Who is next?

Your fearful observer awoke one morning last week wondering when it will happen in Missouri.

It was the morning after the latest school shooting, this one in Florida, the seventh school shooting incident in the first forty-five days of the year.  As of the morning after the latest shooting, twenty people had been killed and thirty-four others had been wounded in those seven incidents.

Since the pace of school shootings began to pick up nationally in the 1980s there have been more than 350 school shootings in this country.

Three hundred.  And fifty.  Plus.

The escalation of shootings at schools is stunning.  Wikipedia has compiled a list of incidents at schools going back to Greencastle, Pennsylvania’s Enoch Brown School massacre in 1764, although that doesn’t quite fit today’s description of a school shooting because it was part of an Indian uprising against the British.  Only one of the ten people killed was shot.  The others were killed with “melee weapons,” as they are called.

The chart says there were twenty-eight incidents in the nineteenth century. The number jumped to 226 in the Twentieth Century (141 of them in the last three decades including the first mass shooting, 1999’s Littleton Colorado incident that killed fifteen—including the two suicidal shooters—and wounded twenty-one).

In the first seventeen years and two months of the Twenty-First Century there already have been 212 incidents that have made this list.

The Wikipedia list shows nine such shootings in Missouri since 1980. Eleven deaths, including four of the shooters.  Seven injuries.  Not all of the incidents are what we might think of as school shootings, namely students killing students.  The killing of three monks at Conception Abbey is on the list, for example.  Some involved only adults.  Missouri’s most recent incident was three years ago when a man was wounded in a school parking lot shooting, apparently by another adult.  The most recent student incident was in Joplin in 2006 when a student failed to kill a principal when his gun failed.

We hope we never have one of those horrific incidents in Missouri.  But we are sure we are not the only person in Missouri living in dread that it could happen here.

What is there to do about it? Opinions are strong on this issue and we will not wade into it here. Our focus will be on an important factor that can get lost in the discussion of school shootings and what should be done beyond the increasingly stale phrase “thoughts and prayers.”

The Associated Press the morning after the Florida incident described the suspect as, “An orphaned 19-year old with a troubled past and an AR-15 rifle…” and reported, “Students who knew him described him as a volatile teenager whose strange behavior had caused others to end friendships with him.”

Sooner or later someone is going to ask—some probably have by now—“Why didn’t somebody do something to head him off?” And some will wonder why he didn’t get help with mental health issues, sentiments frequently heard after incidents such as these.

Unanswerable questions.  A similar question might be, “How many school shooting incidents did NOT take place because our mental health people turned their clients in a better direction?”

Many years ago, one of my sometime-colleagues who sat next to me while we covered the legislature turned out to have murdered his wife a couple of years earlier. Who among us can honestly say that we can determine that the person next to us is so unstable that he or she is or can become a killer?

Can we, however, reduce the chances that something terrible might happen if we put more resources into a system that works to reduce those chances?

We wrote a column last year about a courageous and striking book we had read called, “No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America.” I suggested that anyone in the legislature who deals with health and mental health funding should have this book on their must-read list.  With the General Assembly in session, now—particularly as we ask questions in the wake of the Florida school shooting—it is time to renew that suggestion, not just for those dealing with mental health funding but for all of our lawmakers.

Discussions are underway at the Capitol of further reductions in the state’s ability to finance vital programs and services at a time when the organization, Mental Health America, has published its 2017 report on the state of mental health in this country.  It ranks each state and territory on fifteen categories to arrive at a ranking that “indicates lower prevalence of mental illness and higher access to care.”

Missouri’s overall ranking was 31st.   Seven criteria used to rank services to adults placed Missouri 36th. We were 24th in the “youth” category.

The study found that we are 23rd in the prevalence of mental illness.   But when it comes to access to mental health care, we are only 36th.

If one of these unspeakable tragedies caused by someone of noticeable “strange behavior” happens in our state, as has happened in Florida, how will we think about that 36th place ranking?  And should this situation, this possibility, this circumstance be part of those discussions?

We pray that Missourians never have to confront those questions.  Or the people of any other state.

Let all of us pray.

