To a candidate

Congratulations.  You have put your name on the line and paid your fee and you are now a political candidate.

For some of you and the others who will add their names to ballots in the next few days, this is your first venture into a world that will test your integrity in ways you cannot now imagine (although some of you might already have flunked, based on whose money you already have taken or will get).  This might be your first step but you are bringing your family with you and while you envision the ads that show you and your family smiling confidently about your future and the future of your state, it is important that your family recognize they will share the lows as well as the highs in the months ahead.  And in fact, they might feel these things even more than you do.

How you run your campaign and how you respond to the campaigns others will run against you will test their character as well as yours.  And maybe it will be a sterner test for them than for you, believe it or not.

If you descend to the lower levels of campaigning, as is all too easy, you might find your family as well as some long-time friends questioning whether you are the person they have known and loved.  If you become the target of opponents or of the sewer rats who supposedly are completely independent of them, your friends and family might feel the attacks even more than you do.

We speak from experience of watching the process and of knowing winners and losers by the hundreds.  We know the state capitol or the national capitol can be places where ideals are sent to die.  We recall one office-holder from years ago who reflected on his re-election loss.  This person had been seen as a person with potential for greater things.  But the loss stopped that potential cold.   The candidate spoke of the double impact felt by a spouse.  Spouses, you see, not only share a candidate’s dreams of success and perhaps of higher office, but they have their own dreams that accompany that possibility.  When the candidate lost, the spouse saw the devastating effects on the candidate and also felt the death of their own vision.

If you win, do not think yourself more important than the family you take with you.  If you lose, be aware that you are not the only one dealing with the loss.

You might find the first of a series of new people who want to be your friends.  Do not kid yourself.  They are your friends only because they think you will do something for them, even if it is damaging to the general welfare.   They will want you be narrow, selfish, petty, and forgetful because it benefits them even to the disadvantage of many who will vote for you.   They will expect you to turn your back on your constituents, sometimes offering help in future elections so you can keep serving their interests.

You will be tempted to become something you are not today.  Of course, some of you have signed that candidacy statement because some of those interests already have invested in you and you already are theirs.  They prefer that you not develop a conscience during your candidacy or even your term of office.  And if you do, well, there’s no shortage of people who can be bought to replace you.

And finally, by signing the declaration of candidacy you have become something you might claim during your campaign that you are not.   You have become a politician.  If you win a few months from now, you will move from being a trusted friend at home to becoming a member of one of the most untrustworthy organizations there is—the government.

Congratulations on becoming a candidate for public office.  Surveys indicate the public has a low opinion of what you are becoming and the current crop seems to show little concern about their status or the damage they do to public confidence in the American system of government.  It takes courage to want to step into that arena.  If you have done so to satisfy a personal agenda or to carry the agenda of someone who has, in effect, bought you with a big donation, you will in the end deserve the scorn that the public feels for what you are becoming.

A question you should be prepared to answer—if only to yourself—is “What am I doing that will increase public regard for government and the people in it?”  We hope you hear that question often, even after you win.

ESPECIALLY if you win. We have seen, however, that you will be able to easily ignore it.  The concept of integrity, you will find, is fragile and is easily altered inside the walls of a capitol.

We’ll probably reflect on that after the election.

Show Me State

The generally-accepted version of how we came to be called “The Show Me State” is that Congressman Willard Vandiver, who represented a district in southeast Missouri, used the phrase in a speech to the Five O’Clock Club in Philadelphia.  There are other stories about the use of the phrase but the Vandiver version is the conventional wisdom.

One of the pleasures of digging through historical records is the discovery of things other than the object of the search.  While we were going through the papers of Governor Herbert Hadley (1909-1913) while researching the latest book on the Missouri Capitol, we came across this letter from Hadley to George W. Eads at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 11, 1911.  Eads had asked Hadley a couple of days later about the origin of the expression, “I’m from Missouri, you have to show me.”  Hadley didn’t much like the expression although he reconciles himself to it by the end of the letter.

The incident referred to in your letter did not arise from any objection upon my part to this expression.  The question was as to whether Missouri should be known as the “Show Me” state, and if not by that name, by what name it should be known.  It was suggested by Mr. Curran, the Immigration Commissioner, that a prize might be offered to the one suggesting the best name for the State.  In the discussion that followed, I stated in a newspaper interview that I preferred the designation “Pioneer State,” for the reason that the Missourians had been the pioneers in the development of the country west of the Mississippi.  I also stated that I had never been particularly enthusiastic over the expression “I am from Missouri you have got to show me,” as it had in it as much of a suggestion of the incredulity of ignorance as of hard-headed inquisitiveness.  However, it was apparent from the discussion that there was quite a general satisfaction throughout the State with the expression in that it was supposed to carry with it the suggestion that the Missourian did not propose to have anything “put over” on him.

Viewed from this standpoint, the impression and the designation which has been applied to the State is not uncomplimentary or unsatisfactory.  I do not know the origin of the expression.  I remember to have read a newspaper story in which it was stated that it originated in one of the Southwestern states by a cow boy who had a habit of using this expression which soon became general in the community and gradually spread throughout the country.  But whether this story is true or not, and wherever the expression came from, it is evident that it has come to stay. It stands as a protest against shams, pretense and hypocrisy. It signifies the conservatively aggressive attitude of the people of this State against that which seems to be wrong or presents the appearance of having a “joker” in it.

That’s the definition Governor Hadley felt the motto had in 1911.  How much does it still apply today?  Might be something to discuss at the coffee shop or the salad bar someday.  Or maybe it’s a high school or college debate topic.

Your faithful scribe has thought about Hadley’s interpretation from time to time and isn’t sure which side to take.  But the discussion would be fun.

Regardless, “Show Me State” is better than some of the other unofficial state mottos we’ve had.  The one we’re glad did NOT make it to our license plate is one from the nineteenth century.

The Puke State.

Jocks among us

Missouri Tiger basketball coach Kim Anderson was talking about team discipline the other day after he had suspended a couple of his players who were found to have some drug paraphernalia in their apartment.  Police searched the place because one of their roommates, not a university athlete, had been arrested in connection with a house robbery.

It’s easy to ask how athletes at the top level of university sports can so often get caught with drugs or be involved in drug issues or have other problems. As is the case throughout society, it’s the few who bend the rules, who think they won’t get caught, or who don’t think at all, who embarrass the many who behave themselves.

