Story-tellin’

One of the great things about being a journalist is the stories people tell you, often stories that aren’t exactly “news,” but are interesting enough that you file them away to tell to others later. In my case, I used to have in the newsroom several boxes carrying the ghoulish label, “Prospective Death Box.”  Through the years my staff and I put recordings of interviews, speeches, and events into that box so we would dig them out and play parts of them back in our coverage of the death of a prominent person or the anniversary of an important event.

Some of those recordings are, as far as I know, the only preserved telling of a story, the only known recording of an event, the only sample of someone’s now-stilled voice.

One of those recordings is of the only man ever to serve three terms as State Treasurer.  He did it in the days when the Treasurer could not succeed himself, which makes his service even more remarkable.

M. E. Morris was a Dadeville native—southwest Missouri’s Dade County—who founded in 1928 the People’s Bank in Miller. He was elected to the Missouri House for the first of his two terms in 1932, after which he became the CEO of the Trenton National Bank. He left the bank in 1945 to become Commissioner of the state Division of Finance.

When the 1945 Constitution created a new agency for collecting taxes, the Department of Revenue, Morris became the first Director of Revenue for Missouri, serving under Governor Phil Donnelly.  This was in the days when Governors could not succeed themselves and therefore keep patronage-appointed department heads so when Donnelly left office, Morris ran for and was elected State Treasurer for the first time.  He could not succeed himself but fortunately Donnelly decided he wanted to be Governor again, so when Donnelly became Governor a second time, Morris became Revenue Director again.  When  Donnelly’s second term ended, Morris ran for Treasurer and won a second term.  The Revenue Director while Morris was in his second term was Milton Carpenter who became the state Treasurer in 1961, at which point, Morris replaced Carpenter as Revenue Director under Governor John Dalton.  When Carpenter’s term ran out, Morris ran again, and won a third term as state treasurer.

He retired from state government after almost 25 years as either revenue director or state treasurer, a pretty remarkable career that few people recognize.

Name recognition is important in politics and M. E. Morris felt he had a leg up on any candidate.   Although known as M. E. to the press, and “Monty” to friends, his real name, you see, was MOUNT ETNA Morris.

On March 23, 1984, a little more than four years before he died, I went to his home in Jefferson City to interview him for my book about Thomas Hart Benton.  The interview was pretty frustrating because Morris had little information to offer and furthermore spoke in a slow, low, halting voice and provided no useful details.  At the end, however, I asked him to explain how he got the name “Mount Etna.”  I listened back and transcribed it. And here, from his lips to my ears, from my keyboard to your eyes, is what he told me:

“Seems there was a Welsh captain on a ship, sailing ship, of course, back in the Mediterranean back in the old days, and he was off the coast of Sicily.  A storm came up and he was about to lose his ship, did lose his bearings.  Mount Etna was in eruption at that time, there on the coast of Sicily there.  So he got his bearings from the stream of lava flying up over there.  Got his bearings and saved his ship.  So when he got back home, his first boy baby, he named him Mount Etna.  That name has been in our family for many years.

“And I know about four or five Mount Etna Morrises are buried in south Missouri there.  That’s where they finally hung up.  In fact I sent a check this morning to the old Morris Cemetery down in the county just this morning.  They’re getting ready for Decoration Day down there. 

“My grandmother’s name was Mount Etna Morris.  That’s where the name originated.  It’s a good story.  And as far as I know it’s a true story because there’s been some Mount Etna Morrises in the past.  I know where four of them are buried. 

“I told that story many times in campaign speeches just so they would remember it.”  

Let’s face it, if you’re a voter and you go into the booth aren’t you more likely to remember a man named for a volcano than somebody named Smith, Or Jones, or whatever?

Mr. Morris died in 1988, at the age of 87.  I doubt there are many recordings of his voice, let along many, or any other, recordings of the story of his name.

I intend to donate these recordings to the audio history collection of the State Historical Society.

———————–

As I was writing the book about the art of the Capitol, it dawned on me late in the process that I had not written about the three paintings in the Senate Lounge of Senators A. Clifford Jones, Richard Webster, and Michael Kinney.  In writing the story of Kinney, I recalled that I had on tape a fascinating story about him that Webster had told me.

Michael Kinney served 56 years in the state senate, longer than any legislator in the nation served in one chamber of any state legislature.  He was a Democrat from the rough and tumble “Kerry Patch” Irish neighborhood of St. Louis once dominated by two Irish gangs, the Hogans and Egan’s Rats, a group that’s been described as “the first full-time gangsters to make regular headlines.”   He succeeded his brother, Thomas, an Irish tavern-keeper known as “Snake,” who handled the political issues for the gang before he died in 1912 during his second term in the Senate.

Michael served until he lost a primary bid for re-election in 1968.  He seldom spoke in the Senate and when he did his voice was so soft that many of his colleagues could not hear him in those days before there was a public address system. But his seniority and his knowledge of Senate procedure gave him great power throughout his career.

He sponsored many bills that became laws in his career, the one that is his most visible legacy being the one that created the state cancer hospital in Columbia.  For most of three decades he was part of a Senate triumvirate that exerted enormous influence.  He, Senators Michael E. Casey of Kansas City, who served from 1909-1944 after serving six years in the House, and Senator Joseph Brogan of St. Louis, who was in the Senate from 1909 until his death in 1940, were Presidents pro Tem four times among them and chaired powerful committees throughout their careers.  The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said Casey “was the spellbinder of the group…Brogan..was the witty, nimble floor fighter, while Senator Kinney was the subtle, behind-the-scenes diplomat, string-puller and compromiser.”

Senator Webster, who was from Carthage, was in the House before moving across the rotunda to the other chamber.  He remembered when he and Kinney were on a conference committee of House and Senate members working on a compromise of a bill that had passed both chambers in different form and Webster—then in the House—was complaining about Governor Forrest Smith.  Kinney told him, “I’ve told every House member and every Senate member that’s arrived on the scene and got mad at whoever the Governor was, ‘He’s just a Governor.  Those fellows come and go.’”

