said that are certainly open to legitimate challenge.  But a lot of the pickle St. Louis is in is of its own making.  Think back a few years when the city said it would spend sixty-two million dollars to upgrade the domed stadium where the Rams play football if the Rams would cough up an equal amount.  When the Rams countered by demanding SEVEN HUNDRED MILLION dollars in improvements, city officials gagged, coughed, snorted, and choked, “No way!”   Sixty-two million was it. Final offer.

An arbitrator ruled in favor of the Rams.  Seven hundred million or Stan Kroenke could move the team.  Outrageous, said the city and the state, which helped finance the domed stadium twenty years ago at a total cost of $280 million.

The city that did not want to spend more than sixty-two million dollars to upgrade the dome has now decided it can find $1.1 billion to build a whole new stadium for somebody and they sure hope it’s the Rams.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise.  There IS blood in that turnip.  Seven-hundred-million dollars was off the charts.  One-point-one-billion is a four-hundred page document with some really pretty pictures of a football stadium that St. Louis hopes NFL owners will consider one of the greatest books ever written.

Think back, though, to 1989-1994.  St. Louis had no NFL team.  The city did not shrivel up and blow away.  People did not flee from the city appreciably faster than they have been dashing to the suburbs for decades anyway.  People still visited St. Louis for the reasons people visit St. Louis now—except several thousand didn’t go there for a specific purpose ten days of the year.

Remember a few years ago when the Cardinals wanted a new stadium?  There was talk that the new owners were looking at a site in Illinois and somebody said, “You know what St. Louis would be without the Cardinals?   Omaha.”

St. Louis should be so lucky as Omaha, a city without a major league baseball team, a National Football League team, or a National Hockey League Team.  But it does have more than 100,000 more people than St. Louis has.  And as far as we know, the city of Omaha and the state of Nebraska have not had to endure the financial agony of finding millions and billions of dollars so some millionaires and billionaires have new playgrounds.   Yes, we are aware that the Omaha metro area has half as many people as the St. Louis metro area.  In fact, the St. Louis metro area has one million people more than the whole state of Nebraska.  But Omaha as a city without major league sports seems to have something that St. Louis, a city with three major league sports, doesn’t have.   So let’s not belittle Omaha.

For just about everybody, except those who think saving the Rams for St. Louis is a holy quest, the entire struggle is not a meaningful part of their lives.  That would be, probably, something more than five-millions of Missouri’s six-million-plus citizens, some of whom like to go to Omaha and do go because it’s a whole lot closer to them than St. Louis is.

If the Rams go, they go. St. Louis will survive.

And to think all of this anguish could have been avoided for the bargain basement price of just seven-hundred mil.

Notes from a quiet street

(formerly known in our working days as “Notes from the front lines,” compilations of observations that do not merit full bloggitry)

The chairman of the Special Senate Committee to Generate Headlines for a Senator Running for Attorney General, wants the committee to subpoena patient records from Planned Parenthood, a private organization, and to hold some people in contempt for refusing to submit themselves to grilling by the committee.  Planned Parenthood says it will resist any subpoena from the committee as improper meddling in a private business’s affairs and because the records are protected by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the privacy of personal health information. 

“Phhhhtttttt!” says the leader of the entire senate. He’ll support the SSCGHSRAG’s subpoena, federal law notwithstanding.  

Some folks with whom we have discussed this situation suggest the position of the SSCGHSRAG might be more consistent, although probably still questionable, if the legislature would let the state auditor subpoena records from political campaign committees, including the independent committees that hide contributors from public knowledge, and the activities of legislative staff members who work for political campaigns “in their spare time,” and find those who don’t cooperate in contempt. Some would consider such a step as (pardon the cliché) leveling the playing field.

State law says those who are held in contempt of a legislative committee that they consider taking a contemptible position can be fined and jailed. 

The auditor has no such power and the consensus is that the legislature’s response to the idea that the auditor should have it also would be “Phhhhttttt!”  


One of our neighbors is a fellow we’ll call Felix, one of those folks who drives around with a school alumni license plate, a school decal in the back window, and little school flags sticking out of the windows on football or basketball game days. He’s 67, about five-foot-eight, and will weigh, probably, 143 pounds after watching an entire football game in a rain storm.  He was concerned for a few days not long ago when he read about two bills filed for the 2016 legislative session. 

One would take away scholarships for football players who refuse to play a game to show their support for fellow students protesting a perceived injustice.  The other would make it legal to carry guns on campus.  

Felix worries about what would happen if he got into an argument with a six-foot-seven, 350 pound offensive lineman who had just lost his scholarship but had a gun.  He was relieved when the scholarship bill was withdrawn by the sponsor because that took away one of the issues to argue about.  Now all he worries about is whether the six-foot-seven, 350-pound lineman with a scholarship would beat the tar out of him or just save his energy and shoot him.  


A divorced couple in St. Louis County is in court to decide who gets custody of two frozen embryos they enjoyed creating in happier times.  

Someone asked us the other day, “Since the state says life begins at conception, shouldn’t there be another law for frozen embryos to be considered wards of the state, making the state responsible for their maintenance and any support payments in case they do lead to babies without the sperm donor’s consent? “ She continued, “The state is avoiding responsibility for the situation it has caused.” 

Another person at the table opined, “Well, you can’t get an answer if you only write half of the equation.”  


And a personal note:  We have found in our first year of retirement that our detachment from the intense climate of the capitol during legislative sessions has helped us understand why folks like our neighbors hold those we elect to represent us in lowered esteem.  Perhaps it is because those who serve lose the perspective they had while they lived on quiet streets like this one, before they started hearing all of the capitol voices telling them how important they are. 

We remain convinced, however, that most of those who are beginning their work at the capitol now are good people. Unfortunately they are operating within a badly-flawed system that only they can fix.  And the temptation to leave a system that favors their presence as-is has been too difficult to overcome.  

We have known these people for a long time, them and their predecessors.  And we can tell you that away from the capitol, perhaps around a barbecue pit or sharing a table at a coffee shop, they’re okay.  But the environment in which they will be operating for the next four months is not necessarily he climate that is best for the neighbors they leave at home Monday through Thursday. 

This scribe is no longer the business associate (never a partner) that he once was.  Now he’s the neighbor left behind.  It’s been interesting to feel perspective change.