The gauge

For years and years The Missourinet has gotten a monthly economic report called The Rural Mainstreet Economic Index. The survey contacts dozens of purchasing managers who fit in the middle of the supply and demand cycle and bank CEOs in rural areas who keep an eye on local financial trends. It covers several Midwestern states but it also provides breakouts on a state-by-state basis. The index measures whether the strength of the economies in each state and has been useful in reporting on the strength of Missouri’s economy that cannot be measured only by looking at the monthly employment/unemployment reports from the state.

The index is compiled by Creighton University economist Ernest Goss, who heads the school’s Institute for Economic Inquiry.  He’s also worked with the Congressional Budget Office and NASA—among others.

Ernie Goss’ index is a nonpartisan gauge but it’s only one of the gauges used to measure the economic status of Missouri.

Your friendly observer has seen numerous proposals made, and many passed, that promise big economic improvements and job growth. Some have focused on preventing companies from moving to other states. Some have focused on making Missouri a more welcoming climate for industries IN other states.  Some have aimed at keeping people in certain professions from fleeing to other places where they won’t face big lawsuits. Some are tax incentives. Some of these issues and their accompanying justifications are before the legislature again this year.  Economic development is, after all, a highly competitive business and Missouri needs to be a force on this playing field. People here do have to work and they prefer to work at good jobs.

In all the years of watching these mostly well-intended efforts we have never seen a nonpartisan assessment of the results. Is Missouri an any greater magnet for jobs because of these efforts?  Are the jobs being created actually improving the economy?  Why is this or that working or not working?  Do some efforts need to be repealed because they’re ineffective instead of getting new programs layered on top of them?  Various interest groups have persuaded or tried to persuade the legislature to pass laws that will allow them to flourish—or so they claim.  Have those programs actually allowed them to flourish?  Or have they just protected those groups from competitors? Is passing economic development legislation without taking steps to finance the infrastructure system to support economic development enough?

We need more than Dr. Goss’ surveys to gauge whether all of the things passed have worked or whether familiar ideas are realistic.  We have competing groups offering competing evaluations and assessments. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Budget Project see economic growth and funding for public programs through distinctly different lenses, for example.

But suppose the heads of the economics departments at our state and private universities formed an informal Council of Missouri Economic Assessors that could regularly release studies indicating how well various initiatives of the state are working. Not a council of advisers.  A council of economic assessors. 

There is no question Missouri must be competitive.  But could we reach a point where the value of new initiatives is less than their costs to public services and programs?  When everybody else is doing the same thing Missouri is doing, are promises of positive results of a new policy hollow?

Economic development initiatives are seldom intended to produce instant results.  We recall that the special incentives offered to Ford to keep its production lines moving at Claycomo did have a pretty immediate impact.  But most of the others envision something long-term.   How long is long enough?

How many times have we heard how many governors say in one way or another what Governor Greitens says in his first state budget message: “Missouri’s budget is suffering from reduced revenue due to poor economic growth.”  How many times have we heard governors say, as Governor Greitens says in his message, that the governor “is committed to making the budget cuts necessary to balance the state’s budget and retain Missouri’s AAA credit rating.”

Underlying all of this are the questions of whether these job-growing efforts are really beneficial to working Missourians, creating employment or opportunities for meaningful employment for those without jobs and whether these steps wind up undermining other capabilities citizens should be getting.

Maybe a Council of Economic Assessors isn’t the unaffiliated body we need to tell us if all of these efforts are paying off and to what degree.  But an educated non-affiliated review of these efforts could be a gauge of where we are, where we might be going if we maintain this course, and whether there are additional facets of the issue that need support, too.

We’re just tired of hearing year after year the repetition of the phrases “job creation,” “withholding,” “triple-A bond rating,” “job-killing tax increases,” “cut,” and “poor economic growth.”  And we’re pretty sure a lot of the people at the capitol on both sides of the aisle are fatigued, too.  Isn’t it time a governor didn’t have to worry about retaining Missouri’s AAA credit rating?

We’ve thrown an idea out there. You might have a better one and we hope you share it.

A thankless job

Here’s an accurate but fictitious job description for a real position in state government:

WANTED:  Twenty-one people to spend sixteen to twenty hours every two years on a project likely to result in nothing being done.  Position is available for only four years and will require two meetings of two to three days each.  No salary or fringe benefits but expenses are paid. Expect no gratitude for a job well-done.  Scorn and public rebukes entirely possible for the results of your work.  Certain qualifications for employment will apply.  Apply to Governor of the State of Missouri.  If hired, you might be interrogated or rebuked by ungrateful beneficiaries of your work.