Webster remembered that Kinney sat on a high stool in his office at 7 a.m. each day of the legislative session, stripped to his waist with a table cloth wrapped around his neck while his grandson-in-law, State Auditor Haskell Holman, shave him.  Kinney sat with his back to the open door.

“If you looked, you’d see a bullet hole in his back, “Webster told me.  It was a scar that Webster said remained from an assassination attempt during an Irish gang war.  Kinney was shot four times—in the chest, both arms, and in the jaw—in 1924.  He later identified a police photograph of a recaptured escaped mental patient as the man who shot him.  But there was considerable doubt even then that Kinney told the truth.  Although suspicions lingered for decades that his near-assassination was part of the heated rivalry between the Rats, of which Kinney remained a part, and the rival Hogans, Kinney never commented about the issue publicly.” 

Privately, though, according to Webster, he did talk about it.  And Webster told me about one of those conversations in the privacy of Kinney’s office.

“Someone would say, ‘Senator, do you remember a fellow named Jimmy O’Brien?’  And he would say, ‘Jimmy O’Brien.  He was a nice fellow.  Whatever happened to him?’”

“Well, what had happened to him was that Mike Kinney could never identify his assailant although his assailant was about three or four feet from him when he fired the shot.  But a month later, Jimmy O’Brien did rise to the surface of the Mississippi River.”   

There is, as far as I know, no other telling of that story except for the version Richard Webster related on tape to me that day.

Another case of the journalist collecting the first draft of history.

——————

I have in my tape library several hours of Senate floor debate in which one of the greatest Ozark story tellers ever to serve in the legislature embarked on some of his long, windy expositions on some subject that might or might not be related to the issue at hand.  There is no doubt that many of the stories Danny Staples told were pure fabrications or old jokes recycled for the moment.  But many of his stories came straight from his early life as the son of a grocery-store owner in rural southeast Missouri.

In March, 2002, the Senate was working on an election reform bill triggered by some of the big problems at the polls in St. Louis in 2000.  Staples launched into a story that was not particularly original except in the telling.

“I’m not going to say what country it was because I don’t think the statute of limitations have run out yet. But I can remember full well an old boy that was a sheriff down in one of the southeast counties.  And this young, handsome, debonair, good-lookin’ candidate was running against the incumbent state senator down there.  And the old retired official down there had named his successor and they came in and they both liked this young, handsome, debonair good-lookin’ fellow that was running the incumbent.

“One night it was raining, two days before the election, and the old man and the boy, his protégé, were out in one of those famous Civil War cemeteries down there in southeast Missouri.  One of them had a flashlight; the other one had a legal pad and a pen. And they were taking names off the Civil War cemetery headstones, been there since 1865.

“They were voting absentee ballots for this young, handsome, debonair challenger of this old retiring state senator. 

“And…the old official that was retiring had the flashlight and he was looking at a headstone there in the middle of the night and it was weather-beaten; it was worn from the hail, from the wind, from freezing rain, and the atmosphere.  And the young official that replaced the old official looked at him and said, ‘Hey. Pop, we can’t get the name off this headstone.  It’s been worn out. It’s no longer legible.  Let’s move over to the next one.’  The old man looked at the boy, and he says, ‘Cubby, this man has got just as much right to vote as this man.’’   

“That’s the way you run an honest election.”

Staples told the Senate after that, “You don’t need laws on the books to protect the innocent.  We only need laws on the books to protect those that would be corrupt and greedy and grafty in the greatest society in the world, and that’s the electoral process.”  I have read the transcript of that remark time and again and I’ll be darned if I can figure out the logic in it.

Staples usually tipped off his storytelling by asking a Senator who was handling a bill, ‘Would be interested to know, Senator….” Even if the Senator was NOT interested, Staples would proceed to inform him—and everybody else.

He decided to tell another story during this particular debate but the other senator—Doyle Childers who later became director of the Department of Natural Resources under Matt Blunt—answered “No, Senator, at this moment I’m not interested to know that, but thank you Senator.” At which point Staples stopped trying to debate and just asked to speak on the bill.

“Mr. President, it comes to my remembrance and my recollection now that they had another election in southeast Missouri…One day down in southeast Missouri, the day after the election, this man about fifty years old was sitting on the courthouse steps.  He was crying.  Tears rolling down his face.  A business partner of his walked by and he said, ‘What’s wrong?  Has there been a tragedy?’  He said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Yesterday was election day.’  He said, ‘My daddy’s been dead for nine years.  He come home and voted yesterday, didn’t even stop to see momma and I.’” 

(The Senate dissolved into laughter for several seconds on both sides of the aisle.)..

Staples went on:  “Now, I’ve won ten elections and lost one.  There was never voter fraud in the 20th Senatorial District.  Oh, sometimes we Democrats voted on Tuesday, sent out a press release, the Republicans would vote on Wednesday.  But the polls weren’t open on Wednesday as you well know. So the Democrats always won.”

Term limits finally got Danny Staples—one of the many egregious shortcomings of that misguided concept that relies on public apathy and civic irresponsibility for its support—after twenty years in the Senate preceded by six years in the House.  Not long after he was forced out of office, Danny Staples and his wife were getting ready for a trip.  He had taken the family motor home to town to get it all cleaned up and fueled up.  He drove it home and dropped dead of a heart attack on July 22, 2002. The legislature has been far too serious since he left.

We journalists not only get to witness events as they unfold and capture the stories that people tell in that process, the journalist also comes across long-forgotten stories in the course of our curiosity. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this last story but I filed it away, knowing I’d have a chance to tell it to somebody sometime. And son-of-a-gun, here is that opportunity.

Missouri history has LOT of wonderful animal stories.  Here’s one.

Many years ago I knew the first three-time Speaker of the House.  He served in the 1930s, was the Speaker for three of his four terms, and one night my longtime friend Clyde Lear and I sat down with him after dinner and recorded him telling some stories.   He told us about a day that the House and the Senate met together to see a special guest who was multi-lingual, including Morse Code, and apparently was clairvoyant to boot.

