2017: A legislative anniversary that isn’t

This is the seventieth anniversary of the first meeting of Missouri’s Unicameral General Assembly.

Not.

We’ve lost track of the number of years somebody proposed reducing the size of our legislature, usually by doing something mathematical with the number of Senators.   For instance, having three House districts for each Senate district. Using current numbers, that system would cut the size of the House from 163 to 102.  There have been proposals to increase the membership of the Senate to 35, presumably to avoid tie votes, with three or four Representatives per Senate district, for a total House count of 105 to 140.

The proposals might have gotten through the Senate but not surprisingly have had zero chance to finding favor in the House.

There was a time, however, when Missouri came close to eliminating the entire Senate.  All 34 members.   AND cutting the size of the House by one-half to two-thirds!

Imagine Missouri joining Nebraska as the only states with unicameral, or one-house legislatures.

Nebraska’s capitol actually has two legislative chambers.  The Senate, which has a Speaker, meets in the George W. Norris Chamber. The other chamber, used for ceremonial purposes, is called the Warner Memorial Chamber and was used by the Nebraska Senate for a short time before the change to the one-house general assembly beginning in 1937.

Missouri was not among the twenty-some states that immediately started considering switching to one-house legislatures but we weren’t far behind.  The issue was being widely discussed by the spring of 1941.  But opponents feared putting the issue on the 1942 ballot would deflect interest away from another important amendment that would give legislators their first pay increase since the adoption of the Missouri Constitution of 1875.  Lawmakers were paid five dollars a day for the first seventy days of a legislative session and then only a dollar a day for each day afterward.  Supporters of the pay raise believed higher pay would attract better men for the legislature (few women had served by then). But one newspaper suggested the opposite, remarking, “The people might look upon this pay increase with favor if at the same time they had the opportunity to reduce the number of lawmakers by half.”

An organization of businessmen announced in the spring of ’42 that they would circulate petitions calling for a unicameral vote in November.  The constitutional amendment would hike salaries to as much as $150 a month with six dollars a day for each day on legislative business.

A petition drive led by former state Superintendent of Schools Charles A. Lee submitted about 85,000 signatures to the Secretary of State on July 1, calling for a one-house legislature of fifty to seventy-five members as of the 1945 session.

But the whole campaign blew up a few days later when Springfield Justice of the Peace Tom Burns, known as a “marryin’ justice,” and a colleague, Erwin A. Greenhaw, were charged with arranging to have thousands of signatures forged in a “signature mill” in Burns’ basement, paying women and girls three-dollars a day to fake signatures.  Lee’s committee had paid them more than $2,500 to gather signatures on the unicameral petitions. His group withdrew the petitions, which killed the drive for the vote in 1942.  Burns and Greenhaw were later convicted on petition forgery charges. Burns spent two years in the pen. Greenhaw was fined $500.

The incident led State Representative Edgar Keating of Kansas City to introduce a bill in the 1943 legislature  “In recent years the initiative petition has gone to the point of being a racket,” he said, a statement buttressed by the admission of Notary Public Lee Weaver, who said he notarized many of the petitions without ever seeing the person who supposedly circulated them, admitting he had done the same thing for Burns and Greenhaw in the 1936 petition campaign that took the state’s conservation department out of politics.

The House passed the bill on February 25, by a vote of 112-0 with 38 members absent.  The strong vote made no difference to the Senate, which sent the bill to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee where it was never heard from again.

The issue returned in the long session of 1943-44 but was killed in a House committee when five rural members outvoted the two representatives from St. Louis city.  The amendment was similar to an amendment being circulated in a petition backed by a group called “Crusaders for Missouri.”

By now, a constitutional convention was underway, too.  A convention committee endorsed keeping the bicameral system, forcing delegate Stanford Lee Morton of Clayton to withdraw his unicameral proposal and plan to offer it in resolution form to the entire convention later. He wanted voters to have a choice when they voted on the proposed constitution but that idea was opposed by Con-Con President Robert E. Blake, an anti-New Deal Democrat from Webster Groves, and other delegates who wanted to send the proposed document to the vote as a single piece.  Morton had wanted an 81-member unicameral legislature with one Republican and one Democrat from each of the thirty-four senatorial districts and thirteen at-large members elected in partisan elections each of the state’s then-thirteen congressional districts.

When the Crusaders of Missouri submitted their petitions, Secretary of State Gregory Stockard ruled they were one day too late.  But the State Supreme Court said Stockard was mistaken and had to accept them.  This time there was no skullduggery and the petitions were found to have enough signatures to make the November ballot. The Crusaders plan called for a legislature of fifty to seventy-five members with a total payroll of $90,000 a year, the lawmakers elected in standard partisan elections to serve two-year terms. The 1945 legislature would decide the size of the new General Assembly, which would meet for the first time in 1947.

But the proposed state constitution got in the way.

The Missouri Supreme Court on September 27, 1944 guaranteed Missourians would get to vote on a unicameral legislature when it refused to review a Cole County Circuit Court ordering the issue to the November 7 ballot.

However, the convention voted the next day to send the proposed constitution to voters with a two-house general assembly retained.  And just before the convention adjourned with delegates singing one verse of “America” and a prayer that was the second verse of the song, the delegates set February 27, 1945 for voters to decide if Missouri would have its first new constitution in seventy years, a document 11,000 words shorter than the 1875 document that had been amended sixty times.

The Crusaders of Missouri decided to give up their campaign a week after that. The group said it feared its proposal would interfere with the adoption of the constitution.  Plus, adoption of a unicameral legislature in November would become meaningless if voters adopted the constitution with a two-house legislature in February.  The Crusaders asked Stockard to withdraw their plan from the November ballot.  But Stockard couldn’t do it.  Once on the ballot, it stays on the ballot, he said.

The Crusaders decided they would quit campaigning at that point.

On November 7, almost 365,000 Missourians voted for a unicameral legislature, only about 13-hundred fewer than approved calling the constitutional convention.  But 402,000 “no” votes were cast.  The unicameral proposition failed by just 37-thousand votes even though supporters had not campaigned for the last four weeks before the election. The plan carried St. Louis city and county and almost carried Jackson County. Outstate Missouri defeated it by 118,000 votes.

Missourians approved the new constitution in February, 312,032-185,658.  More than fifty-thousand fewer Missourians voted “yes” for the entire constitution than voted for the unicameral general assembly proposal.

A unicameral bill was introduced in the 1945 session but it was killed in a House committee with Miller County Representative Lucien Mace commenting, “It would take some of the power from the country and give it to the cities.”

The Sikeston Herald commented in its May 19th edition, “While the two-house system of government in Missouri may be cumbersome at times, it is believed in the capitol to be the best system yet devised to keep any section of the state from being the balance of power.”

Sikeston, of course, is part of rural Missouri.

And that is why 34 Senators and 163 Representatives still meet each year in Jefferson City.  And why we are not celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the Missouri Unicameral this year.

When the legislature rioted

Veteran observers and participants of the Missouri governmental process can cite times when disorder was the order of the day—or the hour.  We recall the night Rep. Elbert Walton climbed on top of his desk to shout for recognition from a Speaker who wasn’t going to give it to him while the rest of the House was in disarray, too. We remember when sessions ended at midnight, usually with one last appropriations bill to pay for the programs that had been enacted during the session racing the clock and clerks dashing back and force between the chambers as time ran out.   But this is the story of an event that in its time was so wild that it made national headlines and has never been rivaled since. It was the day the House and the Senate in joint session

Rioted.

