The possum policy

We are reminded of Missouri’s political “Possum Policy” as we watch the national Republican Party face the possibility that Donald Trump will go to its national convention with the nomination locked up.  Or thinks he has it locked up.

While some people might be looking at the situation with delight, we are watching from our lofty position with some sympathy.  Who among us has not been in a situation where you find you must sit at the same table with someone who has said or done things that are personally embarrassing to us?   Magnify that a few million times and you approach the discomfort of one of our major political parties.  What do you do with someone who brings a skunk to a cat show? 

Some party leaders who hoped “anybody but Trump” would emerge from the primaries have now said they’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee, which is hardly a resounding endorsement.  Now, even some of those people are appalled at Trump’s comment about an Indiana judge hearing the lawsuit against Trump University and some things he has said since the Orlando shootings.  But Trump is unrepentant. 

Even if he does begin to sound more mainstream, his credibility is a problem because of the face he has presented to the world day after day, month after month.  Leopards can’t change their spots.  (Well, actually they can but it’s an evolutionary thing. Individual leopards can’t.  We checked.

This is what happened in post-Civil War Missouri when one of the major political parties found itself in a situation too awkward to deal with—as some Republicans might view their situation now.  We’re not suggesting the national Republican Party should consider this option.  But some say this plan saved one of the parties in Missouri. Maybe there’s a lesson here somewhere.  

The Democratic Party was weak after the Civil War and the Republican Party became badly split between Liberal and Radical elements.  The Radical Republicans had been in control of Missouri during the war and in 1865 pushed a new, punitive, state constitution into effect.  The Liberals split with the Radicals in 1870. 

Democratic leaders decided not to field a candidate for governor that year and supported the Liberal Republicans, putting their efforts into strengthening their numbers in the legislature and among Missouri’s congressional delegation.  The idea was branded as “the possum policy.”  And it worked.

Liberal Republican B. Gratz Brown, supported by the Democratic Party, defeated incumbent Joseph McClurg, a Radical, with more than 62 percent of the vote.  Missouri’s congressional delegation went from 7-2 Republican to 5-4 Republican.  Democrat Francis Preston Blair Jr., who had campaigned aggressively against the loyalty oath in the 1865 constitution, replaced Charles Daniel Drake, the architect of the 1865 Constitution, in the U.S. Senate.  Drake had resigned to take a federal judgeship offered by President Grant, who did not seem to find Radicalism all that bad. 

Blair became a strong critic in the Senate of the Radical Republican reconstruction work in the South.  In 1872, the Liberal Republicans and the Democrats combined to make Brown the Liberal Republican Vice-Presidential candidate with newspaper editor Horace Greeley at the top of the ticket.  They lost to incumbent President Grant and the Liberal revolt pretty much died with that election.  But along the way Radical Republican rule died in Missouri, too.  Democrat Silas Woodson was elected governor in 1872, and Missouri’s Congressional delegation went to 9-4 Democratic.   (Yes, we went from nine to thirteen congressmen after the 1870 census). 

Governors had two-year terms then.

Some historians think the Possum Policy gave the Democrats the breathing room they needed to rebuild through legislative and congressional elections while avoiding a crushing defeat at the top of the ticket that might have had negative ripples down the ballot.  By not running a candidate for governor in 1870 and uniting with Liberal Republicans, they helped kill the Radical movement and gained time to rebuild their own strength to win in 1872. 

Without diving too deeply into political analysis, it can be observed that the Republican Party today finds itself split along Radical and Moderates (the mainline GOP probably would not appreciate being labeled with the 19th Century “Liberal” designation) factions. But in the end, it was the more moderate wing that survived. 

National Republicans in 2016 can’t adopt a Possum Policy and refuse to field a candidate for President. And there is no suggestion here that they should, no matter how uncomfortable Donald Trump makes the mainline party members feel.  But Missouri’s Possum Policy story might indicate disaster is not inevitable even if the short-term outlook is grim.

Blaming Grandpa

We live in a time when we have “friends” throughout the world but we don’t know our next door neighbor. 

 We wave at our neighbors but we don’t talk to them very much and certainly not about anything significant. But we’ll text people in other cities. We’ll link in with them or we’ll book our faces with them or we send them an Instagram.  Some still twitter to share things with people we’ve never met.  But we just wave at our neighbors—-and what was their name again?

My grandfather didn’t invent the internet but he might have set in motion the sorry state of affairs outlined by Media writer Eric Burns almost thirty years ago when he wrote, “Every improvement in the technology of communications during the last century has led to greater isolation among people. It is a remarkable paradox, as if every improvement in the technology of hygiene had led to greater illness, every improvement in the technology of transportation had led to greater distance.” 

 If you need proof, put your cell phone away when you’re walking along a busy street and watch the crowd and see how many people are walking while they’re talking on the phone or texting or checking emails, never looking at the people around them, not even talking with friends or associates walking with them.   

“It began with Rural Free Delivery that brought the mail to the person,” wrote Burns.  

