In a year that will not be remembered for its examples of grace, especially public grace, the sports world provided one at a time when anger and giant disappointment could have produced an example of ugliness.

Columbia racing driver Carl Edwards showed us a prime example of grace in this graceless year. For those who do not follow automobile racing as we do, here’s some background. .

Carl has been competing at NASCAR’s highest level for a dozen years.  He has finished second twice in the championship standings.  He is one of four extremely talented drivers who compete at this level for Joe Gibbs, the former NFL coach whose teams won three Super Bowls.

NASCAR determines is champion each year by taking the top sixteen drivers in points after the first twenty-six races and putting them through a series of elimination rounds until four drivers remain in the last race of the season to compete for the championship.  Carl Edwards made it to the final four by winning a race in the semifinal round at a time when he was on the verge of elimination because an earlier crash had left him far out of contention.

One of his competitors in the last race was teammate Kyle Busch, who had won the championship in a miracle season last year after missing the first eleven races with injuries.  Another competitor was Jimmie Johnson, who was hoping to win the championship for a record-tying seventh time.   The other competitor was Joey Logano, a young driver who has matured and succeeded driving for Roger Penske, one of the biggest names in motorsports competition.  Now, let’s set the scene:

The championship is within Carl’s grasp with just ten laps left after the racers have been slowed under a caution flag caused by an incident with another car.  He is on the inside of the front row, a prime place to reassert his leadership when the green flag is waved to go racing again.   If he can get a good jump, he’ll be running in clean air—a critical factor in cars designed to take advantage of aerodynamics—and headed for that elusive title.

Logano knows he has one shot at getting past him on that restart.  He dives low going into the first turn. Very low.  Carl knows his only hope is to drop low in the track to block Logano.   The front of Logano’s car touches the rear bumper of Edwards’ car, sending Edwards into the inside wall, then bouncing back across the track through traffic where he is hit from behind with such force by another driver that his car goes up on the other car’s hood before spinning off into the outside wall.  All hope of the championship is gone after what he called “the race of my life up to then.”

Few of us ever know the pressures of competing for anything at this level. And the intensity of “this level” is hard for any of us to imagine.  There are no halftimes, no timeouts, no free throws where you can catch your breath.  There are no shift changes as in hockey.  There are no innings that are split into two parts.  This is three or four hours in a fire-protective suit, sitting in a metal oven at temperatures of one-hundred-thirty degrees, travelling at frightening speeds (to you and me) surrounded by thirty-nine other people seeking the same thing you are seeking. And you are doing it at three times the speed limit with no rumble stripes to remind you that you have one of your wheels an inch from where it should be.

You are so close to being the very best in this sport that you can touch it.  And then in two seconds you are sitting in your stopped, wadded-up, smoking car knowing that everything you have worked for during the last nine months is now impossible.  One of your competitors has wrecked your car and your hopes.

NASCAR requires drivers whose cars crash out of a race to go to an infield care hospital to be checked for injuries, including concussions.  Track workers escort the driver from the wreckage of their car to an ambulance which whisks them away.  But that didn’t happen with Carl Edwards, who watched a replay of the crash on a big video screen that tracks have, and then walked with his NASCAR escort through the pits to Joey Logano’s pit.

That is not normally a good sign.  Angry words are often exchanged or shouted.  We’ve seen punches thrown.

Carl Edwards climbed to the top of a stand where Logano’s crew chief and others were sitting.  And he told them the crash was entirely his fault, that he wished Logano well, and shook hands with the guys on Logano’s pit box. “That’s just racing,” he told them. “Good luck to you guys.”

In an interview after getting checked at the infield hospital, he said, “I pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there…I couldn’t go to bed tonight and think that I gave him that lane.” Logano finished second in the race behind Johnson, who dodged the crash and led the last two laps for become champion for the seventh time.

“We were racing for the championship and that’s the race,” said Logano afterwards.  And he echoed Carl Edwards, “That’s just racing.”

