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.



One thought on “Tearing up the Senate

  1. Senate rules also require senators to stand at their desk, stand to be recognized and face the dais when addressing the presiding officer. Apparently the whole incident that set off this bit of ugliness began when a previous pro tem stepped into the chamber and scolded the presiding officer from beside the dais for not gaveling down senators who were using words in debate not rated “G,” all of which was apparently “tweeted” by a reporter at the press table. We have a House of Representatives where such shabbiness is welcome. For senates to work effectively, decorum must be maintained. Reporters will persevere to cover what happens in the Senate Chamber, and they will succeed. Senators, however, will lose a priceless media opportunity when they can no longer sit beside the press table and have a quiet sidebar with reporters to advance their position on issues their constituents care about. Richard Webster, R-Carthage, was fond of standing on the floor of the Senate and stating that “Governors come and governors go, but the Senate is always here.” Term limits changed that. Today, Webster might stand on the floor and say “Senates come and senates go, but the press is always here.” It should be noted that Webster always made sure Capitol correspondents for newspapers in his district were not just well treated in the chamber, they also had a key to his office. I know…I was with him one morning when he unlocked the door and Jim Wolfe was sleeping on the couch. Today’s senate could learn a lot from a guy like Sen. Richard Webster. Starting with how to treat the press.

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