One of my grandfathers was a rural mail carrier in Mitchell County, Kansas in the 1920s and 1930s, delivering mail to people such as my other grandfather, a farmer. 

“Before RFD, the person had to come to the mail, which was deposited for him at a centralized place.  Usually the place was a general store; usually the person was a farmer who would kill two birds with one stone, picking up his mail at the same time he shopped for groceries and supplies,” wrote Burns, who noted the farmer also would “socialize, visit with the other farmers and their families who were at the general store for the same reason.  And this was one of the few chances such people had to pass time with their neighbors; their farms were many miles apart and their days too busy with chores to allow for casual dropping in.  It was a lonely life. Ironically, the inefficiency of the postal system made it less so.”

But, he says, when people like my one grandfather started delivering the mail to farmers like my other grandfather, the farmers had more time to farm and the general store as a social institution died.  He cites one of this writer’s favorite historians, Daniel Boorstin, who wrote, “From every farmer’s doorstep there now ran a highway to the world. But at the price of dissolving the old face-to-face communities.”  

Then along came radio to make things worse.  It brought entertainment and information into the home.  It wasn’t necessary to go to town for those things.  And it killed the Chautauqua movement and eliminated more face-to-face interaction.

The telephone system had improved to the point where—as NYU Professor Neil Postman put it–
“a strange world of acoustic space in which disembodied voices exchange information intimately and in specially developed personas” developed.  The telephone did not require face-to-face communication.  Then television. Then home video. Then computers.  And e-mail.  Burns quoted Henry David Thoreau: “Lot! Men have become the tools of their tools.”

The progression suggested by Burns in 1988 was continued in 2012 by Dr. James Emery White, the former President of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts and senior pastor of the Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He wrote of “hyper-connectivity” in his blog, saying analysts are split on this “bane of the so-called millennials, the generation born from 1981-2000.” 

 “Some feel it will make millennials ‘nimble analysts and decision makers.’ Others feel it will mean an inability to retain information, a tendency to be easily distracted, and a lack of ‘deep thinking capabilities’ and ‘face-to-face social skills.’”  White leaned toward the latter and cites a UCLA study in 2007 that showed “the internet is weakening our comprehension and transforming us into shallow thinkers.” 

He, too, quotes Boorstin: “The greatest menace to progress is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge,” which leads him to compare the words “hyper” and “hypo.”   HYPER means “above,” or “over,” he says.  HYPO means “below” or “under.” 

He concludes, “So while it is an age of hyper-connectivity, perhaps we should also acknowledge the inevitable result.  Hypo-intellectualism.”  

Other analysts can cite other reasons for our contradicting lifestyles that isolate us from those next door to us but bring us influences from far away.  This observer, for instance, thinks the window screen, not the rural mail carrier, is a major factor in this social, and therefore political, decline in thought.   And the contradicting effects of the debilitating involvement in Vietnam and the glorious success of the Apollo space program changed out national outlook to inward thinking.  But screened windows, a war, and a space program are discussions for another time. 

Why go through this pondering?

Because something has to explain why this nation is in the political mess it is in, particularly at our state and our national levels. Self-absorption is one thing.  But self-absorption about our self-absorption can only make the situation worse because studying our navels only drives us further inward and farther away from the general store and the Chautauqua.  

Even this entry is an example.  We could be having this discussion around a table at the general store if such a thing existed. Or in more contemporary times, the coffee shop (free Wi-fi available).  But instead, we are connecting hyperly.  

I think that today, when I see my neighbor, I will cross the street and talk to him, not wave. 

Donnie and the press

(An Elton John tune has been going through your observer’s mind for the last few days)

Donald Trump doesn’t like reporters. “You know my opinion of the press—very low,” he said at a recent press conference. “The media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met,” he has said. “Seventy-five percent is absolutely dishonest, absolute scum, scum,” he has proclaimed.

“The media frankly is made up of people—in many cases, not in all cases—who are not good people,” he said. “I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever known…I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest.”

Just to set the tone of this entry early, let it be known that this observer is proud to have been “scum” for more than a half-century. It is, believe it or not, a strange badge of honor given by people such as Donald Trump to carry the label of not being “good people.”

One might be tempted to respond, “That’s true. Of course, do not forget that people are known for the company that they keep. And guess who we’ve been keeping company with.”   But that would be snarky and unprofessional and will be left unsaid.

Trump’s attitude means we are doing our jobs. And people like Donald Trump don’t believe we should do our jobs, which is questioning the honesty and credibility of people such as Donald Trump.

Trump seems to think his characterizations of the press will (a) make his followers love him even more without reservation and (b) intimidate the press.   We don’t know if any of his most loyal adherents will ever be bothered by the things they are learning from those of us whom Trump despises but we do know that efforts to intimidate the press don’t work. Good reporters don’t back off, especially when people such as Trump have no responses to their questions beyond name-calling.

Trump has threatened to change libel laws if he’s elected President so he can sue reporters more easily. He regularly ignores the fact that he is not running for dictator, but is running for an office that is only one-third of government and that he cannot by himself determine what the law is.