No, it’s not state executioner. It’s being a member of the Citizens Commission on the Compensation of State Elected Officials, established in law more than twenty years ago so legislators would not be accused of feathering their own nests.

There is some feeling among taxpayers that public servants who create, evaluate, and administer laws, programs, and services should do so out of the pureness of their hearts with no hope of financial gain or reward.  That might be extending things a little but probably not much

So here’s a question for those who think refusal is the only course:  How much would you want to be paid for a critically-important job that requires you to be away from home and family for four days a week for more than four months of the year, that requires broad general knowledge on hundreds of subjects of high public impact, that involves incredible pressures for action and favorable consideration from dozens of sources, that involves days that begin early and might last around the clock more times than you would like?  Furthermore, it would be a second job.  Your main job would continue.  If you were a farmer, you’d be away from home at least four days a week during planting season or farrowing season.  You wouldn’t be around your furniture store, your grocery store, your law office, your—-well, whatever is your main source of income—very much for more than four months each year.

Then, even while you are at home, your fellow townsfolk regularly call your home or stop you on the street asking pointed questions about what you’ve done or not done for them in your second job.

Or what do you think is the proper salary of the CEO of a, say, $27-billion corporation?   Or the salary of the other top officers of the corporation including the Chief Financial Officer or the corporation’s Chief Counsel?

You realize we’re talking about the legislature and the Governor and other members of the executive and judicial branches of government.  Because legislators are subject to the whims of public popularity, they long ago realized the political unattractiveness of setting their own salaries and those of other top officials.  But they retained the power to reject the recommendations of the 21 citizens because they fear the public thinks almost anything they are paid is too much.

The Citizens Commission on Compensation for State Elected Officials compared the salaries of Missouri officials with salaries and workloads of counterparts in other states. It looked at what people doing comparable work in the private sector made.  It went through numerous sheets of statistics and evaluations. It found those top public officials in Missouri are “substantially underpaid” for the responsibilities of the offices they hold and should get eight percent more. Additionally, the commission recommended 2.5% more for legislators.

These twenty-one people knew they probably wouldn’t get any thanks for their responsible efforts. They took some shots from some legislators before lawmakers voted on their recommendations. Governor Greitens, who continues to capitalize on distrust by the people of those the people elect, called their recommendations “outrageous.”

The commission, however, just did the its job.

The internet site Ballotpedia says legislative salaries range from zero in New Mexico (although those lawmakers get $163 a day in per diem) to $100,133 a year in California.  New Hampshire has the lowest legislative salaries of states that do pay salaries–$200 per two year term. Missouri legislators get almost $36,000 a year plus $112 per diem tied to the federal rate.  Sixteen states that pay salaries to their legislators pay more.  Several states pay a daily or weekly rate during sessions only.

Our governor makes about $134,000 a year which ranks 28th among all governor salaries.

The Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court makes about $180,000 for a two-year term then drops back to the $172,000 salary as a member of the court.  The CJ salary is 36th among all state chiefs, and the judge salaries ranks 38th.  The last time the Missouri legislature let pay raises go into effect was for the 2008-09 fiscal year.  Republicans controlled the legislature and the governorship then, as they do now.

The legislature rejected the work of the commission this week. It’s the right decision.  And it might not be incorrect to say it’s the wrong decision.

The public’s increasingly growing distrust of the people the public elects to most of these positions and the recent electoral climate in which “corrupt career politicians” became a rallying roar for thousands of voters made it unlikely from the beginning that the commission’s recommendations would be adopted. Added to that is the often-repeated fact that the worker bees in state government, the people who deserve something better than being dismissed with the derogatory term “bureaucrat,” are among the worst-paid state workers in the entire nation.  We don’t know if their situation was a public discussion matter in rejecting the commission’s suggestions, but surely it was privately acknowledged that accepting the proposed raises at a time when the state budget is so tight that the governor wants to lay off thousands more of those low-paid state workers would fly poorly in several different ways.

So it was the right thing to do.  Politically. And out of respect for the worker bees.

But it also was the wrong thing to do. And here’s why.