One part of Brandon Foster’s article in the Jefferson City newspaper that caught this reader’s eye was a discussion of the athletes’ living arrangements.  “A team spokesman said the team makes sure players have a place to live and that they’re paying rent.  The team will help players find a place to live if they’re struggling to do so, but that’s rarely a problem because athletes tend to choose one of the many off-campus developments south of the University.”   And later, Brandon writes, “Anderson said housing with athletes is a persistent issue with college athletes.”

We are reminded of our own freshman year at the university, living in 313 Graham Hall.  Across the hall, just down from the bathroom and the telephone was the room where Charlie Henke and Joe Scott lived.   They were the leaders of the Tiger basketball team.  Henke was a 6-7 center, the tallest person I’d ever seen, and Scott was a 6-4 guard.  They had to live by the same rules all the rest of us in the dormitory lived by, including “silent hour” when students were supposed to be studying behind closed doors.  In truth, there also was card-playing but it had to be done quietly because our Residential Assistant, the den-dad of King House, would prowl the halls with sharp ears and no hesitation about knocking on a door to tell the inhabitants to “hold it down” or to non-verbally suggest that card-playing wasn’t what responsible university students did during quiet hours.

Charlie was an All-American in his senior year and still has the second-highest season scoring average in the Missouri record book.  He got a degree in conservation science but found his niche as a high school basketball coach and spent 22 years at Carrollton.  Scott, who was called “the Gainesville Gunner” by Mahlon Aldridge—who began the Tiger sports network broadcasts—went to law school and is a lawyer in Poplar Bluff.  I watched him set the still-standing school record for points in one game—46.  That was before the three-point line.  Scott has said that his father once figured he would have had 65 that night if there had been the three-point shot.   (I was also in the stands the day Henke and Kansas Center Wayne Hightower got into a fist-fight that led to an on-court brawl involving fans and players.  I wasn’t about to get involved.  Too many guys were much bigger and stronger than I was.)  Both Henke and Scott are in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame now.

When we went to the post office in the cafeteria building that served the four dormitories in the South Residence Hall group, I would sometimes see Dan LaRose looming over the rest of us as he came to get his mail.  LaRose was a 6-5 two-way All-American end for Dan Devine’s football team who went on to a five-year career in the NFL.

Sometimes when I’d go into the bathroom/shower room there would be a guy in there swinging a baseball bat.  I think he had a minor league baseball contract.

This was, as I recall, university policy—that student-athletes lived in the student dormitories with all the other guys (Title IX hadn’t come along yet to create women’s sports of any substance and the idea of co-ed dormitories was not a matter of polite discussion).

One of the writers for the “Rock M Nation” webpage recalled a few years ago a jock who lived a floor above him in Hatch Hall, a 6-8, 275-pound tight end named John Matuszak.  Matuszak lasted only one year at the University. He was dismissed from the team after he beat up an Air Force Academy cadet who was a foot shorter and half a Matuszak lighter at a fraternity party.  He went on to a notable career in the NFL before he died young, at 38.  He’s considered an early casualty of steroidal drugs.

Anyway, in those days, those we still call student-athletes were reminded of the first part of their roles at the university by having to live with the student-non-athletes in the dormitories.

This was a looooonnnnngggg time ago when off-campus housing was fraternity and sorority houses or extra rooms in private homes or in the basements of homes.  But we don’t recall hearing about some of the problems that have made the news for several years in reporting on collegiate athletics.  The university has dormitory space for only about one-fourth of the students today and off-campus apartments are a big business in Columbia.

It was a much different time, a much different culture on campuses and in the nation.  Coaches have to deal with a lot of players who bring baggage to college with them that students and student-athletes didn’t have back then.   But having jocks among us in the dormitory had some values that worked both ways, it seems.

Would integration of the jocks with dormitory students work today?  Dunno.  It seemed to once upon a time.

But the whole climate is different now and coaches are dealing with young people coming from a totally different society.  Maybe there’s more growing-up that has to happen today than there was when a college education was a rarer thing.

We like Kim Anderson—spent a little time with him and his wife during a meeting in Joplin a few years ago—and we want him to succeed.  It’s painful to watch but surely not as painful as it is from his viewpoint.  Recalling the “good old days” doesn’t do much good in situations like his right now.  And, come to think of it, the “good old days” that we’ve just recalled weren’t all that good anyway.  The Tigers were only 12-13 that year, 5-9 for sixth in the Big Eight.  They would have losing records for six straight years before a new coach came in and posted a 42-80 record in the next five years.   Then Norm Stewart came to town.

He was 10-16 his first year and didn’t break .500 in conference play for his first three years.

Patience, folks.   Painful Patience.  But Patience.

Find some other place to lie

Sometimes when you feel that the world has gone too serious for you, pick up Gary Scharnhorst’s book of Mark Twain’s letters to the editor, Mark Twain on Potholes and Politics.  Scharnhorst is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico whose collection of Twain’s letters has been published by the University of Missouri Press.

Twain’s letters to the editor are a delight.  He sent one to the St. Louis Sunday Republican that was published March 17, 1867 asking for public sympathy.  As a journalist, I was first caught by his proclamation, “I have been in the newspaper business a long time, and I have some little peculiarities natural to the profession, one or two propensities, in fact, which are pleasant to me but which I have a delicacy in indulging in without explanation when among strangers.”

Sometimes, he wrote, he sought “relief” in a secluded spot in St. Louis’ Lafayette Park but he kept seeing signs saying “Visitors are forbidden to walk or lie on the grass.” He set out to find someone to talk to about them and found a man he took to be a watchman he presumed was taking care of the grounds.  I can hear the voice of Hal Holbrook as Twain relates more of the story.

“When the sign says I cannot walk or lie on the grass, it is a plain intimation that I can walk or lie in the public roadways of the park, ain’t it?” 

He said, “Certainly, certainly—nobody ain’t going to interfere.” 