One thing journalists know above all else about libel law is that truth is an absolute defense. That standard is terribly unwelcome to people such as Donald Trump who seem to think truth should be defined as whatever falls from their lips.

What triggered the newest broadside was solid reporting by David Farenthold of the Washington Post. You recall Trump bragged in January at an event he held when he skipped an Iowa Caucus debate that he had raised six million dollars for veterans’ groups in one hour, including one-million dollars he personally donated.

He lied.

He and his campaign have now admitted, in fact, that the total amount raised in the last five months is not six million dollars but 5.6, even with the million dollars Trump finally did contribute—late last month.

The Post did a lot of spade work to discover only half of that amount had been distributed to veterans’ groups by early May. And Trump had NOT contributed one-million dollars in January. He wrote a check May 24th, the day more distributions were made—after Farenthold started asking questions that Trump’s people either refused to answer or tried to squirm out of answering. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks retorted, “If the media spent half as much time highlighting the work of these groups and how our veterans have been so mistreated, rather than trying to disparage Mr. Trump’s generosity for a totally unsolicited gesture for which he had no obligation, we would all be better for it.”

The response is a cheap and completely unoriginal one that is not uncommon when reporters start pressing candidates for the truth. Attack the questioner for asking the question. Ms. Hicks conveniently ignores the reams of stories that have been written about mistreatment of veterans, whether by the VA or even in Arlington National Cemetery, and more reams of stories written every year about the work of local and national veterans’ organizations. Mr. Trump’s “generosity” was not expressed in January, when he said it was, but was only expressed (for lack of a better word) in May after Farenthold started asking questions and others started picking up the story. An “unsolicited gesture for which he had no obligation” is a curious phrase, certainly. Was it an “unsolicited gesture” or was it a well-staged event to take the spotlight away from a debate he dodged with his opponents? Is there no obligation when one says in January that he has contributed one-million dollars—but he hadn’t?

There is every indication that questions about Trump’s character (and Hillary Clinton’s character as well) will only intensify, not because the press has a vendetta against them (some undoubtedly do, as some undoubtedly are apologists) but because the stakes are high and the spotlight must be harsh.

So let’s be clear. To Donald Trump, fair press coverage is any coverage that lets him spout, unchallenged, anything that he says as gospel.   Those who don’t believe that is the role of the press are “scum.”

Forty years ago, when the Arab oil embargo drove up energy prices and inflation was leading to home loan rates of almost twenty percent, Joe Teasdale won the Missouri governorship by promising to lower utility rates and fire the Public Service Commission, which sets the rates for state-regulated utilities. He knew it was economically impossible to lower utility rates and legally impossible to fire the members of the PSC. But it was a populist message that resonated just enough for him to get into office. He referred to those of us in the Capitol press corps who had questioned him repeatedly on the issue as “jaded.”

At his first press conference after his election, he found himself facing several Capitol reporters wearing pins reading “Jaded J. C. Reporter.” It was a pin reporters were proud to wear and some of those reporters, now long gone from the Capitol, still have those pins.

Perhaps it’s time the reporters covering the Trump campaign started wearing pins with the word “scum” on them.   It would be an honor to have one.

And it would be a message to the man on the stage that name-calling will not stop fact-checking, and will not give a free pass to demagoguery.

See Spot(s) Run

Your faithful observer is starting to see spots before his eyes.

“Spots” is broadcast-ese for “commercials.”  Political commercials.  Most particularly, Republican candidates for governor.  Three of them were almost cheek-to-jowl in one of the late night shows the other night.

The timing of two of the commercials was—uh—awkward, shall we say?

Only about forty-eight hours after the Orlando incident, Eric Greitens was blowing up something with (what appears to these eyes unfamiliar with weapons) a military-style assault rifle.  His solution to politics-as-usual is to fire about 13 shots in two seconds until something he is shooting at explodes.  Some folks we have talked think it was poor manners to continue running these spots in the immediate wake of the Orlando tragedy.

Catherine Hanaway uses a shotgun to also blast “career politicians” while touting the mom, home, and apple pie virtues and claiming that she “passed” a law expanding gun rights (to be honest, SHE didn’t pass it, the legislature did). And the question arises with her commercial too—whether it was poor taste to brag about expanding gun rights in the wake of Orlando. It might seem odd to some that she criticizes career politicians after a career that began as a manager of Senator Bond’s campaign in northeast Missouri in 1993, election to the Missouri House in ’98, her extensive work recruiting candidates and donors to help Republicans gain control of the House, her term as Speaker, her losing candidacy for Secretary of State in 2004 and her subsequent political appointment as federal prosecutor in eastern Missouri under the George W. Busch administration.

Compared to those two is John Brunner, who so far has advertised nothing more than his promise to create more jobs and an emphasis that he’s so rich he “can’t be bought.” We’ll wait to see if he shows anything indicating he has something else to offer or any specifics about how he can create more jobs in a state where the unemployment rate is just above four percent, a figure that fits several definitions of “full employment.”

