Some campaign irreverence helps

A day after the first Hillary and Donnie Show, a friend passed along an article from The Onion dated June 2, 2004.  The headline read:

Poll: Many Americans Still Unsure Whom to Vote Against

The Onion, for the uninitiated, is a satirical newspaper that turns conventional reporting upside down or inside out.  And its irreverence focuses on the absurdity of living life too seriously—which we as citizens, and citizens as candidates, tend to do in campaigns.

The Onion told us in 2004 that a Gallup Poll showed six percent of Americans were not sure whether to vote against Bush or to vote against Kerry.

According to the poll, 46 percent of the registered voters surveyed would vote against Bush if the election were held tomorrow, while 45 percent said they were ready to vote against Kerry. Factoring in the 2 percent margin of error, the two candidates are essentially deadlocked in the race to determine which candidate American doesn’t support.

The article’s deadpan approach also turned the scenario this way:

“The two major parties face a tough struggle,” Harmon said. “As the election approaches, both must convince undecided voters that the opposing party’s candidate is worse than their own. As both parties take more moderate positions in an election year, it’s getting harder to convince citizens that there’s a reason to get out there and vote against anyone.

The traditional press would have told readers and listeners that the survey showed Bush and Kerry locked in a statistical dead heat with six percent undecided. Real serious, sober reporting.

We looked to see what The Onion had to say after Monday night’s debate. Here’s its take:

…A Gallup report released this morning revealed that hopeless resignation has received a substantial bump in the polls. “Our real-time polling data from last night’s presidential debate showed a clear trend, with hopeless resignation charting higher and higher as the evening progressed—it really seemed to resonate with viewers,” said Gallup spokesperson Sarah Langley, who noted that hopeless resignation’s current surge far surpassed the boost it experienced following the conventions, spiking to the highest level of the election cycle. “Last night was easily the biggest moment of the campaign season for hopeless resignation, and I think most Americans recognized that. Clearly, many voters who were on the fence were convinced by what they saw in the debate.” Langley added that if current trends continue, hopeless resignation is likely to reach a historic high in the polls by Election Day.

It’s funny because it’s true, isn’t it?  As the Wall Street Journal “Best of the Web” column puts it, “Life Imitates Onion.”

Relax folks. Laughing at ourselves a little bit will help as we plummet toward election day in November.


A historic election for governor

We were asked several weeks ago by someone observing our governor’s race if we’d ever had a divorced governor or if Missourians had ever elected a governor who had never held elective office. This year, Chris Koster fills the first category and Eric Greitens fills the first as well as the second.   We are not aware of any of our governors who had gone through a divorce before becoming governor. But we have elected some governors who had no previous experience in elective office—not even local dog catcher.

The last time Missourians elected a governor who’d never held elective office appears to be Lloyd C. Stark, who served 1937-1941.  He was with the famous Stark Nurseries family of Louisiana, in northeast Missouri.  His only previous statewide effort had been chairing a highway bond campaign in 1928.  Frederick D. Gardner, owned a coffin company in St. Louis and had never held any elective office before he became governor in 1917.

We have had bachelor governors, which might prompt a question about who would become First Lady if Koster wins, an answer that will not be timely for now.  Jerena East Giffen wrote one of the books about First Ladies and later updated it to include Jean Carnahan, who wrote her own book about the Governor Mansion, which is considered the First Lady’s turf.  Giffen notes Governor John S. Phelps (1877-81) was married but his wife might never have filled the traditional First Lady role because of reported ill health—although Giffen suggests the couple was estranged. The hostess role for Phelps was filled by his oldest daughter, Mary Phelps Montgomery.

John S. Marmaduke (1885-87, died in office), a former Confederate General, was the fourth and last (for now) bachelor governor.  He also is the only son of a former governor (M. M. Marmaduke, who served briefly after Thomas Reynolds committed suicide in 1844) to reach that position (so far).  His niece, a widow—Mrs. Lalla Marmaduke Nelson—presided at the house.

Before Marmaduke, there was Robert M. Stewart (1857-61), who was known for his enjoyment of the fruits of the corn and the company of female inmates of the state prison who were brought in as housekeepers.

John Miller (1826-32) was a bachelor governor when the seat of government was moved to Jefferson City.  The first capitol in Jefferson City actually was designed as the governor’s house and included two rooms for the governor with space elsewhere in the building for the legislature to meet and for other state officials to have their offices until a real capitol could be built.