“Very well,” I said, “it is a great relief to me—just give me your arm.  You were going toward the other end of the grounds, I believe?  Just so.  Well, sir, I once had an uncle—got him yet for that matter—an uncle whose name was Isaac—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—named after the whole tribe, you know, and—don’t interrupt me, please—this Isaac was rather stupid, stupid as an owl, sir, but a muscular man, and a man of prodigious appetite.  Why, as to his strength, nothing like it was ever seen in the world before—Samson was an infant to him—he carried off a church once, and you know it created dissatisfaction and considerable comment, and he went back after the congregation—DON’T interrupt me, if you please—and his plantation contained, well, say eighteen hundred acres of beautiful land, beautiful! But it was out of the way, some, and with no other implements, sir, than a wheelbarrow and a common shovel, he removed that entire plantation in a single night and deposited it in a most eligible position alongside the railroad.  It was a splendid idea, sir, splendid.  It increased the value of his plantation more than ten thousand percent.; but, as you perceive, sir, it utterly beggared the man whose plantation he covered up.  Strong?  Why, my friend, just the mere ballast of sin that that man carried around him would have crushed a common athlete to the earth; crush him?  It would annihilate him, sir!  My uncle, sir, could carry more sin on an even keel, and draw less water, and steer better than—please don’t interrupt me, sir—and he was a most remarkable man!  But at last, noble sir, that fell accident happened, which cast a blight over my life, and banished the roses from my cheek, alas! Never to return, watchman.  Heaven knows it was a sad day for me.  Well, that day my uncle had taken the oath, and several drinks, and a handful of spoons and various other articles and was feeling very well—he was always of a cheerful disposition—when all at once a sort of spontaneous combustion got started in his stomach, because, you see, he had been drinking a lot of uncommon bad whiskey, and trying to tell the truth all the while, and the truth and that sort of whiskey don’t really mix readily you know—but you understand these things.  This spontaneous combustion got started, and it extended upward and upward and upward, until at last it left go like an earthquake and blew the whole top of his head to the moon!—brains and all!—I pledge you my word of honor, there wasn’t the hundredth part of a teaspoonful of brains left in that idolized frame. It was awful.  Well, the whole top of his head was gone, you know, and so there was nothing for it but to put a tin roof on him—don’t interrupt me, can’t you?—no way but to put a tin roof on him, which disfigured him greatly, but was perfectly safe although it attracted heat of course, and might have caused brain fever, only, as I said before, the brains were all gone—but now comes the dickens of it, you know—what to do with him!—what the very nation to do with  him!  He couldn’t mould bricks, he couldn’t be a doctor, he couldn’t make more than a mere ordinary sort of a preacher—it didn’t really seem as if he were fitted for anything better than a kind of Mayor or City Councilman, or something of that description, and so, gifted sir, you can imaging the desolation that fell upon all our hearts and drove hope and happiness from our breasts—till at last, Heaven be praised, the people, the high and noble, the wisdom-inspired people, saw what Providence had intended him to be and they sent him to Congress, sir! They sent him to Congress…”

Twain reported the watchman at that point had had enough and left in a huff, which left Twain surprised and “grieved.”  After all, the watchman had told him he couldn’t lie or walk on the grass but could lie and walk on the walks as much as he wanted to, it seemed discourteous of him to leave. “Can I lie with any satisfaction without I have got somebody to lie to?  Why, certainly not.  Did that idiot suppose I wanted to march around that dismal park and lie all to myself?  It is absurd.”   He asked the editor to request the signs prohibiting lying or walking on the grass to be removed.  Their restrictions, he said, “amounts to heartless inhumanity.”

Your correspondent and his own “peculiarities natural to the profession” of journalism loves that letter.  The failure of mixing truth with too much bad whiskey. A tin-headed member of Congress.  The futility of a “march around that dismal park” lying only to himself.

It was a letter to the editor in 1867.  Is it a parable for the election year of 2016?


(editor’s note:  We’ve seen Hal Holbrook and his “Mark Twain Tonight” show many times, spent a wonderful hour interviewing him once, and helped arrange for him to perform in Jefferson City on the last night of the 2014 legislative session.  Unfortunately, few members of the legislature stuck around to see him.

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After his two-hour performance, he spent quite a bit of time with some folks backstage and later had dinner with several of the concert folks.  Your correspondent, exhausted from the last week of the session, had to skip the dinner.  But the president of the concert association, Mark Comley, related that during dinner he told Holbrook one of the memorable routines he had seen Holbrook perform many years earlier was the story of the “Begum of Bengal,” the story of a pipsqueak boat captain challenging a great trading ship from the orient.  He said Holbrook grew quiet for a while and then, there at the table, performed the story!  Mark figured Holbrook had been going through his voluminous mental files of Twain stories during that quiet time.  If you’d like to see Holbrook/Twain tell the story, go to this link:

The story of the “Begum of Bengal” starts about 4:20 in.

He’s 91 today, February 17, and as far as we know still does his show on stage.  He’s been Mark Twain longer than Samuel Clemens was Mark Twain. He is simply one of the greatest performers in the history of American theatre.  And that’s no lie.)


This might be TOO ethical

A long-cherished political tradition is at risk at our state capitol but it might not be too much of a risk. 

St. Louis Representative Gina Mitten has introduced a bill banning candidates for statewide office from chairing House or Senate committees while they are seeking that statewide job.   She says the situation invites abuse because it links the influence committee chairpeople have over legislation at a time when donors might be influenced by the committee’s actions. 

Does that happen?  Surely not. 

Mitten says the situation does not “pass the smell test.”  She’s not proposing the candidate leave the committee.  She just wants the candidate out of the chair.  The candidate can still dominate the discussion and gain as many headlines as would be gained while in the middle seat.  But the candidate’s authority over the fate of the legislation presumably would be erased. 

Mitten isn’t messing around either.  Her bill would ban any chairperson who doesn’t step aside from running for statewide offices for two election cycles.  (Maybe they could become lobbyists.  Other bills moving in the General Assembly would force lawmakers wanting to become lobbyists to wait a whole year before darkening the halls of the capitol. One entire year. Is there any doubt that requirement would solve the problem of ex-legislators getting too close, too soon, to their former colleagues?)

Mitten counts four sitting committee chairpersons who are running for statewide office this year.