We didn’t see a Peter Kinder spot while Greitens, Hanaway, and Brunner were hoping late night viewers would find something significant in guns and generalities.  But he had been on the air earlier attacking the unmitigated evils of the Left, which is nothing new for him.

Perhaps the candidates will tell us in spots to come what they’ll do to solve Missouri’s problems—poor school funding, poor transportation funding, medical care and mental health services, whether they think significantly higher sales taxes are preferable to a graduated income tax, stuff like that requiring more than platitudes, diatribes, and firearms.

The campaigns by Hanaway, Brunner, and Greitens blasting career politicians certainly seem targeted at Kinder, who has been in office either as a Senator or Lieutenant Governor since 1993, the year that Hanaway became a campaign worker for Senator Bond.

Another spot thrown into the mix during that late night show regurgitates attack ads from Brunner’s 2012 Senate race, accusing him of not paying some taxes on time, setting up offshore tax-avoiding accounts, and refusing to make his tax returns public. The spot is backed by one of those character-assassinating super-PACS that lacks the courage to be honest about who is giving it money.   In this case, it’s something called LG-PAC.

Brunner admitted four years ago he and his company missed some payment deadlines.

And for an outfit that won’t reveal the source of its funding for this kind of advertising smears to criticize someone for considering his personal tax returns a private matter—and would YOU want your tax return made public?—is, to say the least, blatant hypocrisy.

LG is an organization that does have to tell the Internal Revenue Service who its donors are.  But Joe Mannies with St. Louis Public Radio, one of the state’s top and long-time political reporters, says the report apparently doesn’t have to be filed until after the August primary.  And don’t bet that LG will be willing to reveal what IT files with the IRS.

So what is LG-PAC?  Several reporters have tried to find out.  It’s registered with the Federal Elections Commission, not the Missouri Ethics Commission, although it is spending money on a state race.  It’s run by Kansas Citian Hank Monsees.

A check of its website indicates it has Brunner, Hanaway, and Grietens in its sights.  But it also has a picture of a smiling Kinder and a link to a newspaper article about one of Kinder’s positions.  Kinder disavows any knowledge of LG’s leanings although the webpage seems to tilt his way.

Scott Faughn at the Missouri Times has reported the outfit’s bank is located in Virginia and has no branches in Missouri.

LG isn’t alone is this swamp.  Mannies also notes American Bridges, which admits its largest contributor is financier George Soros, is most likely to support Democrats and liberal policies.  It’s targeting Senator Blunt.  Blunt, on the other hand, has Karl Rove’s One Nation Super PAC, which already has announced big spending on his behalf. Not connected to the Blunt campaign, of course, but it is unlikely to say anything nice about Blunt’s challenger, Secretary of State Jason Kander.

Another one is called Missouri Rising, an arm of America Rising. It already has done some anti-Chris Koster stuff.

The Missouri legislature and the United States Congress could expose who’s too gutless to openly admit supporting this kind of campaigning that only further weakens public confidence in the election and governmental process.

But gutless birds of a feather flock together. And neither the legislature nor the Congress wants to disturb gutless geese that lay golden eggs.

Five grams

The state used five grams of pentobarbital in May to execute Earl Forrest, the 87th Missouri inmate executed by lethal injection since George Mercer died in the gas chamber at the old penitentiary more than twenty-seven years ago.  Mercer was executed in the gas chamber because the prison system did not have a place for lethal injections. Although gas was still an option, the gas chamber was no longer safe to use. It was good enough for the inmate’s experience but the chamber’s sealing gaskets were so bad that it was likely no witnesses would have been left alive to testify that he had been legally executed. The chairs were removed from the gas chamber and a gurney was placed inside for Mercer.  

Twenty-five men remain under death sentences in Missouri but it might be some time before your correspondent or someone else on behalf of the Missourinet goes back to Bonne Terre for another execution.  

Forrest was the 22nd execution these eyes have watched.  Those men were responsible for at least 36 murders.  Several, including Forrest, were considered likely killers in other states or were suspected but not charged in other Missouri murder cases. 

He killed three people, including a Dent County Deputy Sheriff, in a meth-related incident.  Death for Forrest came peacefully, a situation that seems unfair to many.  When the curtains around the execution room were opened, witnesses could see him lying on the medical gurney, his head turned toward those he had invited as his witnesses.  He, as has been the case with all of the others we’ve seen, was tightly strapped down so that only his head and feet could move.  Although the time of death was set at 7:18 p.m., he might have died sooner.  He stopped wiggling his feet and talking to his witnesses only about 45 seconds after the drug started flowing.   The curtains are closed after five minutes to let the medical staff check for signs of life, then reopened when they have certified the inmate is dead.  

The Attorney General’s office calls witnesses a few days later to see if we saw any signs of suffering or pain, just in case death penalty opponents try to claim the drug causes the recipient to suffer.  For the record, we have never seen any of the 22 men we have watched indicate any sign of pain and suffering.  Forrest showed no indication of discomfort.

Missouri used to use a three-drug procedure to produce death.  But it now uses only one because of court rulings and industry actions against the use of FDA-regulated drugs for executions.