And the first bachelor governor was Abraham J. Williams (1825-26), a one-legged shoemaker from Columbia who was the President pro-tem of the Senate when Governor Frederick Bates died of pleurisy.  Lieutenant Governor Benjamin Reeves had resigned to join a party surveying the Santa Fe Trail, so Williams became the governor—at a time when the seat of government was St. Charles.  His main job was to serve until Miller could be elected.

So, yes, there have been times when Missouri had a novice governor and there have been times when there was no First Lady.  But governors generally did not dine alone.

Notes from a Quiet Street—VI

—being another chapter of ruminations on things not worth full blogifying.


Good Lord!!! When is Chris Koster going to quit telling us the Farm Bureau has done the unthinkable and has endorsed a Democrat and when is Eric Greitens going to stop talking about being God’s gift to veterans and start talking about the rest of us?   Or do candidates no longer feel any obligation to tell us how they’re going to work with the legislature to rebuild our infrastructure, keep college kids from accumulating debts they’ll carry into middle age, take care of our mentally ill, and see that we are safe from one another?


That’s a key, you know.  The major national candidates seem to be running for dictator, not president. They’re all about what THEY are going to do, as if there is no congress that will be involved. Do we expect much more from our candidates for governor?


And how many of the candidates who are blaming today’s woes on “career politicians” will admit that they want to be “career politicians?”   We haven’t heard one of them say they only want to serve two years (or four) and then rejoin the masses.


Your obedient servant has been reading again.  The new book is Donald F. Kettl’s Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence.   He believes it is possible.

Kettl is a former dean of the University of Maryland’s Public Policy School and is a fellow of the Brookings Institution, named for Missourian Robert S. Brookings.  It’s considered pretty even-handed. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, after analyzing a decade of Congressional records, found Conservatives quoted its findings about as often as Liberals.

It’s a pretty interesting read for government groupies.  We’ll be talking more about it later, no doubt. Feel free to read ahead of us.


This might be a good place to list from time to time how Missouri stacks up with other states in various programs.  Our first entries:  49th in support of public defenders, says the public defender office.  The Brookings Institution in August listed us the nation’s sixth best state for advanced manufacturing job growth and 9th for output growth in that category.  A new audit says Missouri has had the lowest public university tuition increases in the last eight years (for which Governor Nixon delivers a big pat on the back to himself—although supplemental and degree fees have gone up 112% to make up for that accomplishment).  But the state ranks 39th in state appropriations to higher education per student, 43rd in state funding per $1,000 personal income.  Governor Nixon says our unemployment benefits rank 43rd out of all fifty states. We had some other rankings in an earlier post:


Did you know that the University of Missouri football team has won a national award?   This graduate of the school did not.  It wasn’t in the latest alumni magazine.  No press release about it has come to our email.

It’s not like the recognition came from some obscure special-interest group. Nope. This one came from ESPN.  And we wouldn’t have known about it if fellow UMC graduate Ray Hartmann hadn’t written about it.

Thanks, Ray.


Went to a class reunion recently in Illinois and listened to classmates talk about the disastrous state of Illinois government that they say is largely controlled by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan of Chicago, who has been the Speaker for 32 of the last 34 years. If you’ve paid attention to the news, you know that Illinois government is far messier than Missouri government (at least we don’t put our governors in prison).  These folks think term limits is the only way to get rid of political bosses like Madigan.  We told them term limits is the last thing Illinois should do to itself—that it’s been the worst thing to happen to Missouri government since post-Civil War loyalty oaths.  Madigan is 74 but my friends in Illinois worry that he’s immortal.

Their county’s state representative is seeking his fourth term this year. His predecessor served six terms before being elected to the state senate. Giving up the right to re-elect your own state representative or senator to get rid of one representative from another district is, as we unfortunately have seen in Missouri, a foolish thing to do.


The highway signs on the way back told us to drive in the right lane unless we were passing.  But, doggone it, the passing lane is always so much smoother.

Could Missourians at least approve enough of a gas tax increase to fix the driving lanes?


We have tried—and have failed—to recall a single candidate for significant office in Missouri or elsewhere who blamed himself or herself for their loss.  It’s always somebody else’s fault—the media, unfair statements from an opponent (ignoring their own unfair statements about that opponent), a “rigged” election system even after the loser had to win a primary under the same system to become a general election loser.  We’ve never heard any losers admit, “The people didn’t buy my stuff.”