Her bill would end decades and decades of practice.  Both parties have done the thing she wants to stop.  It has not been unusual for somebody wanting to improve their visibility and have a chance to grab some headlines to talk to the Speaker of the House or the President pro Tem of the Senate about forming a high-profile committee they can chair, especially if it is about an issue that is important to the candidate’s or the party’s political base.  An interim committee is best because there’s less competition for headlines than there is during the regular session.  Plus, interim committees can hold hearings throughout the state, increasing that visibility among voters who otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention to a committee hearing in Jefferson City and therefore wouldn’t know or care who is leading the crusade.  

Her bill might have a little bit better chance this year than it would have had in years past because the legislature is on a righteousness kick when it comes to lawmaker ethics.  But it probably won’t have much of a chance.  She’s a Democrat in a monocratic Republican legislature. 

She introduced House Bill 2398 on January 27.    As of February 9, the Speaker had not assigned it to a committee.  One might think it would go the House Ethics Committee, of course.  She’s the vice-chairman. 

A mell of a hess

Your correspondent has paid a couple of visits to the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus within the last few days.  Believe it or not, all of the columns on Francis Quadrangle are still standing.  The lighted dome of Jesse Hall still shines brightly against the night sky.  White campus has not crumbled.  Red campus still stands.  Peace Park is still peaceful.  The lions at the journalism school arch that are supposed to roar when a virgin walks by remain silent.

One would think otherwise, of course, after reading the seemingly constant flow of headlines emanating from that campus.  The inspection trip to Columbia became necessary after a fellow UMC graduate sent a note saying, “This is depressing” after reading Tony Messenger’s recent column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined “Somebody needs to drive University of Missouri out of ditch. Now.”

Tony, who was a terrific reporter at the state capitol before being demoted to editorial page editor, has recounted the seeming continued deterioration of the university system.  We say “system” although most of the collapse is centered in Columbia. And since the university system is so Columbia-centric, the screaming and the shouting (“when in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”) seems to mean in the public mind that the whole darned thing is in one mell of a hess, as Grandpa Motes used to say.

Well, it is.  It is because the focus is on Columbia but the ripples include the campuses in Rolla, Kansas City, and St. Louis in several ways.  Columbia’s the one with the football recruiting class that is 53rd in the nation, with a basketball team at the bottom of the conference that is hoping its self-flagellation over a significant recruiting violation under a different coach and a different athletic director will spare it significant additional flagellation from the NCAA, and with an apparently previously well-accepted communications professor who made an egregious emotional mistake during last fall’s demonstrations becoming the poster-child in a heated disagreement involving academic freedom, constitutional rights, personal responsibility, and competing political agendas.   It is a system in which one-third of its governing board has quit for one reason or another (one curator leaving even before the Senate confirmed Governor Nixon’s nomination of her), where a former system president who was praised for his graceful forced exit last year has now attacked the system’s governance and management, where Standard and Poor’s has lowered the institutional bond rating because of financial uncertainty caused by decreased enrollment and political games at the capitol, where interim leaders are struggling for stability while the unenviable task of finding a new president is underway, where—as Tony says—“black students and faculty feel disenfranchised,” and where one of the town’s newspapers recently reported that foreign students—who have been aggressively recruited because their much-higher tuitions provide minor help in offsetting legislative parsimony in financial support for education (at all levels)—don’t know who to go to if they feel harassed or threatened.

And we’re sure we’ve left some things out.   Oh, yes—a governor who has convinced the university to freeze tuitions so he can recommend the aforementioned parsimonious legislature give it a sadly-inadequate increase in general funding because the whole goal of government is to convince Missourians they can get more of the services they need and demand if they pay less for them.  It’s the same government that seems to think the most important things in higher education today are making sure nobody who even knows where Columbia, Missouri is can perform an abortion there while making sure all students can carry guns.

And the leader of the Senate says the university’s governing board will stay crippled for at least a year—until a new governor takes office because the senate will not confirm any nominees by the sitting governor.  That’s real helpful, isn’t it?

So, politically, the University of Missouri has been driven into a ditch.  But a lot of hands have been on the wheel.   If we listen to the Missouri Department of Transportation, ditches might be the best-maintained part of our road system today.  So getting the University out of the ditch will still leave it on the same uncertain road full of political potholes that it’s been on for some time.

But friends, there is hope.  And it is not on the road of potholes.

It is in the classrooms.  And the view behind the headlines is markedly different.

While all of the people who THINK they are important are playing their games, the serious work of educating another generation is quietly being carried out in thousands of classrooms, laboratories, studios, clinics, and offices on the four campuses by people who ARE important.  Walk through the Columbia campus and you’ll be walking with the young people WE were, young people busy being in their teens and early 20s and going about the business of becoming.  They’re talking and laughing, not spitting and shouting epithets.  They’re thinking and working.  Their teachers are shaping, not threatening, them.  (Well, except that the threat of a poor grade still hangs over the head of every student.)

In dormitory rooms and apartment rooms, at the Heidelberg or at Shakespeare’s Pizza’s temporary location, or in the part of the Brady Commons that commemorates The Shack, the students are doing what WE did.  They’re studying or playing cards or sleeping or—-.  Fill in the blank from your own memories.  Most of them do not feel harmed by the oh-so-serious power struggles among the people who THINK they’re the important ones, although in various ways they are being harmed because the struggles for political power are limiting their opportunities.  The REAL important ones are the ones with backpacks over their shoulders and hope in their eyes as they and their teachers lay the groundwork for lives they hope will be well-lived.

They are the university.  Their headlines are in years to come.  Walk among them and be hopeful.

How I played the political game

A thin line can separate History from nostalgia and we’re not sure which side we’re on in relating this story today.  Perhaps we have one foot in both.

Anyone who was in or around the legislature when Richard M. Webster was in the Senate is unlikely to forget someone once known as the “King of Missouri Politics.”  The description comes from Jim Wolfe, a longtime Capitol correspondent for the Joplin Globe who wrote often and favorably about the senator.  He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch back in 1993, “Senator Webster had respect that bordered on fear.”

Webster served two terms in the House before running a losing race for Attorney General in 1952.  He was re-elected to the House in a special election in ’53 and became the last GOP Speaker of the House in 1954 until Catherine Hanaway was elected Speaker almost fifty years later.  He lost a race for Lt. Governor in 1956.  He told us the story once that in 1956 he became   the first statewide candidate to use television to solicit votes.