These 112 men, living and dead—the 87 executed and the 25 waiting—are not the only ones who have been sentenced to death by lethal injection in Missouri.  The Corrections Department says 181 men and five women have been given that sentence. What about the others?  

The department gives reporters an information packet at each execution that includes a list of the disposition (a pretty cold word, but we are talking about murder cases here) of all of those sentenced to death.  You may interpret what we are about to tell through whatever lens you view the death penalty.  For some, it will be an indication that the system works.  For others, it will be an indication that it is flawed and might have led to executions of innocent men.   Some, perhaps many, of those who have been re-sentenced to life without parole won new trials and took a plea bargain instead of risking another death sentence in a new trial. 

This stuff can get pretty complicated but we think we have a pretty good handle on the people who have been facing a death sentence but are not facing it now, and why.

Thirty-nine inmates have gotten new trials that resulted in sentences of life without parole.  One of them has since died.  Those surviving range in age from 36 to 76. Two are women.

Five more were sentenced to life with a chance for parole after fifty years. They are now 55-68 years old. Although one is now in his 37th year in prison, he is not thirteen years from possible parole because his new sentence came after a new trial and the clock is resent with that new sentence.  He’s 61 now and still has a long time to go.

Four men were resentenced to life for a lesser crime, second-degree murder.  Two, ages 46 and 55, remain in prison.  One completed that lesser sentence in 2010 and was released. The fourth died in prison.

Fifteen inmates facing the death penalty have died of natural causes.  They were 33 to 82 years old. Two were women.

One inmate became a prison murder victim four years after he arrived in a state prison.

Three have committed suicide. One killed himself at the age of 61, ten months after being sentenced. One died at 31.  The third, a woman, committed suicide in her cell at age 43 just a few hours after a jury had convicted her in her second trial.  

One inmate, whose conviction was reversed not long after being put in prison, was transferred to a federal prison on federal charges and remains there. If he’s released, he still faces the murder charge in Missouri.

A half-dozen have been released, some after their convictions were reversed, including one who was retried and convicted of manslaughter and then released after finishing the manslaughter sentence.

Some inmates are awaiting new trials and we’ll assign them to a category after those trials take place. 

Four inmates are under a “special circumstances” category.   The death sentence for Roosevelt Pollard is under a stay because he’s been declared mentally incompetent.  His conviction remains and if his condition improves, he still could be executed.  He’s been in prison thirty years and is now 53. 

We’re not sure where to put David Barnett although he could be the fortieth inmate in the “life without parole” category.  His conviction was reversed last year by a federal judge and sent back to the lower court.  The prosecution had 180 days to file a request for a new death sentence. It appears that time has elapsed, meaning Barnett automatically gets life without parole.

Two inmates achieved “special circumstances” status under Governor Mel Carnahan.

Darrell Mease, who murdered a man, his wife, and their paraplegic son, was scheduled for execution January 27, 1999.  That would have been the second day of Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis.  The Missouri Supreme Court re-set the date for February 10 after realizing the situation with January.  The Pope, in a private conversation with Carnahan, urged him to show mercy to Mease.  Carnahan, who had approved 26 executions by then, later said that he could not resist making an exception with Mease after the Pope looked him in the eye and asked for mercy.  So Mease shows up as one of the 39 on the “life without parole” list.

William Boliek, now 60 years old, was to be executed in 1997.  But two days before he was to die, Carnahan ordered a three-member board to investigate claims that his court defense had been inadequate.  The board submitted a report to Carnahan who was killed in a plane crash in 2000 before acting on its recommendations.  The wording of Carnahan’s stay is such that only he could have lifted it. Governor Holden asked the Missouri Supreme Court to vacate the stay but the court refused.

It’s hard to predict how many of the 25 still under a death sentence will be executed.  All still have enough appeals remaining to lead to speculation that Forrest will be the only execution this year.  Questions about the pentobarbital used for executions remain.  Two days after Forrest’s execution, Pfizer announced steps to keep any of its products from being used for executions.  Industry observers say that shuts the door on access to open-market drugs used in that process.

The Corrections Department refuses to identify the source of the drug it uses although some sources say Missouri gets it from a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma.  Texas and Georgia also get the drug from compounding pharmacies. 

Licensed pharmacists, licensed doctors, or a third party supervised by a licensed pharmacist can mix or change the ingredients of a drug to tailor medication for a specific purpose.  Sometimes a patient needs medicine in liquid form although it is available on the open market only as a pill the person cannot swallow.  Or maybe the medication has a dye in it that causes an allergic reaction.   The compounded drug is not under Food and Drug Administration regulation, meaning the FDA cannot verify its safety or its effectiveness.

Regardless, five grams of pentobarbital does the job.  Effectively.

Tearing up the Senate

Work crews have started tearing seats out of the place where visitors to the state Senate have watched floor activities since 1919 so the Senate can get those pesky reporters farther away from being able to see and hear what is going on. Or not.