After the roar of the race, after the take-no-prisoners competition for their sport’s highest honor the neither achieved—

there was grace,

a reminder in this graceless time that the quality still is within us.  And it is not demeaning to show it.


Several years ago your observer was strolling through the Capital Mall when he spied Lt. Governor Bill Phelps and his wife, Joanne, having a casual lunch in the food court.  They probably had driven to the mall and had done their shopping with few if any distractions from fellow shoppers. I remarked to him as they sat surrounded by other folks who were paying them no mind, “You know, if you win the election this year, you won’t be able to do this.”   Phelps was running in the primary against Christopher Bond who wanted to get his old job back from Joe Teasdale.  It was 1980.

Phelps lost the primary and probably has been eating his meals out for these last thirty-six years without any hassles from the voting public.

But had he won and then defeated Teasdale, his life would have changed. The Phelpses probably wouldn’t have driven their own car to the mall.  They likely would have been chauffeured by a Highway Patrolman.  And they wouldn’t be shopping anonymously because people would recognize that The Governor(!) was in their midst.  They’d be living in a great big house that would not contain much of their own furniture.  Somebody with a badge and a gun—sometimes more than one somebody—would be with them wherever they went.

We recall that John Ashcroft had a Mustang he liked to drive.   He didn’t get the chance to do that much after he became governor.

Ashcroft, Bond, and Phelps had some understanding of the transition to the governorship because they had been in public life at increasingly higher circles. They knew that the private life would diminish markedly when they became the state’s highest-ranking public official.

Transitions for incoming governors involve far more, however, than coming to grips with the fact that your life is not yours any more.  The responsibilities of being a public servant, the state’s highest public official, can be beyond the expectations of the candidates who seek that job.

So while an incoming governor who has no previous public office experience has to spend the two months between election and inauguration preparing to meet the challenges of governing, he and his family also have to come to grips with any number of personal issues.  What do we do with our house?  What about our furniture?  What things are so meaningful to us personally that we want to take them to the Executive Mansion so it feels like home?  What about schools?  How will we adjust to having a security officer with us?   How will we deal with a loss of our personal freedom?  How will the family deal with the things that are likely to be said about the husband and father who happens to be the Governor of Missouri?

Here we offer a slight diversion because the spotlight might be on the new governor but it also shines, at least in its dimmer edges, on his family, particularly on the person who is to become the state’s First Lady.   What are her obligations?

Most First Ladies have adopted a public role in one form or another.  But one First Lady was different and because she was, future First Ladies might owe her a debt.  Theresa Teasdale wanted nothing to do with the spotlight.  She was not Mrs. Governor.  She was Mrs. Teasdale, wife and mother.  She didn’t advocate for a particular cause (as we recall).  She and Joe did not make the mansion a great social event location.  It was their home.  It was where the Teasdale family lived.  It was a house where there was a family that was apart from the intense world of governing. This reporter tried to interview her once and came away almost embarrassed that he had intruded.  Theresa Teasdale was a First Lady who made it alright for future First Ladies to remain private citizens.

The new governor thus has two transitions to deal with—the personal and the public.  He has just two months to assemble a team of people in his office as well as those who will lead state agencies.   He realizes he will inherit a state budget sixty percent of the way through a fiscal year and will have to immediately deal with possible income shortfalls; Governor Nixon already has withheld tens of millions of dollars to keep the budget balanced.  He will have to prepare his first major address to a joint session of the legislature outlining budget recommendations for a fiscal year that will start July 1 and outline issues he hopes the legislature will pass laws about.

And that’s just the surface.  He also is responsible for finding and appointing about 1,700 people to state boards and commissions.  About 1,300 of those nominations will have to be pleasing enough to the Senate to be confirmed.

We checked with Scott Holste, who has been on Governor Nixon’s staff as governor and attorney general for more than twenty years, and Scott reminded us that the governor also has to make appointments to fill vacancies caused by death or resignation or conviction of judge in circuits that aren’t part of the Non-partisan Court Plan.  He also appoints prosecutors and county officials as needed in non-charter counties.  And he has to make appointments of judges from lists submitted to him under that same court plan.