Webster was elected to the Senate in 1962 and if he had not died early in 1990 would surely have been elected to his eighth term there.  He gave a speech in his hometown of Carthage on the night of his election to his last term, in 1986.  Former Senator Ryan McKenna gave us a copy of a newspaper article, probably from the Carthage newspaper, some years ago. It’s kind of long but we pass it along today because Webster’s remarks need to be recalled as history more than nostalgia, a reflection on how things were done thirty years and more ago.

When I arrived in Jefferson City in January of 1949, I found that I was part of a Republican minority.  The Democrats were in complete control.  I had the same general feeling with regard to those people who sat on the other side of the aisle that the 95 percent of the straight ticket voters in Missouri generally had for elected officials from the “other” political party.  I presumed that they were all either hoodlums or controlled by nefarious political bosses.

It was seldom that a member of the minority party actually handled a piece of legislation on the floor, so I spent my first month voting against almost everything.  Our floor leader, a middle-aged pharmacist from El Dorado Springs named Bill Cruce, once commented in passing that things weren’t quite as bad as I seemed to think they were. 

During the second month of the session, a young Irish bartender by the name of Tommy Walsh was handling a bill.

As I remember, the bill raised the salaries of constables in St. Louis County from $9 a day to $10 a day.  I remember the debate, in which virtually all the Republicans and a large number of rural Democrats were voicing their opposition. One old Democrat from Monroe County pointed out that it was more than a 10 percent raise, that it meant the constables would be making more than his grandson who was an army sergeant, and that the next thing we knew, the governor would want a raise which had the same percentage increase as the constables.  It was at that moment that Bill Cruce motioned to me to come back to his desk.  He said, “Kid, if I were you I would vote for this bill.”  When I expressed my surprise, he simply said, “Trust me.”  The bill carried by one vote.

As I walked out of the chamber the young Irishman put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I haven’t met you yet, but you saved me today. I won’t forget.” 

I immediately went to our floor leader’s private office, and he was the only Republican with a private office, and asked why it was important that I vote for that particular bill.  Bill Cruce leaned back in his chair and said, “Kid, let me explain.  All the good guys are not in our party and all the bad ones are not in theirs. I’m not going to point out who our bad guys are. If you can’t figure that out by the end of this session, you shouldn’t be here.  Tommy Walsh is one of the good guys. You can trust him and he would never ask you to vote for something that was against the interest of the people you represent.”

On one other occasion during that first session, I cast a vote on another bill affecting only the city of St. Louis. Once again the young Irishman came around to thank me.

When the next session began, Warren Fuqua came to me and asked me to introduce a bill.  Many of the farmers my age and some a little younger may remember Warren Fuqua, who was the legislative adviser of the Missouri Farm Bureau for three decades.  He retired more than 20 years ago and has long since left this life.  When he asked me to introduce a bill, I thought he merely wanted me to be a co-sponsor and told him I would be happy to do it.  He said, “No, no, I want you to handle the bill.”

I thought the old gentleman must be slipping, because anyone in his right mind would have had a Democrat introduce the bill and some Republican co-sponsor it.  I did introduce the bill and was shocked when I received notice of a committee hearing the following Monday night.

When I arrived at the committee meeting I found that the young Irish bartender was the chairman.  There were two bills on the calendar that evening.  There were quite a number of witnesses who testified for and against the first one.

When my turn came, Tom Walsh said, “The next bill is one which is very important to our friends from outstate Missouri.  Representative Webster, do you want to explain it or do you want us to go ahead and take action?”  It’s the only bill I have ever seen that was never discussed, but I took the cue. I simply said, “I have faith in your committee,” and I sat down. With no further discussion he said, “Do I hear a motion?”  The motion was made, seconded, and unanimously carried.  I had it on the floor the following week and Tom Walsh and several other new friends on the Democratic side saw to it that I had a sufficient number of votes.  That bill, incidentally, was the legislation which authorized the establishment of rural fire districts and permitted rural areas to be combined with town and city fire districts.  Without that legislation, the farmers in this immediate area could not expect to participate in the use of the Carthage fire department. 

After I was elected to the Senate in 1962, my first stop was in the office of my old Irish friend from St. Louis.  He not only welcomed me back to Jefferson City, but immediately got on his telephone and started calling state representatives from both St. Louis City and St. Louis County.  Between the time that I had been elected to the House and the time I was elected to the Senate, there had been a massive change in the population of St. Louis.  Almost 100,000 black citizens had moved in from Southern states and occupied the northern part of the city. A large segment of the Irish and German population had moved to St. Louis County.  The redistricting of 1950 and ’60 had added a large number of state representatives to St. Louis County because of that population increase.  Tommy must have introduced me to 20 new city and suburban Democrats. Without exception he would say, “You can trust this guy. He’ll always tell you yes or no. His word is good.  And if he can’t help you, he’ll tell you why.”   That was the beginning of many new friendships, all of which have lasted down the years.  I sat on the platform at the second inauguration of Warren Hearnes and the first inauguration of Kit Bond with my old Irish friend.  He left us for a better world, I am sure, almost a decade ago, but not before he had gone up and down the aisles to help both Robert Ellis Young and me get the votes to create Missouri Southern College, to make it a full four-year fully funded college and establish many other worthwhile projects in Southwest Missouri. 

If I ever wrote a book, I would tell a similar story with virtually the same beginning in the same development of a loyal friendship with regard to many legislators. I could tell of my friendship with Yogi Berra’s cousin, Paul Berra, with whom I served in both the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate. He is now the comptroller of the city of St. Louis.  He was a loyal friend when we needed him.  Probably my closest friend in the Missouri House of Representatives today is the senior Democratic member, Gene Copeland from Southeast Missouri.  Two years ago at the close of a legislative session, we were visiting in my office and comparing how each of us had voted, and both of us are basically conservative.  We found that our voting records had been identical.  After thinking for a moment he said, “Why is it that you’re a Republican and I’m a Democrat?”  I asked him, “What color of uniform did your great-granddaddies wear?”  He responded, “Gray, of course.” 

Therein lies the basic reason that he was a Democrat and I am a Republican.  It was a family tradition and it explains why the Missouri Legislature is basically conservative with a Democratic majority on both houses.  A majority of the Missouri voters vote their traditional party line for the local candidates. They vote for the man at the state and national levels. 