Seats installed during the restoration of the chamber in 2001 were stacked along a fourth floor hallway wall when we dropped by the other day.  We haven’t heard what will be done with them although it seems the most sensible thing would be to store them somewhere safe so they could be put back in place when a less-vindictive mood runs the place.  We won’t rehash what that’s all about here.  We’ve flailed at that subject in earlier entries that you can find in the archives.

We have preserved a historic moment in this process—the last time (for now, we hope) that members of the Capitol press corps were allowed to sit at what has been the press table since the earliest days of the building.

senate press table2

That’s Bob Watson of the Jefferson City News Tribune, the senior Senate reporter, in the blue suit on the right.  Summer Ballentine of the Associated Press is on the other side of the table, in the orange jacket.   Most of the others are Senate staff members except for the fellow next to Summer.

That’s Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, who decided earlier this year that people such as Bob and Summer are so undeserving to cover the Senate from that table anymore that the Senate will spend $12,000 for each of the ten positions around the table to move them and their colleagues to the gallery on the other side of the chamber.

Senator Richard lectured his colleagues during the session about honoring Senate traditions and rules.

One of the Senate rules is that Senators will not sit at the press table when the Senate is in session.  We think it was in session when this picture was taken.  Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe was in the Chair.

Will the Senate behave any better or any worse now that the scourge of the Press is removed from its sight?   Will the reporting of the actions of the Senate be better or worse because reporters now will occupy space where spectators have been able to sit for 97 years?

senate press table3

The first test will come during the September veto session.  It would be good, however, for the Senate to remember that the Press might now be out of sight—-but it shouldn’t be out of mind.



A religious experience, not a crime

We’re going to wade into the murky waters of religion and politics today in search of reason and logic.

We’ve had some time to mentally chew on Representative Tila Hubrecht’s thought in the waning days of the legislative session that a pregnancy resulting from a rape is a “silver lining” from God. All kinds of liberal thinkers and organizations have jumped all over her assertion made during House debate on the bill saying a woman’s egg is a person just a soon as a man’s sperm hits it even if the circumstances leading to the presence of the sperm are violent. The bill passed the House but didn’t have enough time to cause trouble in the Senate before adjournment.

The personhood bill did not contain the usual exemptions that allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the woman. “It’s not up to us to say, ‘No, just because there was a rape, they cannot exist,’” Rep. Hubrecht said, the “they” referring to a person created by the sperm and egg. “Sometimes bad things happen—and they’re horrible things, but sometimes God can give us a silver lining through the birth of a child.” And she added, “When God gives life, he does so because there’s a reason, no matter what. I’ve met and talked with the different people who have been conceived by rape. There is a reason for their life.” We were not there when she said those things so we don’t know if she gave examples of the reasons for those lives.

She apparently is not alone in her feelings in the Missouri legislature and elsewhere. The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia reported about the same time that Delegate (that’s what they call Representatives in West Virginia) Brian Kurcaba said during a committee hearing, “Obviously rape is awful. What is beautiful is the child that could come from this.”

In Indiana, U. S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said in 2012, “I think that even when life begins in the horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock lost his race.

All three of these folks might be surprised to consider what they are really saying. If God intended pregnancy to occur, GOD IS INVOLVED IN FAMILY PLANNING! And we pretty well know what these folks think of organizations and individuals offering family planning advice.

Of course, all of this discussion is pointless because Congressman Todd Akin assured us during his Senate bid four years ago that a woman’s body can “shut the whole thing down” in cases of “legitimate rape.” He argued, as Rep. Hubrecht has argued, that the punishment should be of the rapist, not of the fetus. The Akin theory, however, seems to indicate pregnancy can only occur during illegitimate rape, whatever that is.

Not long after Hubrecht’s comments, Octavio Chorino and Peter Greenspan offered an op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch agreeing with Hubrecht and the others that “violence against women is unacceptable.” But they found the “notion that good may come of such a violation to be dangerous at best…and any suggestion that there is a bright side to sexual violence is an offense to all survivors.”

They noted other consequences of rape including transmission of sexually transmitted diseases as well as extensive physical and psychological injuries that can affect a woman for the rest of her life. “These consequences are very real and they should not be diminished by the claim that any rape has a silver lining,” they wrote. Unlike Hubrecht, Kurcaba, Mourdock, and Akin, these professionals have had real-world experience with rape and incest victims. “Exposing sexual assault victims to the risks inherent in pregnancy and childbirth is effectively punishing her for her own assault. This is unacceptable,” they said.

Chorino is the president of the Missouri Section Advisory Committee of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Greenspan, also a doctor, is the group’s legislative chair. But what do they know? They didn’t even address the issue of God’s will and Rep. Hubrecht’s inclusion of that issue takes the debate beyond the practical issues on which Chorino and Greenspan based their article.

Their experiences and their observations are not likely to concern the “silver lining” believers anyway.   We have seen no indication that those who want Missouri to have the strongest anti-abortion standards in the nation care much about the second life involved—that of the rape or incest victim.   They certainly didn’t show it during debate on the personhood bill in this election session of the legislature.