Donald Trump already is putting together his list of excuses.  He’s already saying the election will be “rigged” if he loses. And, of course, the blasted media for reporting what he says.  Interesting, isn’t it, that the system that let him brag about how many primaries he won and how many votes he got wasn’t “rigged” then?

We haven’t heard who might be on Hillary Clinton’s list if she loses.  The press, of course, would probably be there. We suppose the vast right-wing conspiracy would be on it, too.

I’ve got news for these folks.  We in the news media don’t mind getting blamed.  In fact, the last thing most real reporters want is to hear a candidate crediting them for an election victory.


The Russian Olympic doping scandal and the banning of most Russian athletes and the NCAA’s investigation of the University of Missouri basketball program appear to have something in common.

Today’s athletes and coaches get punished for the sins of their predecessors.  That strikes us unfair.

We’re not sure how this could be done legally, but wouldn’t it be better for the NCAA to develop a way to fine an offending coach an amount (plus a penalty) equal to the amount of the scholarships the offending players received during the coach’s tenure and maybe require the offending players to refund to the University the amount they received for their scholarships?.  Or something like that.  Making the players refund their scholarship money might be a little draconian, though.  We’re not sure if they should know better when they’re 17 or 18.

And maybe an athletic director should get slapped around a little bit, too.

A fruit basket of legislation

The 2016 legislature is now fully history with the completion of the veto session that saw a baker’s dozen bills passed despite Governor Nixon’s vetoes.  The end result is kind of like the fruit baskets that some hotels put in the rooms of important people when they check in.  Apples, oranges, bananas, cheeses, crackers—stuff like that.

So let’s check our 2016 veto session basket and compare some of the apples, the oranges, and other goodies that have been left for us.

As one friend put it last week, the legislature passed bills that make it easier to get a gun but harder to vote.   However, you will still have to pay a sales tax on the gun that you can take to your yoga lesson or your dance class, which won’t be able to charge you a sales tax.

(Hmmmm.  This situation obviously cries out for legislative correction next year.  If something as benign as a yoga or a dance lesson cannot charge a sales tax, why should something as essential to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the AR-15 you can take to those lesson to protect yourself against the threat of violence from people learning yoga—a non-Christian discipline brought here, no doubt, by IMMIGRANTS—and the fox trot—invented by a man who once appeared in a play with the suspicious name of “Mr. Frisky of Frisco”—require a sales tax payment?)

The legislature corrected what seems to be the politically-incorrect “Indian giver” policy that the government that giveth disaster payments can taketh part of those payments back in income taxes. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Governor Nixon didn’t think so. The legislature did.

(We are aware that some consider the phrase “Indian giver” quite offensive and we apologize for its use.  We could not think of a less offensive, widely-understood, phrase that fit the situation.  NPR has looked into the history of it:  We don’t know if it lets us off the hook for using it, but reading the story is informative.).

While the legislature has given tax breaks to those who can afford yoga or dancing lessons, it has passed the bill that Nixon said would run up the costs of health care for Missourians who have trouble paying for healthcare.  Among the numerous provisions in Senate Bill 608 are ones that would charge low-income Missourians eight dollars if they seek help at an emergency room when somebody decides they’re not really having an emergency, and to fine people who are in the Medicaid (MOHealthNet here) program who for whatever reason miss an appointment.  No other appointment is allowed until they’ve paid a penalty that can reach $20, not a small sum for those covered by Medicaid.

After the veto session, Nixon announced he was withholding $59 million dollars appropriated in the spring session for several programs because the tax cuts approved in the veto session would leave the state short of money to fully fund those programs. Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe’s blistering critique of the withholds says Nixon’s claim is “absolutely false and is a poorly camouflaged attempt to hide personal pride and political retribution behind the guise of a policy decision.”  Three observations about that:

  1. We have noticed that the bill setting up fines for Medicaid patients who miss doctors’ appointments does not seem to indicate where that fine money would go.  Perhaps legislative leaders who have bemoaned the withholdings might think of passing a bill putting those fines into the state’s general revenue account, thereby lessening the need to reduce programs by $59 million.
  2. In July, Nixon announced he was withholding $115.5 million because projected state income did not appear likely to be enough to support those appropriations.
  3. Just two years ago, voters approved the legislature’s request to let it reinstate in the budget money withheld by the Governor, in effect overriding the withholds. While legislators criticized Nixon for withholding the $59 million, they passed up chances to override any of the $115.5 million in withholdings he made in July, hardly a show of confidence in the power they sought and got.