In the Missouri Senate the leaders recognized, three generations ago, that party affiliation had little to do with political philosophy.  They were wise enough, in 1919 when the new Capitol was opened, to establish an unwritten rule that we would never sit by political party on the floor of the Senate.  It isn’t possible to walk in and see the Democrats on one side and the Republicans on the other. It is the only legislative body in this nation which follows that tradition.  The result is the ability to vote in accordance with your conscience and the interest of the people that you represent. Neither the Democratic floor leader nor I would ever attempt to crack the whip and deliver a solid party vote in order to maintain party loyalty.

When the next session opens, I will be called upon, as the senior member of the Senet, to explain the traditions and “unwritten rules” of the body.  We follow the same rules of procedure as the United States Senate.  A rule can be suspended by majority vote.  We also have “unwritten rules” which have nothing to do with parliamentary procedure. Some of them simply deal with the matter of common courtesy. Others deal with overall conduct toward each other.

As an example, it doesn’t matter who the governor is, no gubernatorial appointment will be confirmed if the senator in whose district the appointee resides objects.  This has been hard for many governors to understand. It is not a written rule, but it is strictly enforced.

One of the things that binds us together as a family is the rule that you do not speak in another senator’s district without advising him in advance and getting permission.  I have never known of a senator who said don’t come into my district to speak to the Rotary club, or a church group, or even at a political rally. It’s a simple matter of courtesy.  Since 1949 I know of only one senator who did not strictly abide by that rule.  She happens to be running for a national office today and we’ll find out tonight whether or not she’s been elected.

The bipartisan friendship has led to an extremely interesting development and that is the monthly Senate prayer breakfast.  Without desiring to stimulate a religious argument, I would offer my personal opinion that it is part of God’s plan that all Christians will be untied before He returns.  The greatest change that I have seen in philosophy among my fellow elected officials is the ability to freely discuss the Bible, regardless of our church membership.

Now, we know about the president’s prayer breakfast, our governor’s prayer breakfast, many mayors who have a prayer breakfast, and other such events.  These meetings ar eopen, large crowds are attracted, and tickets are sold. The Missouri Senate prayer breakfast, on the other hand, is strictly a private affair.  It is held on the first Tuesday of each month. No one attends but the members of the Senate.  Our average attendance is 26 out of 34 members. It isn’t unusual to observe a devout Catholic reading the scripture from a King James version of the bible. We have come a long way in unity in that regard.

I can best describe how our system works by telling you about the last two days of the last session.  Both the governor and a virtually unanimous news media said it was the most productive session in the history of the state.

The session ended on a Monday.  After church on Sunday, the president pro tem and the Democratic floor leader met in my office. 

They had a list of 45 pieces of legislation that they considered to be vitally important.  The Democratic floor leader said, “I know that some of the Republican members have bills on this list, but there may be other legislation that is important to them in their district. Will you work up a list between now and 2 o’clock and we can figure out how to get a vote on each of these propositions.”  Now bear in mind we were looking at an afternoon and early evening session on Sunday and a session between 9:30 and midnight on Monday to clean the calendar and take up all of the priority measures. 

When we adjourned for the evening at 9 o’clock Sunday the three of us met again and decided to find some out-of-the-way place where we could have breakfast on Monday to review the list and set a timetable. We had such a meeting and allotted time for each remaining piece of legislation.  At 7:30 we met with the governor to review his priorities. At 9, the day’s work began.

Bear in mind that through the whole procedure, the question was never asked, “How do you you  intend to vote?”  It was simply a matter of guaranteeing that the members of the body would have the opportunity to vote on each of these important issues.  We allotted a specific amount of time for each measure. At eight minutes before midnight we had finished our work.  All the priority legislation had been taken up and our job was done with ten minutes to spare.

As I watch our colleagues in Washington spend days and even weeks on one single piece of legislation, I don’t know why they can’t learn the simple lesson of bipartisan cooperation.

The question is always asked, Why do you have to wait until the last week of the session for that final action on legislation? The answer is simple.  If you are going to build 200 houses in 100 days, you don’t complete two houses on the first, two houses on the second day, and two houses each day for 100 days.  You have to have input from 34 Senators and 163 House members. That work has already begun. I am in Jefferson City two days a week when we are not in session working on legislation that will be introduced next year.

What has taken place in the last generation and a half in the minds of voters, in which they have demonstrated the genuine ability to “vote for the man,” has also taken place among Missouri lawmakers in the ability to recognize philosophical differences and at the same time attempt to work together for the overall benefit of the state.  When we had those conferences, not only the last two days, but the first day of every week during the session, we were not agreeing on what would pass and what would not pass. We were simply ageing that every member of the body would have the right to present legislation that he or she considered to be important.  We were agreeing that crisis problems in the state would be approached. We were agreeing that we would take a financially responsible position.

It’s been slightly more than 47 years since I first addressed the Rotary club. I was a senior in high school and had won the city oratorical contest.  We have seen a multitude of changes in the minds and attitudes of America’s voters and American’s public officials.  Our Constitution, however, is still in place and it will fail only when the people of America lose interest in their government and how it works.

The leader of the Missouri Senate these thirty years later, Ron Richard, represents the district Richard Webster served.   But it’s no longer Webster’s Senate, no longer Webster’s legislature.  It’s hard to believe in this term-limit, unlimited campaign money, polarized era that it ever will be again.

And that, Mr. and Mrs. And Ms. Missouri, is sad.

The spirit of the St. Louis

There’s always somebody. Somebody not good enough for us no matter their circumstances. Somebody we can always tell, “Go back where you came from.”  Some of the campaign rhetoric this year reminds us of the story of a ship named for our second-largest city.

Let’s go back to Germany, 1938, where the Nazi government’s increasing persecution of Jews caused many to try to flee. Representatives of several western nations met at Evian, France in July, 1938, to discuss the worsening situation. Major nations such as the United States, France, and Britain refused to loosen their immigration laws to allow more refugees from Germany, even as Germany was tightening its laws against Jews wanting to flee. German policies against Jews broke into violence with the Kristallnacht on November 9-10 and in ensuing months, thousands of Jews were arrested.

Nine-hundred-thirty-seven Jewish passengers were aboard the S. S. St. Louis when it left Hamburg, Germany on May 13, 1939, hoping to find safety in Cuba or the United States.  But Cuba allowed fewer than thirty to disembark.