The comments, “When God gives life, he does so because there’s a reason, no matter what” and “sometimes God can give us a silver lining through the birth of a child” began to percolate in our head on a recent trip. You know how the mind sometimes looks for something to wonder about other than the many miles yet to go. In this case the mind decided to test the validity of an idea by taking it on a logical line and then asked a simple question:

“If God has a reason for causing a pregnancy through a man’s sexual act with an unwilling woman because ‘when God gives life there’s a reason no matter what,’ why should the man face a criminal charge for what logically is an act of God?”

Then the mind went on. “When does God decide a pregnancy should result from the rape or incest? While the act is in progress? Or does God decide immediately after the event that this is an opportunity to create a life? Or—-

“If God has a reason for a rape or incest-caused pregnancy, does it not follow that God had a reason for the rape or incest?

“If God gives life, and does so because there’s a reason, no matter what, what is that reason? Is it punishment for something the woman or the young girl did that was wrong in God’s eyes? Or, conversely, is it some kind of reward for doing something good such as allowing oneself to be a rape or incest victim, or is it a reward for the rapist or the person committing the incest?

“How can a God-blessed result occur except through a God-inspired act?”

The driver, not being a Biblical scholar, could not cite any examples from the Bible of a God-inspired result that did not begin with a God-inspired or directed act so he did not reply.

“But,” said the mind, “Don’t supporters of the position need to provide a definitive logical answer that does not limit an omnipotent God? If God has the power to create physical life, does not God have to ordain the circumstances under which that life is physically created?

“And doesn’t God have to ordain the circumstances under which the life is physically created because the life would not be created without that violent act?

“And if that is the case, isn’t the argument severely weakened that the perpetrator of the act should be punished rather than the life created being ‘punished’ because, as she said, ‘There is a reason for their life?’ Are not the perpetrator and the new life equal partners in this process and therefore equally blameless?

“In a climate that argues that religious freedom needs more protection, how can it be logically argued that an act, even a violent one, that is motivated by God’s decision to begin a new life no matter what should not be recognized as a religious act, not a criminal act?

“Is rape or incest that creates a life, for which God has a reason no matter what, therefore an act of God?

“And further, should not the woman logically forgive her rapist or her incestuous relative because her STD and her physical and psychological injuries were necessary to create the pregnancy God had a reason to create under these circumstances no matter what?”

And the driver finally responded to his mind out loud, “Your arguments are interesting. But they are flawed because you use the word, ‘logically.’ And logic seems to be the farthest thing from the thinking of those who support the ‘silver lining’ concept.”

And the driver tuned the radio to the old-time radio channel that was re-broadcasting a 1951 Jack Benny show and both of them drove on.


Orthodontic thoughts on ethics

Well, the legislature passed four ethics bills this year, didn’t it? 

So what? 

Missouri went into this legislative session as the only state that did not limit lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, had no cooling-off period before legislators could return to the halls to lobby former colleagues, and no limits on campaign contributions. 

One out of three ain’t bad, as somebody who got a “D” in elementary school English might have said.  But while the legislature deserves a little credit for passing four ethics bills this year, they were all singles. Lawmakers hardly swung for the fences.   They didn’t strike out, certainly, but they didn’t hit much more than bloop singles.  We still don’t have limits on lobbyist gifts and the last thing in the world the powers that be in the legislature wanted to do this election year was address campaign contribution limits.  

But they can campaign on how they cleaned up government.  They won’t campaign on the idea that they only used a whisk broom, however.

The bills passed this year say legislators have to wait six months from the end of their terms before they can become lobbyists.  That means they can’t represent you and me at the capitol during the next legislative session (assuming you and I are the ones who would hire them; there are plenty of others who might).  But by the time the veto session rolls around in September, 2017, those whose terms run out in January can be renewing old acquaintances or augmenting the lobbyist corps putting on the pressure for veto overrides, or laying the groundwork for the 2018 session. And it’s likely that a majority of those with whom they served will still be around, particularly those who will be leaders by then.  

Lawmakers also decided they should not be allowed to hire fellow lawmakers as paid political consultants, a bill triggered by one incident a couple of years ago.  It’s okay legislation but this is hardly a political cancer cure.

Another bill requires candidate campaign finance reports to be filed electronically with the state ethics commission.  Some candidates have utilized a provision in existing law to escape filing with the state by filing with local election authorities.  This bill closes the least shortcoming in the current campaign finance law that eliminated all campaign donation limits.  When that bill was passed, the sponsor said eliminating limits was just fine as long as there was proper reporting of donations.  But the legislature ignored the T. Rex in the room this year when it did not require non-profit political action committees, the Super PACs, to report to the ethics commission who was providing them with money that is often used to bludgeon candidates targeted by big donors who don’t want anybody to know they are behind the so-called dark money in politics today. And they didn’t reinstate any limits on direct donations to candidates or to parties. 

The fourth one says former office-holders can’t invest leftover campaign funds and must dissolve their campaign committees before they can become lobbyists six months after leaving office.  An office-holder who has a large pot of leftover campaign money cannot invest it and use the return on the investment to fund other candidates, for example. 