His name was Jim. Jim the Wonder Dog.  Folklorist and folk song-teller Bob Dyer wrote a song about “Jim, Jim, Wonderful Jim.  Never was a dog smarter than him.” At least not according to Bob Dyer.

Former House Speaker John G. Christy, who later was Mayor of Jefferson City for twelve years, recalled that there was no way Jim’s owner, Sam VanArsdale, could have given the dog any signals that day in the House of Representatives when—during an informal joint session—he was told in Morse Code to find the man known as the “Beau Brummel of the House.”   Jim trotted down the main aisle, paused, then turned in and wound his way through a row of desks and put his paw on the leg of a state representative who WAS known as the Beau Brummel of the House.  He was also told to find the sponsor of the horse racing bill, and he picked that man out from the crowd in the House Chamber.  That’s another story I recorded more than 35 years ago.

I love the way Bob Dyer concluded his song about Jim:

“So the next time you hear about man’s best friend,

            Think about that wonderful dog named Jim.

            And remember,

            Dogs can be just as smart as some humans are….dumb.”  

God gave people one mouth and two ears for a reason. Journalists are blessed by working in a profession that relies on that statement and having the tools to capture the stories that prove its truth.

 

The first special session, and an echo (Corrected and enlightened)

Governor Greitens talked in his post-session news conference last Friday evening of calling a special session of the legislature to take up issues he was disappointed the legislature didn’t act upon this year.  He spoke of “summer school,” although some legislators are likely to suggest to him that a special session, if he decides to call one, would be more economical and might be more productive if it ran concurrently with the veto session in September.  Extraordinary Sessions, as they are formally termed, are seldom called immediately after exhausted lawmakers drag themselves home after a regular session, even a relatively non-contentious one.

Governors are seldom as pleased as legislative majority leaders (whatever the majority might be) with results of a legislative session.  And although they, and several others, can think of some issues that deserve special session consideration, governors most often have decided to let things cool down, to do some between-sessions discussions, and try again in January.

We have counted sixty times that the legislature has been summoned back for special sessions—although other scholars might have a different number.  We are not counting the two times the Rebel legislature met after fleeing from Jefferson City ahead of Union troops’ arrival.  Some would argue they were not special sessions, just continuations of the regular session by the elected legislators.

The FIRST special session happened before we were a state and some things in state government that are part of our political genes today were there at the beginning.  Some of the attitudes that we saw in this 2017 session were there almost two centuries ago and the sentiments behind one piece of 2017 legislation are an echo of what happened in that first special session in 1821.

A two-hundred year old document in the state archives is the first petition from the citizens of the Territory of Missouri to ask for statehood.  Two years later, in 1819, Congress was debating the issue when New York Congressman James Tallmadge tried to add an anti-slavery amendment to a bill authorizing the territory to write a state constitution that would, upon Congressional approval, clear the way for statehood.  Senator Henry Clay led the compromise effort that was approved on March 3, 1820.  Missouri Constitutional Convention delegates met on June 12 and in the next thirty-eight days drafted the document, which was sent to Washington for approval.

The first state legislature met from September 18-December 12, 1820, passing the first laws that would apply to Missourians as citizens of the United States—once Congress approved the State Constitution. But a provision in that constitution had become a sticking point.

Passionate debate in Congress about whether slavery would be allowed in Missouri when it entered the union had taken a new direction. Although Missourians had welcomed the Missouri Compromise that allowed slave-holding Missouri to enter the union with the simultaneous admission of Maine to keep the free state/slave state balance, many chafed at the power of Congress to become involved in “an internal matter,” in this case, whether slavery could exist in the state.  U. S. Senator-to-be Thomas Hart Benton, in fact, argued that Congress had no right to ban slavery anywhere—although the Missouri Compromise did exactly that.

The issue of slavery, per se, was therefore transformed into an issue of states’ rights when delegates were picked to write the first State Constitution.  Although some historians suggest the majority of the delegates opposed slavery, the state’s rights issue shaped part of that first document, which is why it contained provisions prohibiting the legislature from ever passing laws prohibiting the entry of slaves into Missouri, forbidding emancipation without permission of a slave-holder, AND requiring the legislature to pass a law forbidding any free Negroes and Mulattoes from living in Missouri “under any pretext whatsoever,” although about 300 free Negroes already lived here.

That contrary spirit is what led to the first special session of the legislature—because Congress was not going to tolerate Missouri limiting the movement of any free people into any state where they wanted to live.

Congress, after some tense discussions that included some talk of secession by southern states, refused to approve the constitution until that provision forbidding free Negroes and mulattoes from moving here was removed. That’s why state lawmakers returned to St. Charles in the summer of 1821 to meet a congressional mandate to make sure the legislature “never pass any law preventing any descriptions of persons from going to, and settling in, the said state, who now are, or hereafter may become citizens of any states in this union.”

Do it or you can’t join the union, said Congress.

Missouri’s legislature did it.  But it made sure Congress knew Missouri didn’t like being forced to do it.  The delegates at that special session meeting in June, 1821 maintained Washington had no power to attach any conditions to statehood and they refused to change the Missouri Constitution.  However, they did pass a resolution promising the state would not pass any laws limiting the rights of free Negroes and Mulattoes.  The House committee that came up with the resolution said in its report:

…The general government have no right, when a territory, as Missouri was, shall have been authorized to form a constitution of state government for herself, to interfere with the free and unrestrained right, by imposing any previous conditions or restrictions whatever.

The resolution also complained Congress had not applied extra standards to any other state, calling the requirement regrettable and noted that Negroes and Mulattoes “had no pretention [sic]” of citizenship in any of the 23 other states and could not be considered full citizens of Missouri even if they chose to live here. Lawmakers reluctantly approved it on June 26, 1821.

Congress felt Missouri had slapped it in the face but Henry Clay convinced Congress to accept the resolution instead of starting a new fight.  President James Monroe signed the proclamation admitting Missouri to the Union on August 10.

Forty years later, to the day, the worst battle of Missouri’s Civil War was fought on the Oak-covered hills around Wilson’s Creek, south of Springfield.  The first special session of the Missouri legislature is seen by many historians as the concluding segment of the first of a series of ultimately futile efforts to keep the union from falling apart.