But it sets up an interesting situation to look forward to in January when supplemental appropriations requests are usually filed that seek to fund some programs that will run short of money before the end of the fiscal year.  By then, Nixon’s term in office will be measured in days. The legislature could consider about $175 million in appropriations that wouldn’t be approved until he’s gone—if the legislature has the confidence of Kehoe’s convictions that at least some of those funds shouldn’t have been withheld.  The attitude of Nixon’s successor could play a role in that process but the legislature nonetheless will have an opportunity to exercise its traditional and its new spending authority.

And we and it will be watching to see if Kehoe’s assertion that Nixon will by then have released some of those funds to “go into the bottomless pit of entitlement growth, mostly likely in the form of additional Medicaid,” as Kehoe claims Nixon has done before, diverting the withheld funds “away from children, schools and roads” to increase entitlements.

But if the legislature is as confident as Kehoe is that the withholdings are unnecessary, why did it do nothing about the spring withholds during the veto session?

The yoga, dancing, Medicaid fines, and seemingly contradictory attitudes and actions on withheld funds might be the cheese and crackers in this basket.

The Medicaid fines are another example of the Missouri legislature telling the federal government to “go fish.”  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, federal agencies, say those missed-appointment fees are not allowed. Oh, well, as has been said too often in the General Assembly, just pass the bill and let the courts figure it out.

The legislature has not been averse in recent years to suggesting the feds take rod and reel and go away.

It’s been seven years since the Missouri legislature put its thumb to its nose and told the federal government it was not going to play along with the Federal Real ID ACT of 2005.  The tolerant TSA has said Missourians can still use their state drivers licenses to get on airplanes or get into federal courthouses and hospitals, although only until January 22, 1918. (We’ll see who blinks first.) But you better have an alternate ID (a passport is good) to get into nuclear power plants and military bases. The legislature passed a law in 2009 that bans the state from complying with the Federal Real ID law.  Some lawmakers are at least talking about the wisdom of that move.  Or the lack of it.

You understand the logic in this, don’t you? The legislature wants Missouri voters to present a photo ID to vote for people seeking federal office but doesn’t think that photo ID should meet federal standards that would let those voters visit their children at federal sites such as Fort Leonard Wood.  We’re not sure if we’re talking about two kinds of apples or whether we’re talking about a pear and a cumquat.

Regardless, voters will have the final say in November when they decide if they want to make it harder to cast their ballots in the future by having to show a non-federal compliant photo ID card.

There are other items in the fruit basket but these seem to be the ones on top. There’s one more but it seems to be a meat and potatoes type of thing, (well, meat) not a fruit basket issue. However—

House Bill 1414 seems to say that information gathered by the state under a federal law on animal disease traceability will have to be kept secret by the state agriculture department.  Furthermore, whistleblowers can be sued for as much as $10,000.  In fairness, we note that your observer did not observe any of the committee testimony or hear any of the debate, but we’re probably going to have more uncertainty in the future when we stand in front of the grocery store meat counter or consider processed meat meals in the frozen food section because this veto was overridden. And we might ponder as we stand there wondering what we are not allowed to know about the food before us how the Missouri legislature could tell someone in the state agriculture department that exercising their free speech rights in the interest of the public health and welfare might cost them $10,000.

Has our legislature put a lemon in the fruit basket?

The objections of the governor notwithstanding

Jay Nixon has been the legislature’s favorite punching bag for most of his eight years in office. And the legislature has delivered some farewell belts in this year’s veto session.  Whatever legacy Nixon might claim in December or January after his eight years in office, his legacy as the most overridden governor in Missouri History will be large.

Several causes can be attributed to that record, not the least of which is that the legislature is two-thirds-plus in both chambers Republican and Nixon is a Democrat who talks as if he gets along well with the other side while the other side says he’s been aloof and uncommunicative.

The first veto overridden in Missouri was in 1820 when our first Governor, Alexander McNair, vetoed the bill establishing the compensation of members of the legislature.

Until Jay Nixon, whose override total will be in the 90s by the time the legislature is done with him, the override champion was Daniel Dunklin, who served in the 1830s.  In those days, the legislature granted divorces.  And overrides could happen by simple majorities in each chamber.  The 1875 Constitution established the two-third vote for overrides.