There’s another important component that has to be decided.  How public will the administration of the state’s top public official be?   What will be his relations with the press?  It’s not a parochial question.  How open will he allow his administration to be in providing expertise to those with questions about public policy issues?  Will he allow department staffs with expertise to provide information to the public or will he limit the flow of information by limiting access to them—as, to be frank, the current administration has done in many agencies?  The operative word in the phrase “public official” should be public.

We have scratched the surface of what a governor-elect has to go through to be ready to govern as soon as he takes the oath of office.  It’s a steep, steep learning curve even for those who have been in and around state elective office.  To go from private citizen to public leader relatively overnight is a major test.

All of this is why a two-month well-organized transition effort is essential but why it also is highly stressful, not just on the governor-elect but on his family—because life on January 8th will likely be worlds different by the end of January 9th.

Time to get to work

Some who follow these entries will consider the writer naïve in his outlook but we shall plunge ahead because we cannot give up on our belief that our system is worth working for. And on.  And in.

Elation or disappointment in election results must be short-lived.  Resignation is not an option nor is gloating.  This week after the election is time to get back to work as citizens of whatever leaning. It is time to become even better-thinking, better citizens.

Don’t believe Janice Joplin’s 1960s claim that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Whether you have spent the last week celebrating or the last week depressed is immaterial now. Freedom requires effort—because it is in greater danger of being given up than being taken away.

Winston Churchill is often cited as the person who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” although he admitted he was quoting someone else.  Here’s something he DID say—in the House of Commons on December 8, 1944:

How is that word “democracy” to be interpreted? My idea of it is that the plain, humble, common man, just the ordinary man who keeps a wife and family, who goes off to fight for his country when it is in trouble, goes to the poll at the appropriate time, and puts his cross on the ballot paper showing the candidate he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foundation of democracy. And it is also essential to this foundation that this man or woman should do this without fear, and without any form of intimidation or victimization. He marks his ballot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected representatives and together decide what government, or even in times of stress, what form of government they wish to have in their country. If that is democracy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”

The election is over.  Our system of democracy, often ungraceful in its practice, remains. Now comes the time to “work for it.”

Notes From a Quiet Street    VIII/2016 

Something seems to be wrong with our telephone.  It only rings a couple of times a day and the only people who seem able to get through are Nancy’s sisters.  We must have said something wrong to President Obama, who called us three days in a row, because he hasn’t called back.

Gary Scharnhorst, in his book Mark Twain on Potholes & Politics, cites a letter to the editor of The New York World published on Christmas Day, 1894:

“It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us—the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage—may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss—except the inventor of the telephone.”

If Mr. Twain were with us today he might change the last line to say “except the inventor of the robocall.”


Ashley and Brian let your correspondent play reporter on election night, doing reports on The Missourinet about legislative and congressional races and the ballot proposals. It was a lot of fun and the best part was that now I could go home at 3 a.m. and not worry about getting up an hour later to do morning newscasts until the rest of the staff could return from the victory/loss parties.


Got up and made the usual morning trip to the Y.  Thought it appropriate to wear a red shirt.   The one that says, “Of course I’m right, I’m Bob.”   Because I am.  Bob. Some of you dispute the accuracy of the first part.  But it’s my shirt.


We got a notice from the Social Security people that we’re getting an increase in our monthly benefits next year.   The national average is four dollars a month.  We didn’t get any cost of living increase this year.  Who does the Social Security Administration think we are?  State employees?

Came across an article from Collier’s magazine from 1905 recently that began, “For the first time in forty years there has been no lobby maintained at the capital of Missouri during a session of the state legislature.  Lobbyists visited the Capitol, it is true, but they did so occasionally and their stay was brief.  When they appeared they came only to argue bills before committees; their coming was known, and at the time of their appearance the hour of their departure also was made known in advance.”