Incidentally, the “free negro and mulatto” agreement lasted only four years.  Once Missouri was in the Union, it would not be voted out, and in the regular session of 1825, the legislature adopted a law requiring any free Negroes or Mulattoes to produce written certificates of their free status before they could live here.

With the help of King Marc Powers, ruler of the Kingdom of Arcania, a small territory set aside within the Missouri Capitol, and Dana Miller, the Assistant Chief Clerk of the House, we have looked back at the last twenty years of special sessions and have come up with these examples of reasons and seasons:

In 1997, Governor Mel Carnahan called two special sessions. One session began thirty minutes after the adjournment of the regular session on May 16 because two appropriations bills were not passed by the deadline.  The legislature acted quickly and adjourned six days later.   He also called lawmakers back for a special session coinciding with the veto session in September to enact acceptable sections of an economic development bill he had vetoed and to pass a new law allowing local tourism taxes to be enacted after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the original law unconstitutional. 

Governor Holden, in 2003, vetoed four appropriations bills and called a special session to re-pass them.  Before that special session adjourned, he signed two of the re-passed bills but vetoed two others which the legislature re-passed.  Holden signed them although he objected to them but the legislature would not change them and another special session was out of the question, so he signed them.  He called another special session, however, for September to consider revenue increases the legislature refused to consider in the regular session.  The legislature wasn’t interested in September, either, further supporting the idea that the governor proposes and the legislature disposes. 

Governor Blunt called a special session in September, 2005 to pass new abortion restrictions the legislature had been unable to pass in the regular session.  In 2007, he called a special session to let contracts have access to bond money for bridge repairs and to pass new economic development taxation.

Governor Nixon’s special session history was a mixed bag.  He called a special session in June of 2010 to pass $150 million in tax incentives to keep the Ford Claycomo plant at full production.  He called a special session for September, 2011 for tax credit overhauls and incentives for making Lambert-St. Louis Airport a hub for trade with China.  But majority Republicans could not get together to pass those bills and they called it a day and let the sixty-day schedule run out. (Note to Governor Greitens: Make sure you have the votes to pass the legislation you want before convening a special session.) The legislature was called back in December, 2013 in an effort to pass last-minute tax incentives to convince Boeing to move production of its 777X airliner from the state of Washington to St. Louis. The legislature rushed the incentives through by Boeing’s deadline, but the company got a better deal from Washington and stayed there.   In late 2014, Nixon called a special session to allocate money to pay the Highway Patrol and the National Guard for the security services it provided in Ferguson. But he cancelled the call three days later when legislative leaders pointed out a way to pay those bills from the existing budget.

Incidentally, Governor Hearnes holds the record by calling three special sessions in 1970—before Missouri’s constitution was changed to provide for annual sessions. 

The first Missouri Constitution and the ensuing first special session set a pattern of contrariness that was played out in this year’s reluctant approval of a law allowing driver’s licenses that comply with the federal Real ID law, passage of which is the latest example of Missouri’s defiance of federal regulations that eventually crumbles after lengthy grumbling.

In 2017, Missouri lawmakers finally buckled to federal pressure—as their legislative ancestors did in that first special session—and passed a Real ID compliance law.  But they, as did their ancestors, attached some language to prove they weren’t just getting in line.

Take that, Washington.

Again.

Under the sun

–the place where there’s nothing new, as we were reminded the other day while doing some research with microfilmed newspapers.

This article appeared a century ago in the weekly Cassville Republican.  It was on page one.  Newspapers then did not identify wire service stories but this probably was from the Associated Press.  It happened in the temporary capitol where lawmakers met until the current capitol was completed.

                   Jefferson City, Mo., March 3—Lieut. Gov. Crossley, moved by the bitter personalities which have been indulged in this week by several senators, in a speech today, served notice he would call a half to such proceedings, even if it became necessary to summarily adjourn the Senate.  Crossley said that the conduct of some of the senators would not have been tolerated in a well-regulated barroom.

              Crossley’s warning was issued in the following statement:

            “Senatorial dignity has been dragged into the dust, and the reputation hitherto borne so proudly by this distinguished arm of state government has been tarnished, even blackened, not by outsiders, but by your hands. 

            “Senators have forgotten, in their selfish zeal, that respectful attitude they should hold toward one another within this chamber; senators have violated the rules of decorum and debate; senators, representing a sovereign constituency of righteous, God-fearing Missourians, have not only been guilty of unseemly conduct and intemperate language, but have hurled epithets and insulting charges across the floor of this Senate, which would not be tolerated in a well-ordered barroom.

            “The motives of senators have been impugned, their integrity assailed, their characters attacked by innuendo, and more than one senator without being called to order has demeaned himself in a manner unworthy of the position he holds.

            “Such scenes as we have witnessed here, language as we have heard, are impossible, intolerable, and will be permitted no longer.  I am your servant, senators, but I am the servant of the people, responsible to a large extent for the conduct of the Senate, and the enforcement of its rules, and I say to you now, that patience with me has almost ceased to be a virtue.  We are here for deliberation and decision, not for vituperation and delay.

            “We have a program before us, including the great constructive measures of the administration, and the time is short.  Henceforth, so far as in my power, acting within the rules, the real business of this Senate will be expedited, even though we brush aside with this gavel, as a practical, potential argument, many technicalities, obstructions, tactics, obvious and palpable suggestions for delay. We will consider the measures that come before us, and our work shall be done in an orderly manner.

            If disorder prevails, I shall use the authority given me under the constitution and the rules of this Senate, and failing in gentler means, if ugliness and rude behavior again lift their heads during the sittings of this Senate, this gavel will strike them down, under the power of adjournment possessed by the presiding officer.”              

Budget crunch time

We are at the point when much is written about the looming statutory deadline for the legislature to pass a budget.  It has to be done by 6 p.m. Friday night.   Under the law. 

Whenever budget crunch time hits in Washington, there is usually much wringing of hands and concerns about a federal government shut down. But what we’ve been seeing and hearing about from Washington recently isn’t likely in Missouri.  Let’s look at why is isn’t.   