Understand that divorce in those days was hard to get.  In fact, divorce didn’t become a matter for the courts exclusively to handle until 1853.  A lot of women just packed up and went somewhere else rather than try to get a divorce, a divorce being something of a family disgrace in those days anyway.  A woman—or a man–who could not afford, financially or socially, to get a court-ordered divorce, sometimes asked the legislature to grant one.

But Dunklin wasn’t sure the legislature had the power to grant divorces.  He vetoed a dozen bills granting divorces including one that granted thirty-five of them.

His message of January 5, 1833 explaining to the Senate why he vetoed a bill granting Mary Ann (Lawrence) Dunlap a divorce from husband David, says he did so for two important reasons:

one the Constitutionality, the other the expediency of a bill to grant a divorce by the Legislature. Can the Legislature constitutionally exercise the power claimed to pass this bill? If it can, then is it expedient to engage in this species of Legislation? I will make but one remark as to the expediency. When parties are divorced by the Legislature, it is valid only in the State granting it. When divorced by the Court, it is valid in every State in the Union…With this remark, I will dismiss the question of expediency; and however opposed I may be to the practice of legislating in such cases, I would not withhold my assent to this bill, were there no Constitutional objections.

Dunklin was concerned that legislatively-granted divorces infringed on the constitutional separation of powers.

To which of the departments does it “properly belong” to exercise the power to grant this divorce? If to the Legislative, then the Judicial cannot exercise the power, if to the Judicial, then the Legislative cannot exercise it. Before I proceed to answer the question, let me remark, that the Legislature is not asked to reinstate a right forfeited to the government; nor to remove a disability created by the government; but to absolve one of the parties from obligation to perform certain duties, (such as continence and kindness), contracted by previous marriage—Then I ask, to which of the departments of government, does it “properly belong,” to exercise the power to grant this divorce?

Marriage, he noted, is a civil contract that carries certain obligations.  But he argued the obligations were not only a matter between the two parties who entered into the contract. But Dunklin noted that the public also has an interest in the benefits that results from contracts, a circumstance that involved the political as well as the legal branch of government.  Therefore, was the political arm of government entitled to take jurisdiction because “of the nature of the contract itself?”

If, he argued, a marriage contract is a matter of “law or equity,” the powers to grand divorces lay with the courts, not the legislature.

Dunklin dug into the laws of other states.  And what he found is interesting in today’s divorce climate as well as the diversity of attitudes that existed in his time.  In Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the process was bifurcated.  The judicial departments settled the facts, then the legislature decided whether those facts were sufficient to grant a divorce.  In colonial Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the early constitutions gave the power to the governors and the legislative councils although that was later changed giving the power to the judiciary. Dunklin found five states with constitutional provisions addressing the issue.  Only Virginia and Maryland had the power specifically assigned to the legislatures although the courts had the authority to rule on the legality of marriages.  In the other seventeen states, the judiciary had powers over divorces and in fourteen of those seventeen states, that authority rested exclusively with the judiciary.  Only Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky had the confusing judicial/legislative question.

Dunklin concluded:

Here is great weight of authority shewing that the power to grant divorces, ought to belong to the courts of law; yet, it does not conclusively prove, at least to my mind, that the power could not, consistently with the nature of the contract, be exercised by the Legislature. Then, why withhold my approval of this bill?—It is because every branch of this government has concurred in assigning the power to grant divorces to the Judiciary…But it may be said that it is as reasonable to question the constitutionality of that law as the constitutionality of this bill. To prove that law unconstitutional, will require it to be shown that the marital right is exclusively political, and that the Legislature has the exclusive right to exercise powers over it. The only authority for such an opinion, that has fallen in my way is the practice of the States of Virginia and Maryland, while the practice of the other twenty-two States is directly to the contrary. Were it not for the law “concerning divorces and alimony,” I should have no constitutional objection to approving this bill. But if that law be constitutional (and I believe it to be so) then it is incompatible with my duty, according to my construction of the 2d Article of the Constitution of this State to approve this bill. It is therefore returned to the Senate, where it originated.

Governors who veto bills outline their reasons in veto messages like this one, as Governor Nixon did with the bills or parts of bills he vetoed this year.  And the legislature in 2016, has done to several of those vetoed bills what the legislature did in 1833.  It has overridden the vetoes, “the objections of the governor notwithstanding.”  Mary Ann and David Lawrence split.

Echoes of Dunklin’s investigation into marriage and the state’s place in determining what obligations there are in a marriage, in fact what marriage IS, are still being heard in various forms in today’s legislature. And differences of opinion remain between the governor and the legislature.