We told the story a month ago about why you and I will have the chance to elect a U. S. Senator next year.  The legislature used to meet in joint session to do that.  We told the story of the fight to get rid of Thomas Hart Benton in 1851 in which Henry S. Geyer was elected on the fortieth ballot in a joint legislative session, cast during a ten-day stretch.  That was nothing compared to this.

It is 1905, forty years after the end of the Civil War.  For thirty of those years, former Confederate Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrell has been one of our U. S. Senators.  Although many names are part of the official record of this event, only four are the key players in today’s story: Cockrell, a Democrat; Republican St. Louis businessman Thomas K. Niedringhaus, son of a former congressman and the choice of the Republican caucus; St. Louis Railroad contractor and Republican Richard C. Kerens, the choice of some dissident Republicans; and Former two-term Republican Congressman William Warner, who also had been the Kansas City Mayor, the loser of the 1892 Governor’s race to William J. Stone, and at the time of these events, the U. S. Attorney for Western Missouri. Warner had been a Union Army Major in the Civil War.

The legislature in 1905 was narrowly Republican and the Republicans split between Niedringhaus (right) and Kerens, who had been political antagonists in seeking control of St. Louis and state Republicans for a long time. The joint caucus nominating Niedringhaus had been a rowdy affair culminating in Representative Oliver Grace of St. Louis—who was standing on his chair–telling caucus chairman Alonzo Tubbs, a Representative from Gentry County, “You have my utter contempt as chairman,” to which Tubbs responded after a couple of minutes of yelling and shouting, “I am more than sorry to have the contempt of such a distinguished gentleman as now stands before me.” That spirit hung over the rest of the contest.

Senators would walk over to the House chamber (this 1899 photo, which hangs in a Capitol hallway today, captures how the chamber would have looked in 1905) each morning for a joint voting session. A simple majority of those voting was all it took to elect a U. S. Senator.  The first vote was taken on January 17. The winner needed 89 of the 176 votes cast.  Niedringhaus was two short.  Cockrell had 53.  Kerens had six.

Other votes were taken on the 19th, 20th, and 23rd.  They tried twice on the 24th and single times on January 25, 26, 27, 30, and 31, the tenth day of voting. The legislature in 1851 had made it decision on the tenth day. But the 1905 legislature was only on its twelfth ballot. Niedringhaus had 63 of the 69 votes needed (the number of legislators voting fluctuated from day to day—only 108 members voted on the 30th, for example), Cockrell had 68, one short, and Kerens had settled in at a dozen.  Warner’s name had not shown up in any of the votes.

Twenty votes were held, one each day, in February except for the fifteenth when there were to ballots, Cockrell getting 73 and 72 votes. Niedringhaus getting 65 and 64.  Kerens held his dozen.  Warner still was not a factor.

The deadlocked lawmakers reached the first of March facing adjournment at 3 p.m. on the eighteenth. As often happens, the clock became the gauge on the political pressure cooker.  Deadlocks begin to dissolve as the time pressure increased and hours before adjournment wound down.

Kerens picked up three to five votes in the early going, which meant only that Niedringhaus still wasn’t going to get the majority. Votes on March 2, 3, 6, and 7 were still deadlocked.  But on March 7, William Warner got two votes.  He kept them on the second ballot taken that day.  And on the next day when the legislature roared past the fortieth ballot that had determined the 1851 election, and on the ninth.  He picked up one more on the tenth but lost it on the eleventh, the day of the forty-fourth ballot.

The forty-fifth ballot on March 13 showed Cockrell with 72, six short.  Niedringhaus had 54 and Kerens sixteen.  Warner still had three.   That night, Republicans caucused to try to agree on a new candidate that would please the Niedringhaus men if he should step aside.  But after eleven caucus ballots, Warner and Sedalia businessman John H. Bothwell were deadlocked.  Tubbs, as chairman, suggested dropping both of them and moving to former Representative Seldon Spencer of St. Louis. The discussion was acrimonious but the caucus agreed to put Spencer forward the next morning.

Warner two of his votes on the first ballot on the fourteenth, then had no votes on the second ballot that day as Spencer surged to 61 votes, then 64.  But Kerens still controlled things with seventeen, then sixteen votes.

Warner had no support in both ballots taken on the fifteenth with Cockrell remaining six votes short each time and Spencer making no progress. Warner had only one or two votes on the three ballots taken on Thursday, the sixteenth as the Spencer boom ended and the Nedringhausen men reclaimed his position. Two Republicans, including the House Speaker David Hill of Butler County, announced they would vote for Cockrell, the Democrat, if the Republicans could not unite.Some Republicans started to think again of Warner as a compromise candidate.  But Nedringhaus and Kerens would have to release their pledged delegates.

March 17, the next to last day of the session, and desperation clearly was settling in.  Three ballots that Friday morning saw Cockrell still six votes short.  But Warner moved from three to eleven votes.  The joint session recessed until 7:30 p.m. and came back for the fifty-sixth ballot.  They voted five times that night.  On the third of those ballots, the fifty-eighth of the contest, Niedringhaus dropped back to twelve. Warner suddenly was at 62 with Cockrell still six votes short. Warner had 65 on the next ballot and on the final vote that night, he was at 68.

The last day was the most chaotic day in Missouri legislative history since the night Confederate-leaning Governor Sterling Price fled back to Jefferson City after peace talks had broken down in St. Louis, organized a late-night session of the legislature, and fled from the city, never to return hours before Union troops seized the town.

One account about the 1905 events says, “It seemed probable (at the start of the day) that the state would be without a second senator.”  Niedringhaus had asked his friends to support Warner. Kerens had been publicly silent. When the roll call came for the first ballot, Senator Edward H. Baumann, the first Republican to vote, went to Warner.  But Senator Ezra Frisby stayed with Kerens as did Senators Josiah Peck and Senator Hugh McIndoe as the Kerens men left Warner, for whom they had voted Thursday night.

The first ballot of the day showed Cockrell (right) with 83 and Warner with 64. Kerens was back in the contest with 21 and Niedringhaus had faded to five. The second ballot showed Warner picking up two, Kerens losing one. Niedringhaus was down to three.    Warner was up to 68 on the next ballot. Cockrell still had 83.  The sixty-fourth ballot, then the sixty-fifth.  An effort to dissolve the joint session, to give up, failed. A motion to recess for half an hour also failed.

The sixty-sixth ballot, the sixth of the day:  Cockrell 83.  Warner 66. Kerens 19.

Then all Hell broke loose.

We have pieced together accounts from The St. Louis Republic, The Kansas City Star, The Washington Post, The Sedalia Democrat, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, The St. Louis Star, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch,   and The Jefferson City Daily Democrat-Tribune to describe the unparalleled events (before or since) that happened next.

It was customary in the reporting in those days not to mention the first names of the participants (“Thomson of St. Louis” for example).  We’ll add the first names to the account as we put the elements together.  If the narrative seems jumbled at times, remember something important.  Members of the press were seated at tables at the front of the chamber, in front of the Speaker’s dais, as the 1899 picture shows.  They found themselves in the middle of a situation that exploded from a tense political standoff into a political riot. We can only imagine them scribbling frantically in their notebooks, perhaps at times ducking and dodging whatever and whomever came their way.  Please try to understand why this old reporter has several times thought, “God! What an experience it would have been to cover THIS!!”

The whole city and the members of the Legislature, especially, have been in a feverish condition of anxiety and nervousness since the close of last night’s session. Long before the time arrived for the members of the Senate to enter the hall of the House, the hall was crowded to suffocation and the Senators had difficulty in securing seats. In fact, some of them were obliged to stand during the proceedings.  Wives and daughters and lady friends of members were packed in between members’ seats. The space outside the railing was so jammed that it was difficult for the Senators to make their way to their place.  The little gallery up aloft was packed to its utmost capacity.    