Some reports have noted new Governor Eric Greitens didn’t submit his budget proposal until February 2, the latest budget submission since annual legislative sessions began in 1971. But your faithful observer isn’t sure that is, or has been, much of an issue.

Remember the old adage: “The governor proposes; the legislature disposes.” 

The budget message from the governor in January is only one person’s recommendations. It is made based on state revenue projections through the first half of the fiscal year. What emerges in May from the 197 people in the legislature is the budget that counts based on ten months of state fiscal reports and updated projections for the last six or seven weeks of the fiscal year. It’s a budget based on substantially better numbers.  However the checks and balances allow governors to withhold funds or veto them (subject to legislative overrides) to make sure the state does not spend more in the state business year that starts July 1 than it has money to support.  That’s why governors normally wait until about mid-June before acting on budget bills—so they have even later numbers.

The House and the Senate have passed their versions of the budget.  They agree on quite a bit.  It is not unusual for a joint negotiating committee to start working out differences a week before the budget deadline. 

History tells us why failure to pass all of the budget bills by the deadline Friday night is not a catastrophic event.  Any such failure does not mean Missouri government will come to a halt on July 1.  

Twenty years ago the legislature didn’t pass appropriations bills for the Departments of Health and Mental Health.  They also didn’t provide funding for themselves or statewide office-holders, or for the judicial system.  Lawmakers hold off approving money for themselves and top state office-holders until the end, after the financing of services and programs of government is taking care of.   

Remember, the law sets a deadline for budget action during the regular legislative session—so lawmakers can work on policy matters during the last week.  But the law does not prohibit special legislative sessions to finish budget work.  Twenty years ago, Governor Carnahan called a special session to take care of the two bills that didn’t make it during the regular session.  The work was finished in six days.

Another complication that we’ve seen is when a governor vetoes an entire appropriation bill, or bills.  Bob Holden did that in 2003. He didn’t like spending cuts for social services and education.  When a special session sent him new spending plans for those agencies, Holden approved the social services, health and mental health and senior services bill but vetoed the education bill, triggering another special session that started June 24.

The legislature sent him the same bills for K-12 education and for higher education three days later.  Holden decided to sign the bills, saying the consequences of another veto would be worse than those if he signed the bills. But he announced the budget was millions of dollars out of balance and that he was going to withhold enough money to keep state spending in balance.  

Holden finally agreed to sign the bills, and did on June 30.

So if Friday gets here and there’s no state budget, it’s no big deal.  It just means a mini-economic boomlet for Jefferson City when lawmakers soon return for a few days of a special session to finish the job. 

So don’t sweat it, folks. 

The filibuster 

How did a word that once meant “piracy” become a valuable tool in the American political system, then a weapon, and now a word that some hold in such low regard that they think it should be eliminated from our political process?  Let us offer a subjective examination.

We turn to William Safire, a reporter then speech-writer for President Nixon (Pat Buchanan gets a lot of credit for the most serious flame-throwing remarks of that administration) and later a columnist for the New York Times whose column “On Language” was always a favorite read for this correspondent.  A year before his death in 2009, the last version of Safire’s Political Dictionary was published by Oxford University Press.  It’s a wonderful resource for any who follow politics and want to understand its lingo.

Back in the 1500s, governments such as Britain and France contracted with private ship owners known as “privateers” to, in effect, wage war on ships flying enemy flags—at the time, Spanish ships.  More often than not, says Safire, these privateers became just plain pirates.  “Privateer” is rooted in a Dutch word, “vrijbuiter,” which translates to “freebooter,” a word equated to “pirate.”   In French, the word became “flibustier.”  In Spanish, it was “filibustero,”  words that were translated into English as “filibuster.”

In the mid-1800s, American filibustering expeditions took place in Central America, private military expeditions that sought to seize control of countries.  One of those taking part in one of most famous, or infamous, such expeditions was James Carson Jamison who was part of William Walker’s filibustering effort and wrote With Walker in Nicaragua. He later served the Confederacy in the Civil War and was the state’s Adjutant General (1885-1889) under Governor John S. Marmaduke, a former Confederate General.

It appears the word was first applied politically was during debate in the U. S. House on January 3, 1853.  Democrats favored organizing an expedition to take Cuba away from Spain.  Whigs were opposed.  One Democrat, Abraham Venable of North Carolina, crossed over to the Whig side, arguing that the United States should not engage in piracy to acquire Cuba.  A Venable opponent, Congressman Albert Brown said, “When I saw my friend standing on the other side of the House, filibustering, as I thought, against the United States…I did not know what to think.”  The word quickly became identified with efforts to block passage of legislation.  It remains so today.

Your observer has observed that tactic being applied numerous times consuming hours of his life that added nothing to his knowledge or entertainment.  Some had memorable moments but most were as interesting as three-day-old dry toast.

Filibusters work best when they are respected as tools that protect the minority and give it valuable weight in shaping public policy. They are their worst in times of agenda-driven super-majorities that see no reason to recognize the validity of minority positions.

Filibusters have been useful in forcing compromise, sometimes broadening the public policy under consideration, sometimes protecting the rights and privileges of those who feel a piece of legislation lessens their standing within society or in the economy, sometimes avoiding mistakes that otherwise would be enacted with the original proposal, sometimes forcing order into a proposal that endangers services beneficial to a broader public while granting a perceived unfair advantage to a particular segment of the people.

The filibuster works best in a partisan body in which the numbers force a recognition that the goals of one side cannot be attained without the cooperation of the other.  While a simple majority might be reached by one side alone, the limits imposed by the clock and the calendar lessen that possibility if the minority side consumes hours and days, particularly as the hours and days of a session dwindle.  The utility of a filibuster increases as time grows short—as it is now in the legislature—because the scenario not only involves the issue at hand but other issues that might never be reached because the time to reach them is being consumed by those holding the floor.