Bloop singles that fall between the shortstop and the left fielder.   Why aren’t they at least line drives? 

Read the bills: HB1983, HB1979, HB2203, and HB1474.   Look for any penalty provisions. 

We’ll save you the drudgery. Folks, there are no penalties in any of these bills. They seem to be toothless.

If Representative Furd’s term ends with the swearing-in of his successor and now-former Representative Furd shows up in the hallway an hour later lobbying on behalf of the Missouri Association of Left-handed Trombonists while still having $43.92 in his campaign account, what will happen?  Will legislators refuse to let him buy them dinners (the bill limiting lobbyist gifts failed this year, you recall)?  Will Thelonious Furd—friends will now call him “Thel” instead of “The gentleman from Melvin County”—be shunned and find himself standing alone in a third floor alcove?  Will former colleagues block his text messages on the cell phones they might check while debating whether music stores should be able to refuse to sell mouthpieces to gay musicians because of a sincerely held belief?   Will somebody be able to get a court order that says he has to stand in the Capitol yard?   

Was the Missouri Ethics Commission given any authority to write rules dealing with the return of Thel?   Not in this bill. 

If Thel decides he wants to be a campaign consultant for a sitting representative with dreams of glory as Melvin County Administrator, is there a penalty for either him or his former colleague?   We didn’t see one. 

And if he files a report with his county clerk showing that he still has $43.92 instead of filing it with the ethics commission, what severe penalty does he face?   Ah!  There he might be in some trouble because the ethics commission can fine people for not filing proper campaign finance reports and THIS new law appears to put him under that jurisdiction.  

All of this speculation comes from a common citizen living on a quiet street in Jefferson City who used to be able to walk over to the sponsors of these bills and check the teeth in any such propositions. There might be some provisions in other sections of the statutes that would be the teeth for these bills but, from this lofty perch it seem the best we can we can say to most of this year’s ethics legislation is, “Nice gums.” 

The best government money can buy

A television show in the days when TV was black-and-white dramatized what happened to people when someone gave them a million dollars, all taxes already paid, to spend as they wished.    That was back when a million dollars was A MILLION DOLLARS!!!!!

I would sometimes sit in study hall trying to figure out how to spend one million dollars.  Just spend it.  Not invest it in something that would gain value.   Just spend the whole darned thing. 

That was back in the days when a new Cadillac cost more than two-thirds as much as my father earned in a year in a pretty good job as a district manager for Massey-Harris, the farm equipment company.  We had a three-year old DeSoto. 

I struggled to think of how I could just blow a million bucks.

One thing that never occurred to me was that I could buy a political candidate.  Or an office-holder.  They were a lot cheaper then.  And I did live in Illinois.  Governor William G. Stratton was a few years away yet from being accused of tax evasion. Unlike several of his successors, however, he was acquitted of his charges. 

What must it be like to have an unlimited amount of money—a million dollars seemed unlimited to me all those years ago?  What must it be like to just sit down one day and write out, say, almost SEVEN million dollars to front groups that can use that money to, shall we say, “favor” certain candidates in the August and November elections?  Or the front group can use the money to personally and politically damage people who won’t sell out?  

Rex Sinquefield and his wife wrote a bunch of checks one day last week. The Associated Press says the checks went to the Missouri Club for Growth, Missourians for Excellence in Government, and the Great St. Louis Committee.  Someday we will reflect on what committees like those really should be named. 

Do you ever wonder, as we sometimes do, what it must be like to just open a checkbook and write a check for $2,800,000 as easily as you might write a check for thirty dollars’ worth of groceries?   Just write it, sign it, and rip it out of the book.

Or maybe $500,000 for the Eric Schmitt for State Treasurer Campaign.  Or another $500,000 for the Kurt Schaefer for Attorney General Campaign.   Or five checks totaling $2,133,128 to convince voters that people in St. Louis and Kansas City should stop paying the earnings taxes that provide the majority of city operational funding?   And when you lose, well, it’s just money.

Just sit down and dash them off. 

We haven’t mentioned that the Sinquefields have donated all of $5,000 (note, only one comma and only four numbers) to the Missouri Republican Party.  Why support a party that encourages all kinds of people to run for public office when you can write a check that supports only YOUR kind of people.   

It’s June. It’s time for the mud and the money to start flowing in mass quantities.  We wonder if many voters will begin to consider mass quantities of money flowing to particular candidates or to particular causes are toxic.  We wonder if many voters will decide the beneficiaries of mass quantities of money or who benefit from the mud thrown at opposing candidates by political action committees financed by those mass quantities of money are good reasons to think somebody is trying to buy somebody else and is using their big-dollar checks to get something they want that the rest of us can’t afford to bid for. 

We wonder if many voters will look at the beneficiaries of these funds and wonder if those candidates can really be THEIR kind of people or if they’re just the kind of people that a few can afford to put in favorable positions.  

If we get the best government that money can buy, be worried that it could be the kind of government the rest of us cannot afford to have, perhaps run by those who will be less responsive to the rest of us because we are not THEIR kind of people.