Everybody knew that the Democrats had agreed on a policy of obstruction, and Republicans, suspicious of each other, were afraid of a trap, and yet afraid to act in haste.  The roll call to determine if there was a quorum present proceeded slower than it ever has before.  Roach of the Senate, a Democrat, killed time with industry, and the Democratic clerks seemed anxious to follow his example.  Women filled the aisles and kept talking until the chairman had to ask them to be quiet enough to let the members hear when their names were called.

When the sixtieth ballot was taken Friday night, all of the Kerens men were voting for Warner and the Niedringhaus men were divided between Niedringhaus and Captain Henry King of St. Louis. This morning Mr. Niedringhaus went to each of his friends and personally asked them to vote for Warner.  With some of them he had to talk for a long time.

When the first ballot was begun, the sixty-first taken, Senator Edward H. Baumann, the first Niedringhaus vote, cast his ballot for Major Warner.  Baumann is a St. Louis senator who has been a “last ditch” Niedringhaus man, and his vote meant that Niedringhaus was going to Warner. Senator Ezra H. Frisby, who casts the first vote for Kerens men, voted for Kerens, as did Senator Hugh McIndoe. (Editor’s note: The early votes indicated the Kerens supporters were not yet giving up the control they had exerted on the process since that first ballot in January.) 

 Representative L. C. Detweiler of Laclede County declared, “I think we have delayed it long enough. It is time to elect a Senator. I hardly know who to vote for, but I will vote for Maj. William Warner.” Representative William Godfrey of St. Louis followed, proclaiming, “Fifty and five times have I voted for the caucus nominee.  Now I want to elect a senator and I am going to vote for a man who, like myself, wore the blue and fought for the honor of his country. I vote for Warner.”

 Representative Oliver J. Grace took the floor and after talking at some length in explanation of his position, he exclaimed, “We want a Senator of the highest type, one who stands high. I therefore cast my vote and will keep casting it until hell freezes over and even then I will stand on the ice and cast my vote for that grand old man, Richard C. Kerens.” The Democrats cheered. At the beginning of his speech, Grace said he had something in his system that he wanted to get out.  “I guess the gentleman got it out all right,” said Lieutenant-Governor John C. McKinley when Grace had concluded.

Representative F. M. Harrington said he also would get something out of his system: “I am not like my friend Grace; I don’t expect to find a place where water never freezes. I vote for Maj. William Warner.” Representative Lawrence Lewis of Crawford County: “I have voted loyally for the nominee of my party up to this time. I believe that now we should center our forces on a man we all know will be an honor to the party and to the state. I vote for Warner.” Rep. William C. Marten of St. Louis said he was sacrificing a great deal when he voted for Warner.  He and Lewis had been among those who had refused to switch on Friday night. St. Louis Rep. Charles Schueddig, another Niedringhaus supporter on Friday night, switched to Warner saying, “I wish to show that I am not a last ditcher.” Another Niedringhaus backer, Rep. Albert R. Thomson, told the session, “I had made up my mind to go down to the ditch with the caucus nominee, but after his pleading with me for a solid hour to-day to elect a senator, and at his request, I vote for Major William Warner.” Rep. Eugene Dauer of St. Louis never left Niedringhaus and absolutely refused to do so.

Senator Edward H. Bauman was the first Republican Senator whose name was called to vote for Warner. He has been a staunch Niedringhaus supporter.  He was followed by Senators Charles w. Clarke, Josiah Peck and John D. Young. Senator George W. Riechman remained with Niedringhaus. Every mention of Warner’s name drew enthusiastic applause and the shift showed in the tally upon completion of the afternoon’s first round: Cockrell 83; Warner 64; Niedringhaus 21; Kerens 15; Bartholdt 1; Peck 1.  Total voting 175; Cockrell had needed 88, so the balloting would go on.

After the sixth ballot, only four Niedringhaus men stood out, the same number as on the previous three ballots.

It was about 1:40 o’clock when the sixth ballot was tabulated and the rumor soon spread that Col. Kerens would make a formal announcement of his withdrawal. When the silver-haired veteran appeared in the chamber the spectators rose and cheered wildly. He walked down the center aisle with Senator J. W. Peck of Atchison County. Behind them was Representative James H. Richardson, a Kerens supporter from Kansas City. 

The thing that made election possible to-day happened yesterday when Kerens consented for his forces to go to Warner in the night session.  Up to that time he had only consented to let Parker have his vote in a combine with some Parker men.  But Representatives James H. Richardson and Harry R. Walmsley and other Kansas City men who had begged Kerens to go to Warner were reinforced when Homer Mann (Editor’s note: Mann was not a member of the legislature but was described in one account as Kerens’ “closest lieutenant.”) told Kerens that his friends in Western Missouri demanded that Warner be given some votes. (Warner supporter) E. L. Morse of Excelsior Springs told Kerens the Third district demanded a chance for Warner. Then Kerens said, “Vote for Warner tonight.”  By voting for Warner they put Niedringhaus in a bad position. There could be no excuse for letting this legislature adjourn without electing Warner when he could have elected him.  Niedringhaus saw it himself, but many of his friends did not and he failed to grasp the opportunity last night, but this morning he handed the same proposition back to Kerens with interest. Kerens held his forces out (on the first ballot). While the second ballot was in progress, the tip was they would go to Warner on the fourth.  Then, they put it back to the fifth.  On the sixth the Kerens men shook their heads.   They could not see a solution and knew that to go home now was political ruin. While the sixth ballot was in progress, Dr. A. C. Pettijohn, a Linn County Representative, made his last appeal to Kerens. In that last conference with Kerens there had come a time when a timid man would have given him up.  He was not ready to throw his forces to Warner, Pettijohn said, “I have come for the last time to ask it,” and went away.  That left Homer Mann and Vincent Kerens with him. Mann said, “Elect Warner and the public will say you have done well.  Let him be defeated today and you send your friends in our part of the state to political destruction.  Make a speech, withdraw in favor of Warner, and let’s have a hot finish to this fight.”

Pettijohn…came back with tears in his eyes, an expression that chilled the hearts of Warner’s best friends, the bearer of bad news to his associates. For a few minutes faces turned white as the word was passed around. It looked like failure. Five minutes later Home Mann…came back from the Kerens camp with an expression on his face that told of a change in prospect.  The roll call was nearly finished when Mann whispered to a reporter for The Star, “The old Colonel is going to elect Warner and we’re going to have a hot finish.” It changed the whole appearance of the (Kerens) men.  Mann dashed out of the hall again.  A crowd blocked the door.  In the center was R. C. Kerens. 

In the dense crowd…could be seen the peculiar silver hair that would distinguish “Dick” Kerens anywhere his face had ever been seen.  Kerens has hair that is really nearer the color of bright new silver than gray.  He stood in the rear of the hall just inside the door while the clerks made the tally. 

The vote was announced: Warner, 67; Cockrell 83; Niedringhaus 5; Peck 1; Kerens 19.

Then he started down the aisle and as the members caught sight of him a mighty shout went up.  He was cheered to the echo when he walked to the desk of the presiding officer and stood close to Chairman McKinley, the president of the senate.  No one doubted his purpose.

Senator Frank McDavid, Democratic whip, anticipating the vote shift that would defeat Cockrell at last, moved that the joint session dissolve.  The Republicans tried to prevent Lieutenant Governor John C. McKinley from recognizing McDavid, but the presiding officer did so.  McDavid demanded a roll call.