There are ways to end filibusters—a cloture vote in Washington, a previous question motion in Jefferson City that seeks to immediately end debate and immediately go to a vote. In previous years, when the partisan breakdown of the legislature was more balanced than it has been in recent years, the PQ—as it is called—was almost never used because both sides knew that it could be used against them if the majorities switched. Additionally, there was an acknowledgement that today’s enemy has to be tomorrow’s friend if you hope to get your bill passed.  But as the majority-minority margins increase, the need for reciprocity dwindles and in time becomes irrelevant.

As that happens, the minority has a tendency to become more strident, more irritating to the majority—which is more tempted to shut down the minority with a parliamentary motion. Who cares about friendships in such situations?  It also should be noted that the majority is less likely to shut off debate if the filibuster involves members of the majority party.

The minority, however, is not completely disarmed in such situations. A couple of years ago, the minority in the senate reacted when the previous question was called on a bill in the last week of the legislative session and nothing passed the rest of the way.

Many observers in Washington have pronounced the filibuster dead after the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch.  Perhaps it is in a climate in which sixty votes, not just the majority, was required for action on some issues.  But back here in the states, it remains a tool—some say, a protection—in simple majority climates where there are no rules that otherwise limit debates but where unwritten rules about honoring the tradition and the reasons for filibusters usually prevail. Usually.

Has Washington killed the filibuster?  Or has it just turned organized participants there into privateers?

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. 

                                                        

 

 

Dirt, burgers, and sheep-shearing: Notes from the road

We have snowbird friends who invite us to their cottage in Arizona for a week or so every February so we can become reacquainted with sun and warmth.  That’s normally a good thing although this year Arizona was in the 30s at night and barely cracked sixty during the day while Missourians were doing at least as well or better.

We find that road trips like these give us a chance to ruminate on various things we encounter along the way and ponder some differences and similarities beyond weather conditions at home.

Seen on the back of a gravel truck near Bowie, Arizona: “Keep back at least 200 feet. Not responsible for broken windshields.”  We were about thirty feet away before we could read it.

Most jarring message on another truck: “Catholics aren’t Christians.”   We sensed it would not be prudent to stop the driver and ask what that was about.

From columnist Argus Hamilton in the Albuquerque Journal: “Late Monday night, President Trump woke up in a cold sweat after a nightmare involving the most serious crisis of his presidency. He dreamed that Twitter had resigned.”

Something in Casa Grande, Arizona that we will not likely see in Jefferson City: Four gas stations in two blocks selling self-service regular for $1.95, $1.98 $2.14, and $2.44.   It made us recall the time we were in a Missouri gas station one night and the clerk at the cash register told the clerk at the next register to go out and change the sign because the station across the street had hiked its price by two cents a gallon and they wanted to keep up.

Looking for a hobby or maybe a second job?  Be in Claremore, Oklahoma April 13-15 for the sheep shearing school.  Among other things you will be taught how to catch a sheep, a fairly essential element to learning to shear one.

Checked my horoscope on February 22nd—well, it was actually “Horoscopes by Holiday”—in a newspaper and it sounded like a long version of a fortune cookie message.  But it probably works for everybody and every day: “When things get more colorful and dramatic and life is uncomfortable, be grateful for it.  Were you to be limited to a very confined and unvarying society, you would be quickly bored to tears.”

A thought at a lunch stop in Lordsburg, New Mexico:  Would we have been better off getting our food at the drive-in window and then going inside to eat it than going inside, ordering, and waiting while several window deliveries were handled before we got our order?

Lordsburg and Bowie, Arizona reminded us of what happens when the interstate replaces the highway through the town. When you see an antique store boarded up, you know things have gone bad since the stagecoaches of today bypassed towns like Lordsburg.   Incidentally, there’s nothing that we saw in Lordsburg noting that it was the destination of the Ringo Kid, Dallas, Buck the stagecoach driver, the alcoholic Doc Boon and others on the stagecoach (that started out in Tonto, Arizona Territory, by the way) in the famous “Stagecoach” movie.

Sometimes when you are travelling you see a sign that you must photograph.  This was just outside Deming, NM

Somewhere in our photo collection we have a picture of the scariest intersection in Missouri.  Roads EE and K.  The sign on I-70 east of Kansas City kind of looks like EEK.  Wonder if anybody ever thought of going out one night and spray-painting an exclamation point on it.

They call the New Mexico capitol “The Round House” because it’s round, like the kivas in the ancient pueblo communities.  A House committee has recommended a $6.1 billion dollar state budget AND a $285 million tax increase to pay for it.  Governor Susana Martinez calls the bill a “political ploy” and threatens to veto a budget bill that raises the money to pay for the things in it.  She apparently has not been reading Missouri newspapers about something called “withholding.”

There were a couple of times when we were reminded of Missouri while driving across country on Interstate 40.  There are two places between Albuquerque and Tucumcari that reminded us of I-70 across Missouri, America’s ugliest stretch of highway.

For a few hundred yards approaching a couple of places that sell all kinds of touristy stuff there are billboards shoulder to shoulder.  One big difference is there’s more distance between the big trucks.

It is hard to drive across Oklahoma and not be conscious of its red earth, so red that some lakes or ponds are red.  Cows don’t seem to mind but we’re not sure we’d want to spend a day swimming in that water and we sure wouldn’t want to see it coming out of our kitchen tap or our shower.  The observation allowed us to reflect that Oklahoma has a state symbol that Missouri has not adopted yet—although we fear that we might inspire somebody to do something silly by commenting. Oklahoma has an official state dirt.  It’s not called “dirt” (it’s Port Silt Loam, or in Latin, Cumulic haplustolls) but that’s what it is.   Missouri has manufactured more than two dozen official state symbols but so far we haven’t decided what our official dirt should be.

A television station in New Mexico was reporting on efforts to create there another state symbol that Missouri does not have. Again, we have some trepidation about bringing this up.  A proposal would designate the green chile hamburger as New Mexico’s official state hamburger.

We hope no school teacher in Sedalia decided to teach their young students about how government operates by having their state legislators introduce a bill designating the Goober Burger as Missouri’s version of the New Mexico official patty.

And that brings us to the story of the cone, the kid, and the reporter.