Maybe a little bigger government makes sense

But there are those who will say bigger government NEVER makes sense.  Don’t go off in a huff, though, if you’re one of them. Take a deep breath, let the blood pressure drop a notch or two, and consider the words of Governor Guy B. Park who told the legislature in his second (and last) biennial message on January 6, 1937:

When the boundaries of our counties were fixed by the Constitution of 1875 (editor’s note—that was the Constitution in effect in 1937), time and distance were the principal consideration. The boundaries were probably determined on the basis of how long it would take a resident to ride his horse from his home to the county seat, transact his business and get back in time to milk the cows.  As a matter of practical economy and common sense, it would be the better part of wisdom to materially increase the size, thereby reducing the number of counties. Should that be done, the local county government would be as close to the people in point of time as they were in 1875.  In order to accomplish this, an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary, and I recommend that you adopt a resolution submitting such an amendment to the people of the state.

Governors could make such suggestions in the days when the Constitution forbade them from seeking re-election.  And members of the legislature then, as now—particularly those from some of the counties likely to be affected—knew they would be greeted by pitchfork-carrying constituents if they went home after voting for such an idea.

Here we are, eighty-one years after Park’s speech and 157 years after Worth County became the last county created in our state, and we have twenty-five counties populated by fewer than ten-thousand people and six more who are just barely at ten-thousand.  That’s more than one-fourth of our counties, a lot of them in the sparsely-populated northern counties.  Seven counties have fewer than FIVE thousand residents. Worth County struggles to stay above two-thousand.

It’s been almost sixteen decades since Missouri honored some kind of hero or notable citizen or family member of an early settler by naming a county for them.   But we’ve had plenty of heroes since then, plenty of famous people who are better known than the people whose names adorn many of our counties.  Who was Dade after all?  Or Holt or Knox or Sullivan or Schuyler or, well, Worth?

Naturally, combining small counties or changing their names will generate a lot of hostility.  We’re a pretty territorial species.

But that doesn’t mean that Guy B. Park didn’t have a good point that has only gotten better.

(We wrote at some length about this more than two years ago when a longtime friend passed along a propose map of new counties.  If  you go back to Dec. 19, 2015, you’ll find that proposal along with some of the same musings in this column.  But maybe it is an idea worth bringing up more frequently than once every eighty-one years.)

Capitol credit

State Senate leader Ron Richard has had a goal for the State Capitol for a long time and he’s hoping his last year in the legislature is the year that goal is reached.  And it should be.

Richard loves the Capitol as the symbol of a state’s greatness and power, of its stability and beauty.  But he has watched as the Capitol has deteriorated during his almost sixteen-year career and how appropriations that have finally started providing some rehabilitation of the now century-old building are not nearly enough to get the job done.

He has seen the state struggle with meeting its budgetary responsibilities for education, health and mental health, social services—you name it.  And as the state has struggled to meet those responsibilities, the state’s greatest symbol has deteriorated.

Millions are being spent as a continuation of exterior restoration that has been underway for about three years.  Some critical problems in the basement have been attacked. But millions of dollars more are needed to do what needs to be done now and to meet the costs of ongoing expenses later.

Richard has been hoping to get a bill passed setting up a tax credit program that would encourage people and organizations to donate money to fix our Capitol.   He is the sponsor of one of two bills in the Missouri Senate addressing the problem.  While he could be putting the muscle of his position behind his own legislation he has decided to let Senator Dan Hegeman from the northwest Missouri community of Cosby carry the issue.  The bill already is out of committee and is ready for Senate debate. It started the week twenty-seventh on the debate list, a good position for early approval.

It’s Senate Bill 590 for those of you who keep score. It does two things.  It creates tax credits for people who donate to restoration and repair work at the Capitol complex, and it creates tax credits for those who want to contribute to restoration and repair work on other public buildings.

A lot of deep-pocket people and companies have representatives in the capitol hallways every day that Richard, Hegeman, and their colleagues on both side of the rotunda are meeting.  It would not be surprising if those hallway denizens carried word back to their employers that their workplace needs some help.  Some of the money raised can be used to increase general public awareness of the need for donations for which private citizen-donors would get credit on their state taxes.