Governor Dunklin’s record as the most overridden governor in Missouri history stood for almost 180 years. We wonder if some scribe in the year 2196 will write about Jay Nixon the way we have written about Daniel Dunklin.

One hundred and eighty years.  Now, THAT’S a legacy.

Whaddya wanna bet—

—that when the legislature returns to the Capitol this week to consider extending Governor Nixon’s world record as the most veto-overridden governor in Missouri history that those who want to make it harder for Missourians to vote will trot out the absentee voting mess in St. Louis as an example of the voter fraud that the bill will stop?

It will be a bogus argument for a bogus bill.

If you haven’t been pay attention to this issue (and who can think of anything else when we have Hillary and Donnie going about the land?) here’s a quick tutorial.

It seems that in St. Louis, some people played games with the absentee ballots in the August primary and now a judge has ordered a do-over election to decide who will be the Democratic nominee in the 78th House district, and thus the winner of that seat because there’s no Republican opposition.  Incumbent Penny Hubbard had more votes than challenger Bruce Franks, Jr.  But a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation found two people who said people claiming to be Hubbard campaign workers filled out ballots for them. There were at least sixty times when a single voter submitted two applications for an absentee ballot although they said they had not applied twice. The newspaper says more than a dozen people whose absentee applications claimed they were incapacitated sold reporters they never made such a claim and don’t know who did.  And two former election board employees said Hubbard’s husband “routinely delivered stacks of election ballots” to the board.

People who went to the polls on August 2 elected Franks 1997-1787.   But when the absentee votes were counted, Hubbard had 416 and he had 114, enough for her to defeat Franks by ninety votes in the overall total.

House Bill 1631, the voter photo ID bill, would require people to have a photo-identification card when they go to the polling place to cast a ballot.  If they don’t they have to get in another line and somebody will take their picture.  Under present law, all any of us have to do is show the poll clerks the card issued by our county clerk, or in the case of the big cities by the election board, and we can cast our ballot.

This law would not go into effect unless voters in November decide they want to make it harder to cast their own ballots in future elections. Missouri voters have twice in our experience given away their own right to vote so it would not be surprising if they decided in November to weaken their right again.

Part of the fallout from all of this St. Louis stuff has become part of the Blunt-Kander race for the U. S. Senate.  Blunt is a former Secretary of State and Kander is the incumbent Secretary of State.  Partisans on both sides are sniping at the other about this issue when they should be arguing about the national issues that Senators deal with or are not dealing with.  But that’s part of the political circus.  If you focus enough attention on the sideshow, you might be able to distract public attention away from the donkey and elephant show that has left the center ring a shambles.

But the St. Louis mess is just too easy for the ID advocates to jump on as they try to justify in the veto session overriding Nixon’s veto of the photo ID bill—even though the St. Louis mess has nothing whatsoever to do with casting ballots at the polls.

Rounding up absentee voters, especially in nursing homes and in neighborhoods where many elderly people live, is a time-honored part of elections everywhere. And some of the practices that the newspaper has highlighted might be worth exploring by the legislative elections committees. Perhaps requiring election authority-issued photo IDs of those who solicit absentee ballots is worth considering as a start.

But trying to tie the voter photo-ID bill to the 78th House district problems would be nothing more than, well, bogus.

But that’s not the first time that word has been applied to voter photo-ID legislation in Missouri.

Broken column, broken men

Something in the half-awake moments early in the day seems to generate the kind of ideas that do not emerge in the hours of full wakefulness. Perhaps it is a mix of unformed dreams with leftover thoughts.   So it was this morning.

The days lately have been dominated by putting together the source list for the next Capitol book, going back through boxes of records to retrieve the ideas of others that have been synthesized into the narrative of the history of Missouri’s Capitol so they can be given proper credit.  Throughout that process, a broken granite column has been summoning the author to rediscover it. 

In 1915, while workers were turning lines on paper into a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that would become the Capitol, the huge granite columns from an east coast quarry were arriving on flatcars on the railroad tracks below the bluff where the capitol was being built.  A derrick would hoist each column to the top where they could be moved inside the eventual chamber of the House of Representatives and erected.  Little construction could be done on that part of the building until those columns were in place. 