Lobbyists were running scared in 1905 after a major bribery scandal of 1903 exposed exchanges of cash and other favors between lawmakers and lobbyists.  New governor Joseph Folk, who earned the office as a corruption fighting prosecutor, added to the concerns when he was sworn in on January 9, 1905 and said “professional lobbying should be made a crime.”

That’s one issue this year’s candidates for governor missed.  Among others.

Given the number of candidates this year who sneered at “career politicians” who apparently think they can retain their status as amateur politicians now that they’ve been elected, perhaps they might think of Holy Joe Folk, as he was called, and pass a law allowing only amateur lobbyists so the field will be level.

Your faithful observer cannot recall the last time he observed so little post-season baseball.                                                                       —

Or in-season Tiger football.

As we travel throughout Missouri we find ourselves increasingly unable to understand why the most expensive gas we put in our car is in Jefferson City.  By far.  We fueled up in Kearney for a dollar-79 and in Nevada for the same amount a week later.  The gas stations on the street leading to our house were charging two-oh-seven and two-oh-nine at the time.  Some fluctuation in prices is understandable. But “absurd” is the word that kept going through our mind as we drove between stations on the way home.

We try not to re-fuel in Jefferson City.  There’s one station that’s usually three to seven cents cheaper and if we must put gas in our car in Jefferson City, we’ll go there.  Otherwise, gas stations closer to home are good only for lottery tickets.


Voters have spoken strongly—again—that limits must be imposed on the financing of campaigns.   Now we will see if there are lawsuits to throw out the limits.  We will be watching one group especially closely if the big money people win in court to see if legislators and other politicians who are quick to blast the court system for “ignoring the will of the people” will say that in this instance.  A lawsuit might be unnecessary, however. Opponents of campaign limits were saying before the election they know an end-around of the new law so they can keep pouring boatloads of money into campaigns.  We’ll be interested to see if the legislature does anything about it—to make sure the will of the people is truly honored.

It’s not cynicism that prompts the observation.  It’s observation that prompts the cynicism.

Where have they been?

Where have they been during this campaign against them, this campaign to control them, this campaign to restore the average citizen’s place in the political campaign world?

Where have they been, those who easily write six and seven-figure checks to buy candidates and laws and parts of the state constitution?

Where have they been in our mailboxes and on our television screens and on our radios, telling us why Constitutional Amendment 2 is bad for us, bad for our political system, unfair and unjust to them?

Where have they been in defending themselves from accusations that they are abusive of the democratic process, arrogant in that abuse, and uncaring about those whose voices they overwhelm by their wealth—because they can overwhelm them?

Their silence on a proposal to limit their contributions to campaigns to relative pennies speaks loudly of the reasons the proposal is on the ballot, for they already know the people cannot control them, cannot limit them; they are too powerful, too cunning.

Their silence hints that they already know how they will render Constitutional Amendment 2 nothing more than an exercise by voters.  Their silence tells us they already know how they will exploit contribution limits or attack them in the courts.

They who are silent already know their arguments before judges who will be asked to dismiss the people’s wishes.  They already believe they will overturn the people’s wishes because, after all, what do the people know?

Let the people think they can control us, their silence says.  Let the people think they can make their voices equal to ours again.   Yes, let them think it.   Let them think they accomplish something by approving the amendment—while we already know otherwise.

In two years, they are thinking, we will let them know what we think of Constitutional Amendment 2.  And we are right.  Because we are rich enough to know what is right.

But the people think, too.   And the people will see what happens if Amendment 2 passes and the next election cycle shows new creative exploitations of the law.  And the people, if they approve Amendment 2, can act again.  And again if they must.

Or perhaps the people might be surprised if Amendment 2 passes to see that enough of the legislators they will elect might find enough courage to fix leaks, seal loopholes, and strengthen weaknesses that become apparent.  But the people shouldn’t count on it.

Big money is silent.  Because big money knows.

Doesn’t it?

Corrupt career politicians

Your observer has thought throughout this campaign of writing something about the demagoguery behind the phrase “corrupt career politicians” that has been thrown around by challengers who seem to lack the intelligence to say how they will solve the problems of the state and the nation and think name-calling is the highest intellectual standard they need to display.