Richard has several times shared this dream with your correspondent and it’s time the dream comes true.   Richard already has created a legacy as the only person in the almost-two century history of the state to serve as the leader of the House and the leader of the Senate.  But that accomplishment is more a legislative distinction.  Leaving behind a program that can raise money for the capitol’s upkeep is the more important thing.  It could be a legacy.

But times have changed a little since Ron Richard first established this goal.  Historic Tax Credits are not as popular as they once were.   The legislature established caps on those tax credits a few years ago—no more than an aggregate total of $140 million.  That cap drops to seventy-million dollars on July 1.  Local historic preservation organizations can point to buildings and districts in their communities that have benefitted from those tax credits.  Now, as the cap is cut in half, there could be two new causes trying to attract tax credit seekers.

Historic preservation tax credits aren’t very sexy.  Some lawmakers question whether they create enough new jobs to justify the reduction in state revenue that they produce.  Others with little interest in history might see little value in them to begin with.

But they ARE important.  They’re important for the towns where we live because they encourage us to think of how far we have come while making sites usable, even inhabitable.  They’re important for our capitol, a place intended to inspire those who visit and who serve there.  The fact that some who visit and who serve do not find the intended inspiration cannot be an excuse to let our capitol decline into a symbol of decisions not made, responsibilities not met, and needs not acknowledged.

Our capitol is better than that.  And the Richards dream and the Hegeman legislation is the best chance for our lawmakers to prove it so.   We hope they don’t miss the chance this year.

Are you smarter than a third grader?

We wrote this a year ago and put it in storage until we needed it.  We noted the other day that Representative Dean Dohrman has introduced a bill requiring people wanting to graduate from college to score at least seventy percent on a civics test before they can get their diplomas. He says he hopes the bill spurs greater civic education in our colleges.

That has led us to dig out this piece:

Suppose you had to take a test to be a Missouri voter.  More important, suppose those wanting to hold public office, particularly the six statewide offices and legislative positions, had to pass this test. Be honest, now, those of you who have taken oaths of public office—How many of you would be where you are now if you had to match this third-grade requirement (We, personally, would be a little nervous if we had to do this)?

And for those who voted to elect these folks, could you have voted if you had to prove competence to deal with these issues?  It’s kind of a lengthy examination.  Extra paper will be allowed.

Explain the major purposes of the Missouri Constitution. Explain and give examples of how laws are made and changed within the state.

Examine how individual rights are protected within our state. Explain how governments balance individual rights with common good to solve local community or state issues.

Explain how the State of Missouri relies on responsible citizen participation and draw implications for how people should participate.

Describe the character traits and civic attitudes of influential Missourians. Identify and describe the historical significance of the individuals from Missouri who have made contributions to our state and nation.

Explain how the National Anthem symbolizes our nation. Recognize and explain the significance of the Gateway Arch and the Great Seal of Missouri and other symbols of our state.

Analyze peaceful resolution of disputes by the courts, or other legitimate authorities in Missouri. Take part in a constructive process or method for resolving conflicts.

Describe how authoritative decisions are made, enforced and interpreted by the state government across historical time periods and/or in current events.

Identify and explain the functions of the three branches of government in Missouri.

Describe the importance of the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Evaluate the impact of westward expansion on the Native Americans in Missouri. Discuss issues of Missouri statehood.

Describe the migration of Native Americans to Missouri prior to European settlement in the state. Describe the discovery, exploration and early settlement of Missouri by European immigrants. Describe the reasons African peoples were enslaved and brought to Missouri.

Examine cultural interactions and conflicts among Native Americans, European immigrants and enslaved and free African-Americans in Missouri. Examine the changing roles of Native Americans, Immigrants, African Americans, women and others in Missouri history.

Examine changing cultural interactions and conflicts among Missourians after the Civil War.

Discuss the causes and consequences of the Dred Scott decision on Missouri and the nation.

Explain Missouri’s role in the Civil War, including the concept of a border state. Describe the consequences of the Civil War in Missouri including on education, transportation, and communication.

Compare and contrast private and public goods and services. Define natural, capital and human resources. Define economy. Explain supply and demand.