One day, the derrick broke, dropping a column back down onto the flatcar, which truly became a flat car.  The column broke apart. Nobody was hurt. We do not know what happened to all of the pieces—some might have been shoved into the nearby river.  But at least one large piece wound up on top of the bluff where it was rolled to the side out of the way.  A new column was quickly ordered and supplied.

For years and years that column was partly visible, partially buried in the sloping side of the bluff.  The story was told that it was one of the columns from the capitol that burned in 1911.  So one day about thirty-five years ago or so, the eventual author, joined by a friend, UPI Bureau Chief Stevenson Forsythe, and Jefferson City Senator Jim Strong searched it out.  Clearly, it was not a column from the old building.   It remained as polished and as shiny as the day it broke, as polished and as shiny as the columns in the Missouri House.  

Now, as the third version of the manuscript—or maybe the fifth; we have made so many changes it’s hard to say how many versions there have been—is going through the latest honing and sourcing, the broken column is calling.  “Find me,” it said in those hazy half-awake-half-sleep moments.    

As far as we know, it is still there.  But now it is covered by more than three decades of leaf debris, roots, vines, dirt, and other debris.   And memory of the location has dimmed.    

And in that half-light of awareness this morning a new thought came, a purpose for that broken column, a reason to find it.    

Many memorials have been added to the capitol campus since the three of us scrambled part way down that slope that day.  Perhaps it’s time for a new one that honors the seven men who died building the capitol and the hundreds of others whose hands and sweat transformed lines on paper into the three-dimensional symbol of all that is good and not-so-good about state government.

  S. C. Hyde         

 Ira H. Green       

 Samuel Ritchie    

 Tony Templeton          

 H. Robert Deighton    

  Henry T. Smith                      

 August Baker       

 Two of these seven were killed in at the quarry in Carthage where the stone was being prepared for the building.   A broken column engraved with the names of seven broken men who did not live to see the magnificence that the hands of other men completed for them would not be inappropriate as we mark the building’s centennial events.  

If that column is still there, I’m going to find it.   


Lake Benton

Here’s a little something your chronicler stumbled upon while leafing through an old Journal of the Missouri House.  We thought it might be appropriate to mention on this day after thousands of people spent their last long weekend at Missouri’s biggest vacation venue.

In 1929, when the Lake of the Ozarks was a dream of  Union Electric (for younger readers, that was Ameren before some people developed the field of creating brand names that sound clever but don’t mean much), the Missouri legislature decided the lake that would accumulate behind the dam being built near the village of Bagnell should have a name.  The legislature decided the lake should be named for our second U. S. Senator, Thomas Hart Benton.

But Governor Henry Caulfield, a former member of Congress and a former state appeals court judge, vetoed House Bill 930. There was no override.

I have no objection to the avowed purpose of this bill, that is the designation as Lake Benton, although I personally prefer postponing the naming of the Lake until it shall be constructed, and then perhaps giving it a Sylvan name or an Indian name, or perhaps, the name of the engineer who will build the Dam; but I would not veto the bill on that account.

I do object to that portion of the bill which unnecessarily designates Thomas H. Benton as “Missouri’s greatest U.S. Senator.”  I would not object if he were designated as Missouri’s great Senator or one of Missouri’s greatest Senators. I do not question Thomas H. Benton’s greatness, neither do I assert he is not Missouri’s greatest Senator. I do not, however, believe it proper for the legislature to unnecessarily and without any hearing select one of our former Senators and proclaim him the greatest.  Such a course invites controversy and unnecessarily wounds the feelings and arouses the prejudices of those of our citizens who reverse and love Missouri’s other great Senators. When the legislature convenes again, the construction of the Lake may be at least begun, and if the Legislature still deems it proper to designate the Lake as Lake Benton, I will be glad to join with them provided the objectionable portion of the present bill is omitted.

The legislature took Caulfield up on his offer when it next met in 1931.  One bill was introduced to name the lake for Benton.  Another bill was introduced to call it Lake McClurg, honoring Governor Joseph McClurg (1869-71; governors had two-year terms then), who had had a “Big Store on the Osage” at old Linn Creek, which disappeared under the waters as the Osage River backed up behind the dam.  The present Linn Creek was set up on higher ground by some of the residents of the flooded community.

The House indefinitely postponed consideration of the McClurg bill but on February 12 passed the Lake Benton bill, which stayed in the Senate Committee on public Corporations, Railroads, and Internal Improvements until May 1 when the committee recommended the bill not be passed by the full Senate.   No legislation was introduced in 1933 or afterwards which is why the lake behind Bagnell Dam has the “Sylvan name” Caulfield suggested would be more appropriate.