Then we read Jason Hancock’s article in The Kansas City Star Tuesday.  In a year when “corrupt career politicians” has been such a buzz phrase that relies on an intentionally uninformed public’s distrust of government, the Missouri Senate majority appears to have volunteered to become a poster child.

Jason’s article says Republican state senators are soliciting money from people who want to buy “face-to-face meetings with GOP leaders when they return to the state Capitol to begin legislating in January.”

A $5,000 donation will buy, among other things, a dinner with the Senate Republican leadership team during the first two weeks of the session.

Suppose you can’t afford 5K.  No problem.  Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin and Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City would love to have breakfast with you for just $2,500.

If you or your organization don’t have that much, well, you might have to go hungry in more ways than one in the 2017 session.  We say “might” because, despite appearances to the contrary, we don’t want to actually accuse Richard and Kehoe of participating in “pay for play.”

Wonder how much a “hello” might cost as one of the majority senate leaders goes the few steps across the hall from his office into the chamber.

This news breaks less than six months after legislators were patting themselves on the back for working on ethics bills—and passing some, toothless though they were.

Missouri remains the only state in the nation without campaign contribution limits and no ban on gifts to legislators from lobbyists. Nor, it is obvious, is there any limit on how much the leaders can charge those wanting to get close to them for breakfast and dinner. But building confidence in government by the electorate has been one of the lowest priorities of the legislature for a long time.  Now, you might ask, can it get any lower?

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 2-1.  Of the seventeen seats up for election next week, four Republicans and Four Democrats have no significant challengers.  So before the contested seats are decided, Republicans are guaranteed to hold their majority, 18-7.  If the Democrats are to break the two-thirds GOP control of the Senate, they must win six of the nine contested elections next Tuesday.

Fat chance.

If you’re supremely confident that you will be in total control of a situation, why worry about ethics and appearances of impropriety?  Make it profitable.

Dinner (or breakfast) might be served.  But public confidence sure isn’t.

The expendable right

It is hard to listen to the assurances that come at this time during campaigns that the right to vote is our most precious right as citizens.

It is hard to listen because Missourians apparently do not as a general practice believe that statement. And our legislature gives indications that it—although those who serve in it are there because of that right— cares little about strengthening that right.

Missourians have twice voted to reduce their right to vote.  And a recent survey published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows more than two-thirds of Missourians seem to think it’s a good idea to reduce their right even more.

The first time Missourians forfeited their right to vote was in 1992 when they adopted term limits for legislators, thus forbidding themselves from voting for their representatives and senators as often as they want to keep them representing them in Jefferson City.

A few years ago, voters threw away their right to vote when they voted to require voters in St. Louis and Kansas City to approve their city’s earning tax every five years.  In approving the second half of that issue, they forever took away their right to decide whether their city should ever have such a tax. By approving the proposal they forfeited their right to decide what is best for their own communities.

So now we have the voter photo-ID issue on the ballot.  And it appears that many voters have swallowed the bilge-water distributed by conspiracy theorists who claim that, “There is voter fraud but it’s just not prosecuted,” or that since people have to show ID cards to cash checks or rent motel rooms, or rent cars, they should have to do the same thing to vote.

Perhaps voters who do not distinguish between the PRIVILEGE of cashing a check or renting a motel room and the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to vote deserve to lose the freedom they presently have. And for those who say there’s fraud but it’s not prosecuted—we have not heard a single one of them offer any specifics of unprosecuted voter fraud in their own districts. If fraud at the voting places is so pervasive and such a great danger to our democratic form of government, don’t you think these watchdogs we have elected would blow the whistle on prosecutors who are not doing their jobs? They won’t because they can’t.

But there is cheap political advantage to be gained by encouraging doubt in the very system that put them in power. And power, not broad public service, is the goal.  If the poll is right, voters are playing into their hands.

Talk is cheap.  Constitutional rights have been expensively won.  Sad to say, Missourians appear to be on the verge of wasting a right that has been paid for at great price.