Republicans tried to get McDavid to withdraw his motion.  Some of the misinformed Democrats made the same request, but McDavid insisted.  Roll call proceeded with difficulty, but the Kerens men had their cue and beat the motion.

Confusion was on every side, when Mr. Kerens arose.  His friends yelled. Kerens looked ashy pale.  “Just a moment, gentlemen of the Joint Session,” he began, “and gallantry requires me that the ladies are also present. I do not need to say to you that I am a Republican.  My record speaks for that.  We are here to perform a duty. This General assembly is Republican.  It is your duty to elect a United State Senator.  I say let it be a Republican (cheers).  If this majority of the Assembly wish to name Major Warner of Kansas City, I say, repeating what I said last night, God speed the action!  Elect him if you can do so.”

The action of Kerens, the man who instigated the bolt from Niedringhaus…was a distinct surprise to all—even his own followers being astonished and thrown into uncertainty. Kerens played fast and loose with his men and his men are very angry and indignant that he should have placed them in the predicament which he did without their knowledge or consent, while he had held them apart all the time heretofore, and made them suffer whatever of stigma and mud-throwing fell to the lot of the alleged bolters. 

The scene in the House when Kerens made his speech has never been rivalled in recent times.  Men, women, and children stood in their seats and yelled like mad persons. Hats were thrown in the air, papers sailed about the room, and it was a scene of wild celebration and joy. The Democrats who had been counting on “filippino” votes possibly to elect Cockrell were in confusion.  They raged about the floor and held conferences in every corner. Before the enthusiasm created by Kerens had had a chance to take effect and create a stampede, Senator Dickinson of Henry County, moved that a recess of thirty minutes be taken.  The chief clerk of the House tried to tell McKinley that no business had been transacted and that the motion was out of order.  McKinley ruled that the motion was in order, and upon Senator Clement Dickinson‘s demand ordered a roll call.  The motion was defeated

McDavid tried to gain recognition to make another motion. McKinley refused to recognize him, and McDavid appealed from the decision of the chair.

Then pandemonium broke loose. For more than half an hour, the House chamber, where the joint session was held, was in the possession of a mob of legislators who seemed to have lost all control of themselves. Members ran down the aisles yelling for order, while others were demanding recognition from the chair.  Such a scene of disorder has probably never before been witnessed in the Missouri legislative halls.

 It was nearly 2:30 and only a half hour to the time set for final adjournment.  A custom has grown of stopping the clock on the east wall of the House just prior to final adjournment, and some of the younger members thought that the clock was vital to holding the session.

A few Democrats stood under the clock to prevent its being moved, more as a joke than anything else. The Republicans immediately became excited. A man with kinky hair and dark face carried a ladder into the hall close to the clock. But it never reached the clock.  The guard pounced upon him and took the ladder away.  Republican members came to the rescue and there was a general tussle and some blows were struck before the ladder was carried back to the rear of the hall.  Rep. W. P. Houston of Cass grabbed it and threw it out of the window.

The same magnetic influence that draws a duck to water leads a Kansas City Democratic politician in the direction of trouble.  Joe Shannon and Representative Michael Casey were soon in the thick of the throng.  Seeing there was no hope of getting at the clock, which stood twelve feet above their heads, to turn it back, Representative Stewart threw a book at it and broke the glass front, but did not stop it.  Someone else threw an orange which brought a pile of shattered glass to the floor.  Republicans picked up file books and began throwing at the clock. The glass was broken, but the pendulum kept swinging.

Rep. James Stewart of Warren County picked up ink bottles out of the desks and started throwing them at the clock.  Ink was scattered over ladies’ dresses, desks, the floor and the wall around the clock.  People yelled and the ladies shrank toward the middle of the House. Then Rep. William Godfrey, an old man, member from St. Louis threw an ink well that smashed the pendulum and stopped the clock. The dial and hands were still intact. (Another account said Stewart finally hit the pendulum to stop the clock). That part of the House looked like a cyclone had struck it.  Two windows were smashed. Chairs and desks were broken.

Representative J. T. Wells of Dunklin (Dem.) seized a chair and walked across a dozen desks holding it high over his head. He failed to reach Godfrey, so he made a dive at Stewart, but before he could strike, he had been seized by other Democrats.  He was too late. The clock had been stopped.

Representative Michael Casey, of Jackson had found a pole used to raise and lower windows and climbed on a desk from which, while attention was attracted to another part of the house, he had deftly turned the hands of the clock so that they read one minutes after 3.  With that for an excuse, a score of Democrats started trouble with the clerks, again snatching away the half-finished roll call.  The chairman was pounding fiercely with his gavel and trying to make people sit down. It did no good.  For just a minute it looked as if a general fight would be precipitated, for Peck, Baumann and others of the heavyweight class of Republicans were fighting their way to the desks and there was a fight going on at each side of the presiding officer’s desk. It was a silly performance, worthy of the worst fight in the most disreputable ward of any large city.

Meanwhile, down in the center of the House, Chief Clerk Benjamin F. Russell was trying to call the roll.  Senate Secretary Cornelius Roach, when Senator McDavid appealed from the decision of the chair, refused to proceed until some semblance of order had been restored.  Pandemonium was on every side.

Russell finally grabbed a senate roll call and began shouting the names. It was almost impossible to hear Russell’s shouting and absolutely impossible to hear the responses, hardly any of which were made. Yet Russell proceeded with the mock roll.  Rep. Austin W. Biggs of St. Louis, Homer Mann, big Senator Baumann, and other Republicans surrounded him, fearing that the roll would be snatched by the Democrats. 

McKinley pounded the desk for order, with his gavel until he split the gavel block into four pieces. He kept shouting for decorum, and ordered the sergeant-at-arms to clear the lobby and the aisles.  He could not make any impression on the mob.  They tried force and persuasion but it was all to no purpose.  “The sergeant-at-arms will arrest every member of the assembly and take him to his seat!” shouted McKinley, but his order was ignored.  “Appoint ten sergeants-at-arms!” shouted Senator Baumann. “I will be one and I will arrest them.”

Of course, while this was going on in a crowded part of the room, there was plenty of others taking minor parts and some few members will go home with black eyes. Nor was the affair without interest to the rest of the big crowd that packed the hall. Everybody was standing up and a good many were on the desks.  Senator Nelson, having disposed of the man with the ladder, headed a small party that undertook to drag President McKinley from the chair. Republicans fought them back.

Dave Nelson in a short time became persuaded that Rep. Edward H. Bickley of St. Louis was shouting responses.  He yelled to Bickley to quit.  Bickley laughed and Nelson began running around the end of the long journal desk and up to the space behind Russell. Senator Frank Farris and Senator William R. Kinealy of St. Louis grabbed him.  He fought like a mad man, but with the assistance of others, he was quieted, while Bickley made his escape in the back of the hall. Senator Nelson of St. Louis caught Speaker Hill around the waist and attempted to drag him from the rostrum. Senator Kinealy stopped Nelson who returned to his seat.

The Nelson episode was only an incident in the rapid mock roll. The General assembly was by this time in a state of confusion…Leaders yelled “Don’t vote!  Don’t vote!”    It was disgusting to the calmer heads of the Assembly, and to none more than the President Pro Tem Emmet Fields of the Senate, who went up to the Speaker’s chair and mounted his desk.  Speaker Hill stood beside him, two big men, more than six feet tall and each weighing nearly 250 pounds.

They waved their arms up and down and tried to quiet the mob.  Russell had already finished his mock roll, putting down the Republicans as voting for Warner, and the Democrats for Cockrell.