As far as naming the lake for the engineer who designed the dam:  The dam was designed by the Massachusetts firm of Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation that collapsed in 2000 after a major bribery scandal.

Bagnell Dam is named for the community which, in turn, was named for William Bagnell who moved from St. Louis County to set up a railroad tie business along the Osage. His crews turned trees into railroad ties and then floated them downstream.

Let’s have a party!!!

The primary elections have picked the finalists in the four political parties competing for power in Missouri and nationally.  Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Constitution.   All we have to do now is put up with the parry and thrust of campaign commercials for another ten or eleven weeks after which silence can ensue for a short time before candidates start staking out their ground and picking their billionaire bedmates for 2018, but especially 2020.  

It surely occurs to amateur and professional political observers that this year’s campaigns are raising questions about political party identities.  Given the divisions within the Republican Party that led to the nomination of the party’s presidential candidate, and the discomfort in the Democratic Party stemming from the intrusion of a DINO in that party’s primary campaign, both parties are likely to be asking themselves during the next couple of years, “Who are we?”  And dissident factions in the parties could continue to be clods in the political punchbowls.

RINO and DINO are disparaging terms applied by the most uptight party regulars to those who are Republicans or Democrats “in Name Only.” 

What to do with them?   What might they do with themselves?   Might we have more than four parties in our near future?  

We harken back to 1991 when the National Association of Broadcasters, operating under a program established at the urging of the Secretary of State, sent your correspondent and two other broadcasters to Romania and Poland to conduct seminars on the development of independent (non-state controlled) radio stations and their news departments.  It had been less than two years after Romania had executed its Communist Premier and just a year or so after the Berlin Wall started coming down.

If you think American politics are in disarray today, consider what these two newly-free countries were dealing with then—and to a lesser but no less scrambled situation today.  It was different for Romania and Poland than it was two centuries earlier for the new United States.  Here, our politics had a long-standing British system to modify.  In Iron Curtain countries where people had known only one political system that allowed no differences of opinion, freedom became a political free-for-all.  

We were told in 1991 that both countries had more than 100 political parties.  Many were ethnic-based.  Some coalesced around single issues or popular figures.  Although ten parties now have delegates in the Romanian Parliament, two parties that are center-right and center-left dominate.  But there are 35 parties holding office in local and county areas. 

In Poland, which we were told was not as heavily oppressed as Romania because of the power of the Catholic Church, there are fifteen parties with representatives in parliament today and 33 other parties at local and county levels.  Two parties dominate parliament, one is considered center-right to right wing national conservative and the other is considered center-right liberal conservatism (that’s what we’re told and we’re not quite sure we understand it, given our American political structure’s definitions.).

Both countries have scads of splinter parties. 

So the idea that we might have more official or unofficial movements in this country apart from the two major parties is interesting.  The Republican and Democrat centrists might see this year’s—-uh—-what’s the right word to describe what’s going on?  Craziness?  Weirdness?  Wildness? Populist uprising?   The right word is out there somewhere.  We hope. 

Anyway, where do the fringe people go if the centrists are able to regain control of the major parties?  Will the most loyal Trumpists try to take over the Libertarians?  What existing structure can the Sandersonians adhere themselves to or do the most ardent members become a liberal counterpart of the Constitution Party?  Or will the Rs and Ds become Ts and Ss?  

Or will everybody just grow up and decide maybe there’s some value in two parties working together and seeing if half-loaves are possible to bake?

Here in this lofty observation platform that likes to consider itself bi-partisan reasonably American Centrist in character, we’ll be interested to see how calm the political waters might become in 2017, a non-election year when, we hope, fevered brows are cooled and reason has a chance to resurface in state and national policy-making. Who knows?  Maybe our legislature will develop the guts and the intelligence in a non-election year to give us non-million-and-billionaires something approaching more equal fiscal-political opportunities for influence.  We’re not counting on such a miracle but Hell has frozen over from time to time (Hell, Michigan, that is). 

But there is comfort in knowing one thing:  No matter how bad things are today in American politics, we are not so splintered as a people that we will have ten or fifteen parties with representatives in Congress or even more in our legislature. 

But then again—-if a party is forced to build coalitions with others in government as opposed to accepting agendas from those in the government hallways, might there be some improvements in the way things are done?         

Ahhhhh, politics.  There will never be an end to talk of what is and what could be.