In 2008, a thirteen-year old Ballwin schoolgirl induced her legislators to introduce the bill designating Missouri’s Official Dessert—the ice cream cone.   When the bill passed and I wrote a story saying the legislature had designated a crumbly and tasteless piece of pastry as the state’s official dessert, the fearless Elise Kostial fired back.  I was wrong.  I was ignoring the ice cream component!!!   No, I wrote back, read your bill.  There is no mention of ice cream.  The bill just specifies the cone.   She and I traded messages a few times including once a year or so later after the bill had been signed and had gone into effect.  In the closing weeks of the legislative sessions, there are times when ice cream is served in the rotunda by some group wanting to curry last-days favor with lawmakers.  After one of those occasions, your ice-cream-–affectionate correspondent sent Elise an email telling her that I had enjoyed the state’s official dessert that day—and I had even put some ice cream in it.

Umbrage was taken.  And noted.  To this day, our differences remain unresolved and, I fear, mediation is out of the question.  In May, 2011, when we were doing a book signing in the rotunda of the Capitol art book, Elise happened to be in the building, too.  She came over and said hello.  But we continued to suffer, I fear, from good-natured but irreconcilable differences.  Perhaps if I had buckled and accepted her position, she would have bought a book.

Elise, by the way, was and is an extraordinary person.  She’s a grownup now, a college graduate from Stanford. She’s been active in a number of conservative political organizations and is, as she was in our ice cream fight days, a very sharp lady.

But our official state dessert is still a crumbly, tasteless pastry—-the bottom of which has a tendency to get soft and mushy and leak the ice cream that is put into the top of it if the consumer waits too long to consume the ice cream.  Always have at least one napkin when you are having one of our official state symbols with ice cream.

There has been voiced from time to time in the Missouri legislature that students and teachers who think the way to teach and learn how the legislature works is to get a new state symbol bill introduced should learn words such as “filibuster” and “defeat.” Failing those two things there is always a third word: “veto.”   And a fourth: “override attempt.”  And “failed override attempt.”  But the key word some legislators think should survive is “defeat.”   Enough is enough, and no, we don’t need a new state symbol that is a hamburger made with peanut butter.

Why we will elect a U. S. Senator next year

Every four years, voices are heard suggesting the Electoral College should go away and presidential elections should be decided only by the popular vote. We have come across this interesting article that struck us as a timely addition to the discussion:

“Was anything ever more absurd than the talk about the ‘direct election?’ The direct vote law passes and the happy citizen jumps up and down with joy…At last he can vote for the man of his choice. At last he can stand up a free citizen and select his own candidate…(But) when election day arrives he finds himself confronted with no rights other than to vote for one or two or more men who have named themselves, advertised themselves, exhibited themselves, trumpeted themselves, recommended themselves, impoverished themselves, and discredited themselves on the chance of securing the election.  In short, the direct vote is not half so near a direct vote as the vote which the citizen case in electing a proper delegate…Delegated authority is the best authority that can be exercised in this country.  The representation of the many by the few is absolutely the only form of possible government.  Uneducated, illiterate people are able to vote intelligently for the members of a school board whose duty it should be to select teachers.  Such voters would be wholly unfit to select teachers, but they may be very fit to select those who are fit to select teachers.  And so it is that voters are unfit to draw a tariff bill, or select lawyers, or select artists and men of science, or select soldiers but they are able to vote for men who can make such selections wisely.  The so-called direct vote…is a laughable contrivance as was ever made. It was designed for the purpose of making the…government a private snap for a few men.”

You have doubtless guessed this doesn’t quite match the discussion of voters electing members of the Electoral College who actually elect a president.  It was written about whether voters who were competent enough to elect members of the legislature who in turn would elect U. S. Senators were competent enough to do it themselves.  The Kansas City Journal ran it on March 5, 1911 at a time when a movement was well underway to give voters the opportunity to directly elect members of the United States Senate.

Direct election was “absurd” and a “laughable contrivance” then.  Congress proposed the Seventeenth Amendment a year later.  It went into effect in 1913 after ratification by the states.  The first elections nationally took place in 1914.  The first in Missouri was 1916 when former Governor William Joel Stone became our first popularly-elected U. S. Senator when he was chosen for his third term.

That’s right.  We, the people, have been electing our U. S. Senators for only 44% of our history.

Why not? Because our founding fathers didn’t trust the people at large to make such a decision.

Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution said, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof…”   The Constitutional Convention, trying to balance competing interests, decided this provision would make sure states had some control over the general government.  Author Brion McClanahan, who has looked at the intentions of the founders as they wrote the Constitution, says they intended the senate to be an “aristocratic” chamber “to restrain the potential excesses of the ‘mob’ in the House.”

Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an account in 1884 that explains that idea.  The authenticity of the story is questionable but it is often told to describe the intended differences between the House and the Senate in somewhat less antagonistic language than McClanahan uses.  Supposedly George Washington, who favored a two-chamber Congress, and Thomas Jefferson, who it is said favored a unicameral approach, were discussing the issue when Washington asked Jefferson, “Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?” When Jefferson replied, “To cool it,” Washington responded, “Even so, we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”  Critics say the conversation could not have happened because Jefferson was not at the convention but was in Paris as our Ambassador to France.  Some people who appreciate antiques have noted that the story fits better in the late 19th century than in Washington and Jefferson’s time because saucers in the 18th century were more like small bowls while the saucers in the late 19th century had become more like those we use today.

But the sentiment is the same although the story seems apocryphal.

Suggestions that the Senate membership, as the House membership, should be based on population were countered by those who felt the Senate should be a place where all states would be equal—with two members each or, as Virginia’s George Mason put it, “The state legislatures…ought to have some means of defending themselves against encroachments of the national government” and their election of the members of one of the chambers of the national government would provide that balance. James Madison felt the system meant any national law required passage by one body chosen by the people and a second body representing the states. The founders felt the Senate was the only federal part of what they called the general government.