McKinley was powerless to handle the situation and Senator Emmett B. Fields of Linn, president pro tem of the Senate, assumed the chair. He did this of his own volition and mounted the Speaker’s desk, standing on the gavel block. 

Then…Fields, Democrat, stood on the desk in front of McKinley and begged the Democrats to hear him. A big man with an imposing figure standing on the gavel block, a commanding face, Senator Fields raised his arms over the tumultuous throng.  Thus he stood for some seconds without stirring a word.  The crowd looked at him. Immediately the noise began to abate. And when it had almost ceased, Fields spoke: “I yield to none in my Democracy,” said Fields.  “Let me add that after a record of thirty years I hope that we will conduct ourselves as gentlemen of the General Assembly.  Let us proceed in order.  Let the roll be called and not a mock roll.  We can do this and complete this work as it should be done.” 

Rep. Kratt C. Spence of Stoddard stood on a desk and yelled for order until he was asked to sit down.  Then the roll was called by Senate Secretary Cornelius Roach and Chief Clerk Russell.

In the House, Bittinger and Grace refused to vote.  Dauer of St. Louis voted for Niedringhaus.  The other Kerens men and all of the Republicans who had been for other candidates voted for Warner. Senators Kinealy, Kinney, and Nelson, Representatives John Hennessy and Michael F. Keenoy of St. Louis, all Democrats, voted for Niedringhaus.  This was a filibuster scheme to stem the tide. But it was of no avail.

The Niedringhaus Senators voted to a man for Warner.  (Democrat) Senators Thomas Kinney and Nelson of St. Louis tried to keep up the courage of the Niedringhaus men by voting for the Republican nominee.  “He has been my friend for fifteen years.” Said Kinney. “It is the first time I have ever voted for a Republican.” 

Senators Michael F. Keeney and John M. Hennessey, Jr., of the Fourth ward followed Kinney’s lead.  Rep. James C. Gillespy of Boone voted for William H. Wallace of Kansas City.  All of them changed their votes before the ballot was announced.  Of the Republicans, Dauer of St. Louis voted for Niedringhaus and refused to change his vote.

Rep. Grace of St. Louis, an original Kerens man and bolter, who had declared on his first vote to-day that he would stay with Kerens “until hell froze over and then stand on the ice,” changed to Warner.  It made the vote Warner 91, Cockrell 83, Niedringhaus 1. Absent: Rep. Thomas L. Viles of Stone.

It was just 10 minutes to 3 o’clock when Major Warner was declared elected. Senator John F. Morton of Ray secured recognition and said, “I wish every Democrat in Missouri could have been here to-day and witnessed these scenes.  They have been a disgrace to the State and like results at another general election will produce the same sort of scenes.  I move that this joint Assembly do not dissolve.”

Before the motion was put, Grace of St. Louis moved three cheers for Kerens.  Rep. James H. Whitecotton of Monroe followed for Cockrell.  Hill for Warner and Thomson for Niedringhaus.  All were given a vim and the joint session stood dissolved.

Even the yelling during the rough house and the cheers that went when Maj. Warner’s selection was announced did not equal the noise made this time.  Members tore their bill files apart and fluttering bills filled the air like huge snowflakes. 

As the members filed out the sound of a cannon shot was heard.  It was Col. Fred Buehrle firing a salute from one of the cannons on the capitol lawn for the new senator from Missouri.

Warner issued a statement a short time later he said, “I shall go into office with but one pledge—and that to the people. Their interests shall never be subservient to the interests of the party.  In politics I am a stalwart Republican and an admirer of the personality of President Roosevelt, so far as it is announced.  It will be my aim to build up the party and to eliminate factions.  I have never kept books on politics and am too old to begin now….there will be no kitchen cabinet between me and the citizens.”

The next day, several visitors dropped in on Warner at his Kansas City home.  He laughed when some his guests told how the House clock was destroyed, especially when some of his Republican friends suggested they buy the broken clock and give it to him as a souvenir.

Newspaper headlines reflected the chaos of that day. “Wildest Disorder…Physical violence resorted to,” said the Post-Dispatch. Which headlined another story with “Scene of Turmoil and Disorder Unprecedented in the History of the State’s Legislature.” The St. Louis Star referred to a “Scene of Wildest Excitement.”  The Burlington Hawkeye in Iowa called it an “uproar.”  The Galveston Daily News, from Texas said “Disgraceful Rioting Scene” in its headline.  The St. Louis Republic told readers, “Major Warner Elected Senator as Republicans Riot on Floor.”

Senator Cockrell took the news of the final result calmly.  A few days later he went to work at the Interstate Commerce Commission under an appointment from President Theodore Roosevelt.  He became part of a commission in 1911 to negotiate the boundary between the state of Texas and the Territory of New Mexico.  President Wilson named him to the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications for the War Department, a position he was holding when he died at the age of 81 in 1915.

Senator Warner served only one term. He returned to his law practice in Kansas City, became a member of the Board of Managers for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and also served on the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications as a civilian. He was 76 when he died October 4, 1916.  He was succeeded by James A. Reed, the last U. S. Senator from Missouri elected by the legislature.

Richard C. Kerens, who had been a contractor for the Overland Mail before moving to St. Louis, where he was involved in railroad construction, became the American Ambassador to Austria-Hungary 1909-1913, a year before the event that began World War I.  He died exactly one month before Warner, September 4, 1916.

Thomas K. Niedringhaus continued to be a prominent businessman in St. Louis and a prominent figure in St. Louis Republican politics until his death October 26, 1924 at 64.

The Kansas City Star editorialized during the long struggle that Missouri had become a “powerful object lesson in favor of the popular election of United States Senators.”  The newspaper felt the campaign “has proved that men who are good lawmakers are utterly incapable as senatorial electors.”  The Star called on the state to enact its own popular election law because Congress was not likely to change the federal Constitution in the foreseeable future “to make impossible another fiasco like that which has this year brought discredit and humiliation to the state.”

On March 7, 1913, Missouri became the thirtieth state to ratify the federal amendment allowing citizens to elect their U.S. Senators.  William Joel Stone became the first popularly-elected Senator in 1914.  He died before his term was completed and Xenophon Pierce Wilfley was appointed to take his place. Wilfley lost a primary election to finish the Stone term to former Governor Joseph Folk who then lost to Judge Selden Spencer, who served until his death in 1925.

Today, Claire McCaskill serves in the “riot seat” seat once held by Senators Cockrell and Warner.  Roy Blunt traces his line in the Senate back to Stone, Wilfley, and Spencer.

The Missouri Capitol, where all of these events happened, was destroyed by fire on February 5, 1911.  A new capitol was built 1913-1917.

March 16, 1917 marked the centennial of the legislature meeting for one day in the still-uncompleted building, so members not coming back in two years could say they had served in the new capitol.  The first full legislative session in the new capitol began in January,1919.

In the entire history of the present capitol, nothing has matched that March day in 1905.

 

Day at the Capitol

This is the time of year when walking to and from meetings in the Capitol becomes a wading exercise.  Through pudding, it feels like sometimes. Hundreds of school kids, usually fourth-graders, are joined by hundreds of groups of adults whose organization is having their annual “Day at the Capitol,” and they are mixing with the dozens of regular denizens of the halls—lobbyists, regular tourists, regular visitors, about 200 people who are members of the legislature trying to get to this or that meeting, state agency folks who are keeping an eye on their budgets and legislation affecting what their agencies do, and lawmakers’ staff members who are trying to scurry (as much as one can scurry through crowd-pudding) hither and yon to meet the needs of their lawmaker bosses.  

It is, at the most basic level, Democracy, the freedom of the people to interact in one form or another with those who shape the laws and policies under which they live or will live.