Conduct a personal cost-benefit analysis.

Define taxes and explain how taxes are generated and used.

Explain factors, past and present, that influence changes in our state’s economy.

Read and construct historical and current maps.

Name and locate major cities, rivers, regions, and states which border Missouri. Describe and use absolute location using a grid system.

Identify and compare physical geographic characteristics of Missouri. Describe human geographic characteristics of Missouri.

Describe how people of Missouri are affected by, depend on, adapt to and change their physical environments in the past and in the present.

Describe how changes in communication and transportation technologies affect people’s lives.

Identify regions in Missouri. Compare regions in Missouri. Compare the cultural characteristics of regions in Missouri. Explain how geography affected important events in Missouri history.

Research stories and songs that reflect the cultural history of Missouri.Describe how people in Missouri preserve their cultural heritage.

Identify facts and opinions in social studies’ topics. Identify point of view in social studies’ topics.

Present social studies’ research to an audience using appropriate sources.

Whew!!

How can anybody be expected to know all this stuff?  Aren’t you glad you’re not an immigrant seeking American citizenship? Actually, immigrants don’t have to go through all of this stuff.

But Missouri third-graders do.

What you’ve just read are most of the Missouri Department of Education’s grade level expectations for third grade social studies students and their teachers.  How well students perform under these guidelines determines how competent they are considered to be and, by reflection, how competent their teachers are.

The impetus for this goes back more than two decades, to 1996, when the Show-Me Standards were developed to gauge student performance.  The Show-Me Standards were replaced by the Missouri Learning Standards that were required by the legislature to be written because the legislature didn’t like the Obama Administration’s Common Core approach.  The MLS are pretty close to Common Core, though. The state education department says the standards “are relevant to the real world and reflect the knowledge and skills students need to achieve their goals.”  The department also says they work best when administrators, teachers, students and parents share the goals.

This state is big on “local control,” so the standards do not require local districts to closely adhere to them. Districts can still make their own decisions about textbooks and teaching strategies and curriculum. But they’re measured on a standard gauge.

Your observer/historian was chatting with another observer/historian in a local coffee shop a few days ago about these standards and we agreed on a regrettable fact about them.

These are standards for third graders.  The teaching of Missouri history used to be done in the fourth grade but the department has moved that teaching back to grade three now.

Consider this, then (we admitted it kind of scares us): Missourians went to the polls in November, 2016 and elected people who are in office today who have had little education in Missouri history since third or fourth grade and whose teaching in Missouri government was limited to elementary school or maybe a poli sci class in college.  State law requires American history and United States government courses in high school (but no world history or government studies is required in this undeniable era of globalization).

But there is also this:  Both of us believe it takes extraordinary people to turn written goals into personal learning for fifteen to thirty children of incredibly diverse personal and cultural backgrounds every day in our classrooms.  Our lamenting the fact that a lot can happen in the decade from the time one is an eight-year old third grader and when one is an eighteen-year old first-time voter is in no way intended as a swipe at the public education system.  Neither of us could confidently assume that today’s decisions and situations would be better if the study of yesterday’s decisions and situations were fresher in the minds of those who voted and those who were elected. But it would help, we thought, if learning and voting were closer together.

How would we cure that problem?  When we considered all the things our school systems have to do and all of the problems students bring to school with them, we have to confess neither of us is close to an intelligent solution.

But wouldn’t it be nice if all of us, voters, candidates, office-holders alike, had to be as smart as third graders?

The roads of the people

This might or might not be any comfort to the special task force that has recommended fuel tax increases to raise money to maintain our roads and bridges, and build new ones where necessary.  But it might add some context to their work.

A century ago, Governor Elliott Major made his farewell address to the General Assembly.  In his first year in office, 1913, he had issued a proclamation declaring there would be two “Good Roads Days” in Missouri.  By the time he left office, fifteen other states had held annual “Good Roads Days.”  Major thought those special occasions had helped push Missouri to making “more progress in the construction and maintenance of good roads in the last two years than it has in any period of ten years preceding.”

Now, there’s a goal for today’s Missourians!