First, the citizens commission.  This group of people, citizens, did not take their responsibility lightly. Their job was to examine the issue as dispassionately as possible.  Had they been strictly motivated by today’s politics they might have recommended big pay CUTS.  But that consideration was not part of their responsibility. Their phrase “substantially underpaid for the responsibilities required” is not to be dismissed out of hand. We do not elect our lawmakers and our statewide officials to come to Jefferson City for a five-month or four-year marshmallow roast.  Their important decisions might be laudatory or highly-suspect but they are not made easily. And what they say or do on the floors of the House and Senate is only part, perhaps a small part, of their jobs.  The broad range of constituent services they are expected to perform consumes much of their time—and that part is a year-around labor.

So if you believe someone should be paid fairly for the work they do, the citizens commission was right and the lawmakers were wrong.

It could be viewed as wrong on the “you get what you pay for” scale. If you want an amusing assessment of that phrase, take a look at the Urban Dictionary website (R-rated for some language).  We heard that phrase used to justify pay increases for lawmakers in the pre-commission days.  We don’t recall hearing it used much in discussions of worker bee pay increases.  Should have been if it wasn’t. And maybe the phrase has a different meaning in an era when term limits devalue the expertise that long experience provides. But last year’s campaign raised the YGWYPF by inference if nothing else.

It could be argued, too, that they were wrong because there is no citizens commission on the salaries of state employees that would give legislators the chance to adopt recommended higher pay scales for the worker bees as well as for themselves.  Would it change anything?  In truth, probably not for those who have to face voters at home but maybe for the people who spend their lives in cubicles.

Friends, we have to have government.  And government cannot be an agency of the United Way and the people who bear the multitudinous responsibilities of being government deserve to be treated better than the hamburger flipper at the drive-through window.

The hamburger flipper, the cubicle dweller, the senator, the representative, the governor, and the judge all have responsibilities.  We wish we knew of a way to fairly measure and properly reward each one for the work they do and the responsibilities they bear.  In some ways the marketplace makes the determination.  In other ways, citizens commissions try to do the same.

A thankless job?  You bet.  Outrageously thankless.  But somebody had to do it.  And this fellow citizen, for one, appreciates their willingness to do it.

Erasing History in the Missouri House

The daily journals kept by the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate are bare-bones records of their proceedings.  Eloquence and folly voiced during floor debate have no place in them.  This is not, after all, Congress, where the daily Congressional Record captures every word, even words never spoken (Members are allowed to “revise and expand” their remarks).

Reading the Missouri legislature’s journals reveals some things, though.  The journals tell us that the order of procedure used today are pretty much the very same order of procedure used in our earliest legislative sessions.  There is an official structure to the making of laws that is honored every day.  Titles of bills and texts of amendments give us some indication of the thinking of the participants and thus an indication of the standards of Missouri society through time.  Resolutions, too, reflect often contemporary issues, events, and causes.   Only in recent years have debates been archived by, among others, the Secretary of State.

Today, however, we are going to tell you about a House Journal that does not reflect what happened that day because the House deliberately erased the record.   It was an extraordinary event.  We cannot say it was unprecedented because it will take someone with weeks or months of time we do not have to learn if it was.

We go back to Sunday night, January 25, 1903, when the young firebrand temperance-promoting preacher at the Christian Church about four blocks down East Main Street (Capital Avenue today) charged city officials and the people of Jefferson City had allowed Jefferson City to have a lower moral standard than any other small city in Missouri. Crayton S. Brooks charged the arrival of legislators that month had not helped.  His sermon caused great unrest in the capital city and a week of give-and-take in the local press kept the issue hot.  Legislators watched events with interest.

Now let’s look at the House Journal:

—-

TWENTIETH DAY—Tuesday, February 3, 1903. House met pursuant to adjournment. Speaker Whitecotton in the chair. Prayer by the Chaplain. Journal of yesterday read and approved. Mr. Kirkham offered the following joint resolution, which was read and adopted: JOINT RESOLUTION. Whereas. Hon. Dorsey W. Shackietord, Congressman from the Eighth Missouri district, has introduced into the National House 0f Representatives a bill to create a national park at the famous Ha-Ha-Tonka region, in Camden county, Missouri; and Whereas, Lake Ha-Ha-Tonka, and the Niangua river, adjacent thereto, with the surrounding natural scenery and phenomena, have been pronounced by scientists and naturalists the most interesting and beautiful spot on earth; now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of this House, the Senate concurring therein, that the same should be preserved to the people for all time as a national park, and to that end, we urgently request our Senators and Representatives in the National Congress to co-operate with Congressman Shackleford in his efforts to secure the passage of said bill; and be it further Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions, duly authenticated, be forwarded to each or our Senators and Representatives at Washington.