Every now and then when your observer was in the middle of those daily hallway swarms, he would step to the side and just watch.  It’s really interesting, especially for someone who moves easily through those hallways and into and out of those rooms and offices every day to watch and listen to the folks who are there for one day a year—and maybe one day in their lifetimes—and see how they react to the things that are so familiar to the daily regulars.  It’s probably uncomplimentary to say “watch the show” because that downplays the earnestness of the participants.  To them, the lawmakers and others that the regulars see as other participants in a familiar system are something bigger.  They get to go into the office of Senator Blurt or Representative Furd!   And if they’re lucky, they might get to exchange a few words with that person and give him or her a brochure or a fact sheet about their organization or their cause.  Otherwise, they leave the material with a kindly secretary or staff member who assures them the material will be passed along.  

Days at the Capitol are opportunities for individual citizens to feel like important individual cogs in the great wheel of government.  One of our system’s most cherished values is the ability of the citizen to speak to their representatives and these Days see the fulfillment of that value.

If you experience many of these events, you’ll see people clutching lists of legislators and their office numbers, walking—but not confidently striding—toward those offices to leave their message.  If their lawmaker is there and has a few seconds to meet them personally, it’s a tremendous bonus.  They go home and they can tell friends they actually met Blurt and Furd and, you know, they seemed like nice people.     

Most of them ARE nice people. Why is it that when somebody says they met this or that prominent person, the first question is always, “What were they like?”  And why is it some kind of revelation that prominent people are mostly just people?

Here’s a truth about Days at the Capitol, told as gently as we can tell it.   Dozens of organizations haul hundreds of people to the Capitol every year to visit lawmakers’ offices and ask for their support or opposition to whatever issue that concerns the group.   The groups are usually there for that one day and then they go home. 

We’ve often thought that one drop-in visit by a constituent on one of these Days carries limited weight because there are so many of these drop-ins each session.  It’s important for the constituents to feel good because they’ve been to the Capitol and they have spread the word on their issues.  And they do feel good. But they need to do more than ride the bus in and ride the bus back home.  They need to stay in touch, to go to local town hall meetings, to keep writing, to watch for their lawmaker in the grocery store or at the local basketball game or at the tire shop, and courteously get some face time to talk about the issues.  That’s when the lawmaker is really real folks talking to other real folks.   That’s where things can be discussed and understood.  That’s where the citizen in the crowded hallway becomes most effective. 

A Day at the Capitol is just one day.  It’s good to remember there are 364 or 365 other days that have value, too. 

                                                        

 

 

To set the record straight

For years, there have been incorrect stories told about the original name of Jefferson City, the capital city of Missouri.   Our research has confirmed the original name of Jefferson City was:

                               The City of Jefferson.

Not Howard’s Bluff.  Not Lohman’s Landing.  We’re not sure where those ideas originated but they are not true. 

When Missouri became a state, Congress passed a law giving the state four sections of land on which to locate the permanent seat of government, the temporary seat being in St. Charles where you can visit the building that was the first state capitol.   The legislature appointed commissioners to select a location that was on the Missouri River within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage River, as specified in state law.

The commissioners looked at three sites: Cote Sans Dessein, a French village located in then-Montgomery, now Callaway, County; Howard’s Bluff in Moniteau County; and an unnamed area that was available but was considered a poor possible site because the land was not good for farming.   Cote Sans Dessein, across the river from the Osage River mouth, was favored by the commissioners but rejected by the legislature because of questionable land ownership caused by significant land speculation. 

The second site, Howard’s Bluff, was about where the community of Marion is in western Cole County. It was Cole County’s first county seat before the western half of Cole County became Moniteau County. That area, however, already had settlers on it with legitimate land claims.  So it was out.   

That left the least acceptable site.  When the legislature ordered a town be laid out there, it said in the law that the town would be named the City of Jefferson. There were only two or three cabins in that area at the time.  

We came across a map in an 1823 Gazeteer of Illinois and Missouri that pretty clearly shows Howard’s Bluff was not the original name of the City of Jefferson.

 

As far as Lohman’s Landing is concerned—-the Lohman family wasn’t among the early settlers of Jefferson City and did not become a prominent name in the town until it bought what had been known as Jefferson Landing in the early 1850s. By then the City of Jefferson had been in existence for a quarter-century. 

By then Cote Sans Dessein had been washed away by the Missouri River.  By then, Moniteau County had been split away from Cole and the county seat had shifted to the City of Jefferson and Marion today is mostly an access point to the river.

Jefferson City wasn’t much of a city when the seat of government moved to it—only about thirty families.  It survived several political and legal attempts to move the seat of government or to claim the community for private ownership.  But it is still what it was designated to be in 1822—the City of Jefferson, the permanent seat of state government. 

Just had to get this off the chest after running across the Howard’s Bluff/Lohman’s Landing thing too many times in recent days. 

The press gang

The Capitol Press Corps swells when the legislature is in session when news organizations that cover government from a distance the rest of the year reopen their press rooms on the fifth floor for the duration or add employees at the capitol or a few months. In the off-session times, the on-site “gang” is smaller.

We use the word “gang” because the headline for this column is the same headline used by the Cole County Democrat, a weekly version of the daily Democrat, on January 3, 1907 when it told readers about the reporters who were arriving in town for the session that year.  The article was written, of course, by a member of the press corps, probably the guy from the Post whose name does not appear on the list, and it is clear there was good-natured camaraderie involved in what was then a pretty competitive bunch.  But the days of two-newspaper towns are pretty much gone—Columbia being the only one in Missouri that comes to mind.

This, though, is the “press gang” of 1907 as the article put it:

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As usual the best newspaper men in the State are here to cover the legislature.  They are selected because excellent qualifications are required for the positions.  Men who have been tried and not found wanting—men who never betray a confidence and above all tell the truth.

The Star and Times of Kansas city will be represented by Walter Evans, who with the probable exception of Charlie Oldham of this city, is the best posted man in the state on Missouri politics.  He will be assisted by Claud Johnson, a very clever writer, but not well posted in politics.

The Kansas City Post will be represented by Will Williams, a most capable man, who represented the St. Joseph Gazette at the last session.  Harry Edwards of this city will represent the Kansas City Journal. His ability as a writer needs no comment, as it is well known here. The St. Joseph News-Press will again be represented by the “Kid” reporter, but as he is young in years so he is old in experience and that is Bert G. Voorhees. This is the third general assembly that Voorhees has covered for the St. Joseph News-Press, which in itself stamps him as a most excellent reporter.

Rev. Ben Deering represents the St. Joseph Gazette this year.

Jos. J. McAuliffe will, of course, represent the Post-Dispatch. Joe is one of the newspaper men who has the happy faculty of both getting the news and writing.  Joe has been coming here to legislatures and on special work for the Lord only knows how long, and each time he comes he makes more friends and “binds those he has with bands of steel.”  He will be assisted by Curtis Betts, who has lived with us long enough for us to be glad he is here and to hope that he shall always live in Jefferson City.

The Star Chronicle will be represented by W. H. Quigley, who made a name for himself two years ago by his energies and reliable work on the St. Louis Chronicle, while the St. Louis Globe-Democrat will be represented by our own Sam Kellar, the immortal “S. K.” Nuf said.

The Republic will be represented by Chas. B. Oldham, who knows more politicians and political stories than any other writer in Missouri.  Tom Masterson said to be one of the police reporters in St. Louis will be associated with Mr. Oldham in the Republic work.

These men and the members of the legislature are to be our guests for the winter; let’s show them a good time.