A century ago, Governor Major thought Missouri’s dirt roads were the most important ones in the system.  Today we might refer to those roads, years from the time when they were dirt, as our farm-to-market roads. But Major’s point about the importance of those roads has a lot of validity today.

In some ways, his message in 1917 is pretty close to the message we could hearing this year—with some modern language.  Here’s what he told the legislature:

The public highways of the country have ever marked by distinct epochs its civilization, and agricultural and commercial progress. It has marked it in the life of Missouri and of the American Republic. Until the highways stand abreast our broadest civilization, we will not be living up to our best privileges and the highest standard we can maintain in our civic and commercial life. We need to continue the construction, improvement and maintenance of our dirt and our hard surface roads. The dirt road, however, is the most important of all the roads. It constitutes ninety per cent of the road mileage of the State, and will continue so to do for many years to come. It is the real road of the people and the great highway of commerce.

We are in favor of the construction and maintenance of macadam, rock, concrete and other high-grade roads because every road that is constructed and passes through a section of country that produces something is an internal improvement of inestimable value. While we favor the construction of these splendid traffic ways, yet these are not the roads which mean most to the whole people. It is the dirt road, representing the first leg of the journey and over which moves the traffic of the State that serves us most; the road which enables the producer to bring more products to the railway stations and to the first markets of the country; the road which enables him to double the size of the haul and make the transit in less time, save wear and tear on harness and wagons and the lives of horses; the road that would bring additional hundreds of  thousands of acres under cultivation; the road that would increase the value per acre of all the lands through which it passes; the road that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in shrinkage in the delivery of live stock; the road that will increase the attendance in the public schools of the country; the road that will lessen that part of the cost of transportation which begins at the producers’ door; the road every tendency of which is to improve community life and make it better morally, civilly and commercially.

There are bad dirt roads and good dirt roads. Bad dirt roads are a liability, good dirt roads are an asset. Missouri can not afford bad dirt roads, but it can afford good dirt roads. The dirt roads reach out into country life like tentacles and over them are moved the products representing the real commerce of the country, and their improvement will mean more to the State and Nation than any other one internal achievement which can be brought about. We can not make all the roads in Missouri high-class roads, but we can make all the bad dirt roads good dirt roads, and in the meantime construct as many high grade roads as possible. ,

Missouri has 63,370 miles of unimproved dirt roads and 54,264 miles of improved dirt roads. We have 3,420 miles of gravel roads, and 1,417 miles of macadam roads. ‘We have 570 miles of sand clay roads, and 700 miles of roads made from chats. We have about 400 miles of patent surface and other miscellaneous roads, making the grand total in the commonwealth over 124,000 miles. Last year there was placed upon these highways betterments valued at approximately $8,000,000. Under the new inter-county-seat drag law, we have about 10,000 miles of inter-county-seat roads, regularly dragged by the State, and upon which during the biennial period the State will have expended more than $225,000 for this purpose, while the people themselves have placed thereon special betterments in the sum of $1,500,000. ‘

The general state road fund law (Article 5, Chapter 121, R. S. Mo. 1909) should be amended so the moneys going into that fund may be used, if necessary, in securing the moneys the federal government may wish to give, meet expenses of convicts when working on or building public roads, or used to meet other important and necessary contingencies which might arise in road construction. It goes without saying that the federal government will give special aid, but it may require the states or the people to expend dollar for dollar. Should this be true, then with the general state road fund statute amended, Missouri can be the first state to receive the federal moneys. It would be well if the committees on roads and highways would, in a limited way, revise the road laws. The laws upon the subject are too numerous and confusing, and this Legislature can render a good work in revising same.

And here we are a century later hoping we can have enough transportation funding to match available federal funds.  The total mileage in our transportation system would astonish Major and the legislators of 1917 and thousands of those miles are the former dirt roads that the counties used to drag.  The amount the state spends on the system might be greater than they could comprehend although still not enough.  Convicts no longer provide free labor to build our roads and although we have more than twenty-five thousand convicts, they would not be nearly enough to give us the system we need.

Roads remain today as they were in Major’s time, links “to improve community life and make it better morally, civilly and commercially.” The language might seem a bit expansive in this Twenty-first century, but the point is the same.  A good transportation system is essential for many different purposes.  And the funding to capitalize on that essentiality remains as vital today as it was when dirt roads were the people’s roads.