But Madison had a cautionary statement that has resonance for some people today: “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty, as well as by the abuses of power…and that the former rather than the latter is apparently most to be apprehended by the United “States.”   He continued that the Senate could become “a dangerous preeminence in the government,” but before that could occur, the Senate would need to “corrupt itself; must next corrupt the state legislatures, must then corrupt the house of representatives, and must finally corrupt the people at large.”

A century later, the public concern about a couple of issues generated a movement to change the Constitution to allow direct election of U. S. Senators.  One of the issues was deadlocks within legislatures.  There had been times when legislatures could not agree, thus leaving some states only partially-represented in the Senate or not represented at all.

Missouri was an example.  In 1850, Thomas Hart Benton sought another term but refused to accept the legislature’s demand that he support slavery.  When the legislature met on December 30 to elect a senator, Senator Henry S. Geyer got 64 votes.  Benton got 55 and anti-Benton Democrat (the party was divided) Henry S. Geyer got 37.  Former Congressman and later Governor Sterling Price had a single vote. The deadlock remained after five days, then a week, then twelve days. Anti-Benton forces broke ranks on January 22 when Senator (later Governor) Robert Stewart took votes into the Geyer column on the fortieth ballot.  Benton still have 55 but Geyer now had 80 and became Missouri’s next U.S. Senator.

Corruption also was a concern with allegations that some elections were “bought and sold” in legislatures.

The first proposal for popular election was offered in 1826.  President Andrew Johnson strongly advocated it in 1868.  The Populist Party made it a platform issue in 1892. Oregon allowed it in 1908, then Nebraska. Ten states also were holding advisory elections to let their legislatures know popular sentiment. The U. S. House passed direct election resolutions several times only to see them die in the Senate.  Thirty-three states had created Senatorial primary elections by 1912 and twenty-seven states had called for an amendment to the Constitution.  Congress proposed an amendment that year. Missouri, on March 7, 1913, became the 30th state to ratify. Six states have never ratified the Seventeenth Amendment—Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Virginia, but they have direct elections just like the rest of us.

So that’s why you and I and a few million others—not the legislature—will decide who will be our other U. S. Senator next year, the Founding Fathers notwithstanding.  History indicates that by then we will be so focused on that contest that the Electoral College issue will have slipped well into the background.

 

Special, but not a blue plate special

Your correspondent was concerned for several months that he might have to get a new car—because a proposed new license plate just wouldn’t look good.

You see, Missouri will be celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of becoming part of the Union four years from now and a special committee has been working on the design of a special Missouri Bicentennial license plate.   Some of you might have cast votes for the five original proposals:


They’re varying shades of blue. And they just wouldn’t look nearly as nice as the current white Bluebird plates look on my white car.  They’d disrupt the entire color scheme.  Indescribable angst was increasing.

A lot of people voted for the one they thought was the best of an admittedly bland lot. But in defense of the people who designed these candidates, there was only so much they could do given state laws that regulate the layout of license plates and the Highway Patrol’s preference for plates with high visibility.

State law requires the renewal stickers to be in the middle of the plate. That was done by the legislature several years ago when authorities saw an increasing number of sticker thefts, often by people using metal cutters to cut they off the corners of the license plates.  To foil the thieves, the law was changed so the stickers are in the middle.  That, of course, imposes some limits on how a new plate for general circulation can be designed.

The Patrol took these blue sample plates out on the road to test their visibility and decided the original idea of having light numbers on a dark plate wasn’t going to work.

Great news!

So the license plate commission went back to work.  And this is what most of us will have on the front and backs of our cars by January 1, 2019:

That’s so much better.

Missouri was due for a new license plate anyway.  The current design has been around since 2009 and license plates are considered to have about a ten-year life before they get bent up too much or their reflective nature gets too dull for troopers’ eyes, or other stuff happens to them.

Representative Glen Kolkmeyer of Odessa found himself being asked to sponsor the bicentennial plate bill a couple of years ago.  He had only a few days to draft the bill and get it moving in the House.  But he made it so that the plate will be available for the era that will include Missouri’s statehood bicentennial, the centennial of the dedication of the state capitol, AND the national sestercentennial, the 250th anniversary.

This plate will be the one that most of us use.  Its design will not affect those who like to have specialty plates on their vehicles—which caused us to look into how many specialty plates the state of Missouri issues.  Wanna guess (turn away from the rest of this column for a few seconds before reading on for the answer)?

This year marks for fortieth anniversary, as nearly as we can tell from a Department of Revenue list, of the first specialty license plate.  In 1977, the legislature allowed amateur radio operators and disabled veterans to have license plates with special designs.

Since then the legislature has added another two hundred and one. It almost seems as if everybody has a specialty license plate but hangnail survivors.  And that doesn’t count the separate plates for various kinds of trucks, cycles, antique vehicles, and Lord knows what else.

Imagine being a police officer trying to run a license check.  The first thing you have to do is figure out if it’s a Missouri plate.  Take a look at http://www.theus50.com/fastfacts/licenses-state.php to see how many state plates are similar.  Then imagine all of the car dealers who think they should turn your car into a mini-billboard by sticking their own license plate bracket on your car—which obscures some plate features that might make it easier to decide what state’s plate it is.   A little road dirt, too, and the poor law enforcement officer has to struggle.

Well, anyway—Missouri is getting a new license plate that calls us to remember we didn’t get to be the way we are yesterday.  It’s taken two centuries to make us what we are in the Union—and there were some years when a lot of misery was expended to determine that we’d continue in it.

The plate’s red, white, and blue motif suggests the colors of the stripes of our state flag.  The wavy lines at the top and the bottom remind us that the great rivers have shaped and defined our borders and our character and opened parts of the state for settlement.  They remain major influences today.  The state seal is in the middle, as it is in the middle of our state’s greatest symbol—the capitol.

The Missouri Bicentennial, which is being coordinated by the State Historical Society of Missouri, will afford us a chance to consider how we got to be what and who we are.  But we hope it also will afford us an opportunity to reflect on what we can be and should be in the years before a tercentennial plate is issued.

So it’s not just another piece of metal that should be on the front and back of our cars, whatever color they might be.  And the reflective nature of the plate isn’t something of value only to police officers; it’s something for all of us.