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We don’t know if Ben Deering really was a minister although there are some contemporary accounts from that era of a minister by that name in St. Louis and in Indiana.

Joseph McAuliffe is the reporter who stirred up the great legislative Baking Powder Scandal of 1903 that forced a Lieutenant Governor out of office and led to the indictments of four state senators for bribery.

A photograph in the press room showing Governor Donnelly meeting with the press corps in his office (this was before Warren Hearnes turned the Governor’s Waiting Room into The Office) includes Curtis Betts, still on the job in about 1947.  Also in the picture, by the way, is Bob Holliway, who arrived on the scene a few years after this 1907 article was written, and who spent time in the Cole County jail in 1917 when he would not reveal who on a county grand jury had told him a series of indictments would be issued against the former Commissioner of the Permanent Seat of Government (the equivalent of today’s Commissioner of Administration) who was indicted but never convicted for selling state-owned coal to other state officials or private citizens.

Today’s press corps is far different but no less committed than these jolly fellows of 1907 to telling readers, viewers, and listeners important things those citizens should know about what their elected legislators and state officials are up to. It’s a harder job than it was then because of the pressures technology puts on them in the form of constant minute-by-minute deadlines. And today, as then, some of the things they write are resented by those they write about—although their stories are unlikely to land them in jail. But the press corps remains an important link between citizens and those they elect to make the laws and regulations. It’s too bad there aren’t more of them.

Rookie camp

Newly-elected state representatives have finished a week of rookie camp.  There’s a more formal name for it, but that’s what it is—a week getting to know state institutions and facilities, names and places, finding out where their offices are and where the bathrooms are in the capitol, learning the protocols of being a state rep including how to address one another during debate, how to introduce legislation, and who are some of the people in the hallways who will be their new best friends.

The House has asked your correspondent to come in at the end of rookie camp and talk about the capitol press corps and their relationship to it, the history of the capitol and the legislature, and to admonish these new folks to do nothing that would embarrass themselves, the legislature, or their families back home while they’re serving.

Afterwards we split the group into two segments for behind the scenes tours.  Dana Miller, the Assistant Chief Clerk of the House (also Chairman of the State Capitol Commission) took one group and I took the other, then we switched.  She led her group through some of the hidden spaces of the building and I took my group into the public areas.

The tours gave both of us a chance to talk about the condition of the Capitol—and there’s a lot to talk about these days.  More than a year ago the legislature set aside forty million borrowed dollars to make long-delayed repairs to critical parts of the building’s substructure. The first part of that work was completed during rookie camp, the rebuilding of the south front steps, the east steps, the terraces and the carriage entrance.  For years water has leaked through increasingly chipped steps into the Capitol basement, weakening the entire area and contributing to mold problems in the basement where a lot of people work, eat, and hold hearings.  Several other much-needed repairs also have been made.

Next summer will see the start of phase two that will include repairs to the building’s exterior stone work, rebuilding the plaza on the river side of the building, repairs to the Fountain of the Centaurs, and more terrace work.

My part of the tour involved showing the folks some of the architectural features and decorations on the interior.  While the exterior of the building is getting the repairs and restorations it deserves, the interior continues to deteriorate.  We looked at several places of peeling paint, unrestored paintings by great artists, and poorly-lighted areas that keep visitors from enjoying and learning Missouri history from the artwork that makes our capitol unique.  We talked about the plans that began almost two decades ago to restore the interior of the building, plans that were stopped with the terrorist attacks in 2001 that forced diversion of the millions of dollars set aside for that work to make up for state government’s revenue loss in the wake of the economic drop after the attacks.

It’s hard to know where the restoration of our state’s greatest symbol will go next as it moves through its centennial era to the 100th anniversary of its dedication in 2024.  The bonding money will be used up by the second phase of superstructure work. The state budget is unlikely to grow, or grow very much, in coming years because of the current tax structure while financial demands for basic services and operations are expected to keep growing.  Given priorities such as education, health, mental health, prisons, and social services, it’s hard to think there will be much left over to make the inside of the Missouri Capitol the jewel its designers and builders wanted it to be.

The new people that voters elected to represent them in the legislature got a taste of the enormity of their obligations, possibilities, and responsibilities—as well as the possible pitfalls that await them—during rookie camp.

It has dawned on this observer that he covered his first story in the capitol in 1967, fifty years after the ancestors of today’s legislators held a one-day meeting in the unfinished House and Senate chambers so lawmakers who would not be back for the next session two years later could say they had served in the new capitol.  That means that I have covered and watched people like these rookies for half of the building’s history.  So I took the liberty to sermonize:

State capitols are intended to be grand representations of the greatness of their states. They are intended to be inspirations to citizens, statements of democracy, and symbols of the permanence, the stability, and the power of a state to care for and to protect its people.  The very motto of our state is carved in Latin on the south front: “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.”  Not a few people.  ALL of the people.

Understanding that you are here to protect and care for ALL of the people, not just the powerful few who have the capacity to make you feel important will be one of your greatest challenges.

It is easy to speak in phrases of nobility and inspiration, statements of democracy and so forth because it is always easier to speak of nobility and dignity and greatness than it is to recognize shortcomings, deterioration, and decay.

So I urge you to see your capitol in its entirety and be unafraid to acknowledge that it suffers from inattention; that it is easy to say, “My office is fine” while ignoring a cracked column at the top, the quick and easy slathering-on of coat after coat of paint that covers problems but robs the building of its beauty and character, to ignore the cracked and peeling paint, the mold and leakage problems in the basement.  Notice your capitol and reflect on what else it says about government’s attitude toward its people—and whether you will spend your career just slathering on a coat of paint that covers, but will not solve, problems and masks a dingy reality that is easily ignored.  For in truth, this building also represents Missouri in ways too many choose to ignore.  Its deteriorating structure, its peeling paint, and its unrestored great works of art carry a message of needs unmet, problems uncorrected, responsibilities avoided, and obligations covered over. 

So welcome to OUR capitol.  But it is YOUR responsibility.  And it is not just the capitol; it is the entire state that is your responsibility.

There will be thirty-nine new members of the House and one person in the Senate who has not served in the legislature before when the General Assembly convenes under new state leadership in a few days.  While some see glasses half empty, we choose to see them half full—of opportunities that come with the fresh eyes of those who went through legislative rookie camp and those who are still going through their own rookie camps called transition.

So we lift our half-full glass.  Here’s to the rookies!

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.

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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.

 

 

Capitol credits

If politicians weren’t so self-contradictory, political reporters would have no fun at all.  Saying one thing and doing another, saying different things in different places, taking positions that seem opposite from similar positions provide fodder for those in the press or in the citizenry at large who hope for stability in the political system, particularly stability based on the highest ideals of service to all of the people.  That’s an awfully high bar and probably an unrealistic one but without expecting the highest levels of commitment and service, the alternative can too easily become  the lowest level of results.

The leader of the Missouri Senate, Senator Ron Richard, loves the Capitol.  Even before he became Speaker of the House in 2009, Richard was aware of the building’s deteriorating condition and was looking for a way to restore and maintain the state’s greatest symbol.  We talked during his time as Speaker of his hopes to establish an endowment program, an idea that was worthy but not likely to attract the kind of money that, instead, flows too easily to those who want to hold office in that building.

But what a wonderful thing that would be!   Imagine the endowment that could be established if, say, Rex Sinquefield and the Humphreys family—two entities that throw millions of dollars at candidates every election cycle—would make the same kind of commitment to the Capitol in just one off-year.  It’s not fair to single them out so imagine the endowment that could be created if all of the other special interests and individuals who underwrite campaigns wrote comparable checks to the Capitol endowment fund just once.