The St. Louis headed north, hoping to dock in the United States.  But this country had enacted a restrictive immigration law in 1924.  The state department worried that the Jews would be security risks or be dependent on government handouts if they were allowed in.  Passengers could not get tourist visas because they had no home address.  And there were a lot of other German immigrants waiting for entry.

After more than a month the St. Louis headed back to Europe, although not to Germany.  Britain agreed to take 288 of the passengers.  The remaining 620 went to Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, countries still at peace.

It was while the St. Louis was still at sea, its passengers still hoping to find asylum or at least safety in the United States that Heywood Broun, one of the great newspaper columnists of the time, wrote “There is a Ship” for the New York World-Telegram. It was published June 9, 1939.


There is a ship. It is called the St. Louis.  If suddenly the vessel flashed an SOS to indicate that the crew and the 900 passengers were in danger every other steamer within call would be hurrying to the rescue. That is the rule of the sea.

And no vessel which got the flash would pause to inquire the economic, political, religious or national position of those in distress.  It would want no more than the position of the ship.

And the captain on the bridge, according to the prevailing tradition, would ask the engineer to put on all speed so that the work of rescue could be completed as expeditiously as possible.  And this would be true of the skipper of a totalitarian merchantman, one from a democratic nation or a ship flying under the flag of a monarchy, liberal or otherwise.

But there is a ship.  It carries 900 passengers—men, women and small children.  This is a group of God-fearing people guilty of no crime whatsoever.  And they are in peril.

They are in peril which threatens not only their lives but their very souls and spiritual freedom.  It would be better for them by far if the St. Louis has ripped its plates in a collision with some other craft, or if an impersonal iceberg had slashed the hull below the water line.

Then there would be not the slightest hesitation in a movement of all the allied fleets to save these members of the human race in deep and immediate distress.

But this is not an iceberg or a plate which has been ripped away.  The passengers—men, women and children—are Jewish. It is not an accident of nature but an inhuman equation which has put them in deadly peril.  It is quite true that when the St. Louis gets back to Hamburg these 900, with possibly a few exceptions, will not die immediately.  They will starve slowly, since they have already spent their all.  Or they will linger in concentration camps—I refer to the men and women.  God knows what will happen to the children.

And so the whole world stuffs its ears and pays no attention to any wireless.

There is a ship. And almost two thousand years have elapsed since the message of universal brotherhood was brought to earth.

What have we done with that message?  After so many years we have not yet put into practice those principles to which we pay lip service.  Nine hundred are to suffer a crucifixion while the world passes by on the other side.

At any luncheon, banquet or public meeting the orator of the occasion can draw cheers if he raises his right hand in the air and pledges himself, his heart and soul to the declaration that he is for peace and amity and that all men are brothers.  He means it, generally, and so do the diners who pound the table until the coffee cups and the cream dishes rattle into a symphony of good feeling and international sympathy.

But there is a ship. If one were to look upon it with cold logic it would be better for every one of the 900 if the vessel suddenly buckled and went down in forty fathoms.  That would be more merciful.

Against the palpable threat of death we can muster brotherhood.  But against the even more plain sentence of life in death we pretend to be helpless.

Our answer is, “We must look after ourselves.  What can we do about it?  Life is greater than death.”  We agree.  Here is our test.  What price civilization?  There is a ship.  Who will take up an oar to save 900 men, women and children?


Heywood Broun died at 51 years of age on December 18, 1939. About the time he wrote this column, he had forsaken his professed agnosticism after extensive discussions with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and had become a member of the Catholic faith.

Germany invaded the safe countries of Western Europe on May 10, 1940. The Netherlands surrendered five days later. Belgium gave up May 28.  And France fell June 22.   The Holocaust Museum in Washington estimates 254 former passengers on the St. Louis died during the holocaust, most of them at Sobibor and Auschwitz.  Fewer than one-hundred eventually made it to the United States.

The St. Louis was a German naval accommodation ship until it was damaged by the bombing of Kiel in August, 1944.  She was fixed and was a hotel ship in Hamburg for a while before being scrapped in 1952.

But the ghost of the spirit of the ship still hangs over us.

Jews in 1939.  Mexicans and Syrians in 2016.

There’s always somebody.

Putting up appearances

A former White House correspondent once recalled that one of the Presidents he had covered was adept at “looking like” he was doing something.  

The legislature has been telling us this is the year it’s doing something about ethics and the House has quickly sent a package of bills to the Senate where the majority floor leader is expecting action within a couple of weeks. It probably is unfair to suggest at this point that the legislature is “looking like” it’s doing something significant but it might not be unfair to wonder if it is doing as much as it should.  

It might be fair to say lawmakers are putting themselves in a good position to have something to brag about in their re-election campaigns. But a fair question to ask is, “What difference will these things really make?”  Will the hallways during legislative sessions look any different?  Will the influence of special interest groups be lessened?  How will these changes make the lives of the people on this quiet street better?  

Maybe the answer to that last question can honestly be, “They won’t,” but they might provoke a slight climate change at the Capitol.  The climate change, however, is unlikely to melt any political icebergs. 

One change approved by the House bars members of the legislature from becoming lobbyists for a year.  One entire year.  Not one term.  Or four years.  One year after a legislator leaves, that person can be back renewing old buddy relationships with about eighty percent of the people who were colleagues 365 days earlier.  But it does end suspicions at least somewhat that someone will vote for a bill one day and then go to work for the organization behind it a few weeks later. 

Another bill forbids elected officials from being paid political consultants.  In other words, the Speaker of the House or former Speaker cannot run a political consulting office on the side and collect fees from fellow House members wanting more terms, especially if he makes donations to the House members from his leftover campaign funds, then collects those donations back as consulting fees.  In other places, this is known as money laundering . 

Another proposal bans lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators.  Lobbyists can still sponsor junkets but the lawmakers have to pay their own way.  No more tickets to baseball, football, basketball, hockey games would be allowed, though, unless everybody is invited. 

One lawmaker refers to the ethics bills on the move early in this session as “baby steps.”  But they ARE steps and we haven’t seen steps of any size taken for a long time. 

However, we already have seen that the legislature is adept at ignoring the T-Rex in the room.   The House has not touched proposals on campaign donations and the senate leader says the issue will not be considered in his chamber.  