To paraphrase Governor Elliott Major: “Bad roads are a liability; good roads are an asset. Missouri cannot afford bad roads, but it can afford good roads.”  We’ll be waiting to see the strategy that will convince tight-fisted Missourians they can afford good roads—or alternately, that they can’t afford not to have good roads.

A 95-year old observation whose time might have come

We are four years away from the centennial of Missouri’s centennial.  Missouri’s bicentennial of statehood also will be the centennial of the Missouri Centennial Road Law.   Not everybody thought it was a good idea then. One editor C. G. Sagaser of the  Huntsville Herald might have been something of a seer when he wrote in his June 10, 1921 edition about an upcoming special session of the legislature that would decide how Missouri’s road system would materialize.

Momentum had been building for a decade to develop a system of hard-surface roads.  Voters in 1920 approved a $60 million dollar bond issue to finance those roads.  The legislature and the governor decided to wait until the summer of 1921 to make that decision.

Four days before the session began, Sagaser said, “Something is about to take place in Jefferson City which means more to Missouri than anything which has happened in the past half century…It is up to this special session to say whether this hard surface road building shall be postponed until road material prices have had an opportunity to decline, or whether we shall blindly proceed to hand out this $60,000,000 at once…”

Then there’s another proposition:  Do we want hard surface roads at all?  I certainly have my doubts about their desirability.  If the legislature will postpone any action on the road building program for two years, we shall then have an opportunity to more thoroughly study and acquaint ourselves with the history of hard surface roads in other states, which would assist us in arriving at a conclusion as to what kind of hard surface roads we want, if any at all. (We have added that emphasis for this entry.)

“…The professional politician does not desire a delay in the road building program, because it would give the people too much time to think things over…It has been a long time since Missouri had a state-wide system of hard surface roads, and we have all lived and been a very happy and cheerful race of people, therefore, we should easily be able to live two years longer without even thinking about hard surface roads.

“And when the machine politician talks about ‘hard surface roads,’ he means concrete roads. The hand of the cement trust is plainly visible. I expect the whole thing to terminate in a gigantic steal if it is put through.

“…I say frankly to the people of Missouri that a system of concrete roads will work havoc with us as a state.  In a few years they would become impassable, owing to our financial inability to maintain them.

  There may be states sufficiently wealthy to maintain a general system of concrete roads, but one thing is certain—Missouri is not included among such states.” 

The legislature met for several weeks in the hot and stuffy Capitol before finally compromising on a system of 1,500 miles of roads of a “higher type than claybound gravel” connecting the population centers.  But one-third of the bond money plus $6,000 a mile from the other two-thirds of the bond issue would be used for secondary roads important to farmers.

It was the kind of legislative compromise that used to be possible—an agreement nobody really liked but something that was acceptable.  The Centennial Road Law of 1921 was the beginning of our 32,000 mile state highway system.

But sure enough, as C. G. Sagaser noted ninety-five years ago, the specter of impassibility looms today owing to our financial inability to maintain them.

Our former press corps colleague, David Lieb of the Associated Press, wrote an excellent analysis earlier this week pointing out that our transportation department not only doesn’t have enough money to build roads and bridges, and make comprehensive repairs on our roads and bridges, it’s having to dip into its capital improvements budget to pay off the latest big bond issue approved several years ago to re-surface our deteriorating highways and replace hundreds of dangerous bridges.

A special committee has been looking for solutions in the interim between legislative sessions and a possible fix is expected to be put on the list of bills to consider next year.

The question then will be whether Sagaser is still right with another observation: “There may be states sufficiently wealthy to maintain a general system of concrete roads, but one thing is certain—Missouri is not included among such states.” 

Really?   Still?    Is Sagaser right after all, these ninety-five years later?

 

 

2017: A legislative anniversary that isn’t

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

Not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the proposed state constitution got in the way.

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

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

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

The Crusaders decided they would quit campaigning at that point.

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

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

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

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

Sikeston, of course, is part of rural Missouri.

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

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.”