But that’s one of the contradictions of our political system.  Restoring and maintaining the building where policy is enacted is always going to be much less important than influencing the people who enact the policies and maintaining that influence.   What value is there in making sure the state’s most powerful symbol of democracy crumbles when money can be better invested in making sure democracy itself, as an institution for the benefit of all, crumbles in the face of protection for the few?

Senator Richard thinks he finally has found a lever that can move his idea for restoring and preserving the State Capitol.  A tax credit program.

About fifty million dollars is being spent fixing some horrible leaks under the south front Capitol stairs.  The water running into basement spaces is causing numerous problems for those who work or store things there.   The money is provided by a bond issue and is therefore limited and has to be paid back out of the general tax collections.  Richard’s plan would provide some ongoing funding without lowering the amount available to pay for state operations.

Richard proposes changes to the present Historic Preservation Tax Credit program that’s important in communities throughout the state.  Some of Richard’s conservative legislative colleagues have a low opinion of them regardless of the value they have to their home towns.  He suggests reducing the historic tax credits by ten million dollars and shifting twenty million dollars into a special fund that could be grown to restore, repair, and maintain the Capitol.

It’s kind of complicated but some of the proceeds from the program would be spent to solicit donations into the Capitol endowment fund.  He thinks his plan would encourage people and trusts and foundations to contribute to the fund, which also would support ongoing needs of the Executive Mansion, the Transportation Department building—which the legislature wants to take over as a Capitol office annex—and, maybe, the Supreme Court Building.

A Senate committee has held a hearing on Richard’s proposal to give it a first public airing.  Richard knows the idea won’t go anywhere this year but he’s gotten it on the table and hopes it can be passed next year.  Some fine-tuning is likely because it seems to raise some concerns in the local historic preservation movement.

But it’s a good start for a proposal to preserve a symbol of the best that Missouri can be.

It’s interesting that Senator Richard wants to raise millions of dollars to preserve and protect the Capitol at the same time he is insisting the Senate spend thousands and thousands of dollars to tear up one of the architectural treasures of the building—the Senate visitors’ gallery—so he can kick the press off of the floor of the Senate where they have sat at a table since the building was brand new, all because of a complaint that grows more petty with the passage of time.

Contradictions.  Reporters love them.  In this case, though, it appears that those who live by the contradiction will suffer by one of them.   Too bad the money earmarked for the effort against legislative reporters couldn’t be invested, instead, in Richard’s more praiseworthy effort to preserve and protect the building—including preserving the Senate visitor’s gallery.

Notes from a quiet street

(The second  of 2016’s random observations far from the front lines of our past, and not worthy of full bloghood).

He was talking about the special interests that influence government, including banks and protected industries.

We want prosperity, but not at the expense of liberty.

Poverty is not as great a danger to liberty as wealth, with its corrupting, demoralizing influences.  Suppose all the influences I have just reviewed were to take their hands off instead of supporting the Republican Party, would it have a ghost of a chance of success?

Let us have prosperity, but never at the expense of liberty, never at the expense of self-government, and let us never have a government…owing its retention to the power of the millionaires rather than the will of the millions.” 

That’s not Democratic Party rhetoric this year.  It’s from a speech given by Joseph Pulitzer in Indianapolis in 1880.

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We got a press release from the St. Louis Archdiocese a few days ago announcing churches throughout the Archdiocese would be taking part in a “Reconciliation Initiative” March 4-5.  The press release arrived about a week after the Bishop said churches should consider dropping sponsorship of the Girl Scouts because the Scouts might lead girls to think of things beyond what the church thinks they should think.

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Nancy’s downstairs listening to the John Denver Channel on Pandora. It’s an internet site that plays whatever music you want to hear.  John Denver would be 72 years old now.  He died more than eighteen years ago.  72.  Kind of hard to envision.  But then James Taylor turned 68 a few days ago and still sounds like James Taylor is supposed to sound.  But still, John Denver would be 72—-

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A sample of legislative efficiency:  The state senate has restored the chamber’s mezzanine beautifully.  But to do it, it had to destroy the offices of its senate information staff.  It moved them into a first-floor hearing room for a while, then into some vacant space in the capitol basement.  Then it moved the capitol press corps out of its spaces on the first floor across the hall from the hearing room up to some offices on the fifth floor that are not handicapped accessible. Then it moved its information staff from the basement into the spaces on the first floor that the press had occupied.  Wonder if it ever occurred to the senate to just move its information people into the fifth floor offices to begin with and save a bunch of effort and hassle.

And now it’s spending more money on another move—getting rid of those pesky reporters at the press table on the senate floor because one of them reportedly (an appropriate word in this instance) did his job by tweeting that the senate leader had told a senator who had been presiding that he should have brought Senator Brian Nieves under control when Nieves went off on one of his embarrassing tirades.  The senate is spending still more moving money to turn an area that has been for public visitors for the last 96 years into a place for people who apparently have been illegal aliens on the senate floor in this capitol—as well as the one built in the 19th century.

We are sure the Senate will give the taxpayers it so aggressively wants to protect a complete final report to the public about how much it has spent, total, to move all these people from top to bottom to top in the Capitol.

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Another example of efficient thinking: Had to get a new computer monitor the other day.  Got one of those 23-inchers (so maybe there will be fewer typos in these entries since the letters are bigger).  Once again, a piece of equipment treated the purchaser like an idiot.  Remember owner’s manuals?  Remember you used to be have directions to things that you could READ?  The box lid for this thing had some drawings that were useful only because this user had hooked up a monitor before.  One drawing appeared to show an “on” switch, which was fine except the screen was still black when a little blue light came on on the front panel.  Inside a plastic bag were some booklets.  Directions?  Oh, no.  Warranties written in most of the world’s known languages.  The user’s manual was on an enclosed disc.   Great.  Except if the monitor is only a black screen, what in Heaven’s name is the user supposed to use to read the directions that tell him how to make the monitor not black?

This user thinks he has been insulted. A person smart enough to have a computer apparently is not smart enough to read an instruction manual on  hooking up the monitor unless he is smart enough to hook up the monitor  so he can see images of the manual. Obviously because you are reading this, the problem got solved, no thanks to the drawings, so the disc with the users’ manual on it is not needed.

Now that the monitor is working, it’s time to plan to do some other things that make about as much sense: check the stock market, make some airline reservations, buy a tankful of gas for the car, wait for the House to rationalize passage of the Wesboro Amendment……

 

Correction

Your correspondent was awakened far too early this morning with the thought that he had made a grievous error in criticizing the leader of the Missouri Senate in yesterday’s entry for his effort to kick former colleagues in the press corps out of the historic press table on the Senate floor.  

We regret that error.

In these pre-dawn hours, as we type this, we realize there are TEN chairs at the press table, not eight as we said.  That lowers the cost of the move from the $16,000 per chair that we mentioned yesterday to only $12,700 per chair.  

And it follows that we would commend the Senate leaders for delaying the move to avoid overtime costs that would have made the price for each chair $17,100 instead of the $20,000 that we mentioned. 

And in all honesty, our mention of the Pentagon’s $700 toilet seat in the 1980s also was an unfair comparison.  We checked with the Federal Reserve System and the Fed calculates $700 in 1980 is equivalent to $2010.44 today, so the toilet seat-to-press corps chair cost is not as excessive as we portrayed yesterday. 

But our early-morning conscience, which forced the publication of this correction, wonders what kind of new chairs our former colleagues will get for $12,700.  For that price, one might expect a leather upholstered recliner with cupholders, a warming system, and maybe a therapeutic massage feature.   

We apologize to the Senate leadership for our miscalculation