So the message is clear.  A free ticket to a football game is a sin.   A check for $100,000 is sacred. So legislators seeking re-election this year can tell the folks at home they supported steps to “clean up” government.   And because the state is likely to remain the only one with no donation limits, they’ll have plenty of money to advertise their efforts to re-establish virtue at the Capitol. 

One lawmaker has been quoted as saying, “Campaign contributions…are political speech. That is not part of the discussion.” Give that lawmaker some marks for candor. 

Free Speech is important in political campaigns.  But it’s not free, is it?  Some people can afford tens of thousands of dollars of “free” speech.  Some people can afford five dollars of “free” speech.  Both can speak but guess which one is most likely to be heard.  Pretty clearly, the refusal of the legislature to consider balancing the scales of political speech is an indication of who they’d rather listen to and who’s invited to the conversation.  

Let us not confuse free speech guaranteed in the constitution with political speech guaranteed by the checkbook.  Until the imbalance is corrected, those who serve in The People’s House might want to acknowledge they’re serving in The SOME People’s House. 

Baby steps are being taken.  But the footprint of the T-Rex emphasizes how puny they really are in today’s Missouri politics. 

The 18-pound ball

Another person said it to your correspondent the other day and it’s been said often enough that it merits a response.

“Do you think the Senate waited until you were gone before kicking the reporters off the Senate floor?”

While the question is flattering, it’s discomfiting. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t kind of nice to hear but the answer I’ve given is not “yes,” and here’s why.  First, don’t forget that Virginia Young of the Post-Dispatch also has retired and she would be no happier about the situation than I am if she were still there.  Second, Senate leader Ron Richard is a bowling alley owner—and sometimes he seems to use an 18-pound ball when a 14-pounder would do.

Senator Richard, the first person ever to serve as Speaker of the House and President pro Tem of the Senate, shares a deep passion for the Missouri Capitol with your correspondent.  We’ve often talked about the need to restore it and preserve it.  He is also an important supporter of the State Historical Society, which is important (and that’s an understatement) to more Missourians than realize it including this author.   But to suggest that he waited until I was gone and/or Virginia was gone before kicking our press corps colleagues into a side gallery is probably a misconception.

But it is the wrong thing to do and if the Missourinet seat at the press table was still my home, I think there might have been some frank discussions.

This entry is more “inside baseball” stuff than usual.  But it might give readers a little more insight into a small part of the way the legislature and the press corps work or should work.

As I understand it, this situation grew out of a time when Senator Brian Nieves took off on one of his tantrums that was a personal attack on another office-holder—not a Senator—that went on and on and that Nieves appeared to feel was particularly clever.   Senator Richards’ predecessor, Tom Dempsey, heard it in his office and quickly went to the chamber where he told Senator Eric Schmitt, who was presiding at the time, that he should have called Nieves to order.  One of the reporters at the press table put something on Twitter about the Dempsey-Schmitt discussion and another member of the press corps picked up the message and re-tweeted it.

Now, understand that your observer thought well of Dempsey and found him a thoughtful leader of the chamber.  He recognized that his position was one that represented all senators, not just those of his party, and he often served as a mediator in touchy situations.

I had forgotten until colleague Phill Brooks reminded me recently that Dempsey talked to the two of us about his concern that the Twitter message violated an unwritten Senate protocol that certain conversations in certain places are private.  He wondered what to do about the matter and I don’t think Phill and I gave him much of an answer, certainly not a satisfactory one.  We did say that we weren’t aware of the situation and would not have tweeted about it if we had been. I don’t even remember if Dempsey mentioned the name of the reporter involved.

It’s been almost two years since this incident and I think it’s been mishandled from the start on both sides.   The result is an unfortunate escalation that need not have happened.   It is probably too late, unfortunately, to roll back the situation, but here’s the way things should have been handled—at least from this perspective.

First, Twitter and the emphasis on immediate communication (which is not necessarily reporting—a distinction that can be discussed later, I suppose) is a pit waiting for people to fall into and we hear stories about that almost every day, don’t we?

As a reporter who had, and still has, a lot of distrust of the idea that any system that capitalizes on the human tendency to blurt out whatever is on the mind is good, I would not have communicated the Dempsey-Schmitt discussion because there was a time to explain the incident’s significance when more than 140 characters are involved.  Dempsey was always approachable by the press corps, I think, and the incident was not so earth-shaking that public distribution of its occurrence could not wait until Dempsey could be asked about it.  He probably would have tried to sidestep it because it was an internal issue and because of the idea that senators should speak courteously of one another, at least on the record.   But he should have been asked about it instead of becoming the subject of instant communication.  Even if he had not wanted to talk about it, he would have been alerted that the incident was a story.

What Phill and I should have told him (and maybe we did, I don’t remember) was that it would be appropriate for him to express his concerns directly to the reporter and discuss between the two of them what Dempsey saw as the problem and how that sort of thing could have been handled differently. I don’t think he would have talked the reporter out of doing the story, but the discussion would have been good for both.

There have been opportunities since then for the Senate leader to raise the issue with reporters—the Senate majority information person has been good about getting the press together with the leaders every Monday afternoon, at least, and often more frequently as needed.  Understanding the relationship between the press and senators has never been something discussed before the start of legislative sessions.  It would have been useful and might be useful in the future when legislative leaders hold pre-session news conferences, not a matter of instruction but a matter of understanding operations of both sides.

But throwing an 18-pound ball (banishment to the gallery) instead of a 14-pound ball (discussing the relationship between press and legislator) is the wrong way to go.   The result is that the Senate is spending a bunch of taxpayers’ money it doesn’t need to spend, the press corps is antagonized, and an opportunity for a good working relationship has been lost.

And that, for whatever it is worth, is how the situation should have been handled.

Before departing, let it be noted that this is being written by someone who has not been part of the press corps for about fourteen months and is relying on information about the triggering incident and the resulting effects from others.  We’ll be glad to correct misimpressions about the circumstances if we have misunderstood them. But what this entry indicates, if it indicates anything, is that impressions made in the moment and lingering resentment that festers through time can produce unfortunate results that don’t really help anything.

Sometimes the brute force of an 18-pound ball is less useful than the better technique that goes with one weighing only 14.