Mr. Dolan presented a communication from the “Brotherhood of Daily Life,” condemning the passage of any legislation discriminating between the races; Which was read and referred to Committee on Railroads and Internal Improvements. Mr. Dolan presented a petition from the citizens of Jackson county to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to minors; Which was read and referred to Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

—-

But that’s not what happened at all when the House came into session that day.

The legislature in those days designated an official newspaper that would publish and bind the official journals at the end of the session.  It wasn’t that difficult at the end because the paper also published the daily journals and all the editors had to do at the end of the session was take all of that type that had been saved and print the bound volumes.

The House Journal for Tuesday February 3 had been published by the Jefferson City State Tribune on January 4 before the House approved the journal for the official record. THIS is what the journal said in the newspaper:

—-

TWENTIETH DAY—Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1903  (the newspaper had the date wrong)

House met pursuant to adjournment, Speaker Whitecotton in the chair.

Prayer by ________,

On motion of Mr. OFFICER, further reading of the House Journal was dispensed with.

MR COLDEN introduced the following resolution concerning the removal of the state capitol:

“Whereas, the pulpit and the press, the two recognized regulators of public morals and the public conscience, condemn Jefferson City, the seat of government of the state of Missouri, as a place where gambling, vice and immorality flourish without protest from the citizens or the officers of the law; and

“Whereas the seat of government was located at its present site in the days of stage coach and steamboat, and is without adequate railway facilities, and is unreasonably inaccessible to a majority of the people of the state, and is further unable to furnish ample accommodations for a capital city; and

“Whereas, the state of Missouri is practically out of debt and will soon be compelled to erect a new capitol commensurate to the needs of the state; therefore be it

“Resolved, That the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Permanent Seat of Government be and is hereby instructed to prepare a joint and concurrent resolution, providing for the removal of the capitol to some point at or near one of the great railway centers of the state, to be determined by a commission to be appointed by the Governor, and to be submitted to the qualified voters at the next general election of the state of Missouri.”

Mr. TICHACEK offered an amendment naming St. Louis as the place to be selected as the railway center named in the resolution.

Mr. GARDNER offered an amendment to the resolution as follows:

“That said commissioners specially consider the practicability of using the buildings to be constructed by Missouri on the World’s Fair site for capitol purposes.”

Mr. WILLIAMS offered an amendment, providing for one million dollars to be raised by the city of St. Louis.

Resolution, with all amendments, was adopted.

—-

The reaction from Jefferson City was immediate, strong, and pointed.  The State Tribune immediately editorialized, “After all Jefferson City is not such a bad place to live in….Jefferson City has the best streets and sidewalks, the best telephone system, the best railway station; one of the best county court houses in the state. Its waterworks and sewerage are unsurpassed.”

The competing Cole County Democrat the next day dismissed Colden’s effort as a “Scare-Crow Resolution,” saying it was “gotten up to scare the people of Jefferson City” and was not taken seriously by any of the representatives who voted for it.

The State Tribune argued that St. Louis was hardly the place to move the capitol if the lawmakers’ aim was to go somewhere lacking in “intemperance, gambling and licentiousness…cheap theatres or other places of seductive character” to lure them from the paths of rectitude.

Representative Colden was beating a fast retreat by Thursday.  “Just a joke,” he proclaimed.  “I am surprised by the seriousness of the people of Jefferson City on the capital removal proposition,” he said.  In fact, he fully supported Reverend Brooks.   So did Lieutenant Governor John A. Lee, the President of the state senate, who said he would not favor moving the seat of government away.

Then on Monday afternoon, February 9, Colden brought his resolution back to the House, noting city officials had taken action, that the charges made against the city had been hurtful, and that his resolution had accomplished its purpose. He moved that his resolution be expunged from the journal.  Another representative moved that the resolution and all of the amendments be expunged.  The House voted 55-16 to do that.

The Journal for that day contains no reference to that discussion or to that vote.

And that is why the original journal for February 3, 1903 indicates Representative Colden never offered a resolution. Nobody offered any amendments to a resolution, and no resolution on removing the seat of state government to St. Louis ever passed.  And since the official journal for February 3 says no such thing ever occurred, the Journal for February 9 contains no record of the House expunging something that never happened—but did.

We know these things happened because the newspaper published them.  And only because the newspaper published them.

We never saw anything like this happen in all our years of covering the legislature.  We hope it is never repeated.  Thanks to a newspaper, the historical record is clear even if the official record is not. That’s why we have a free press with which you can agree or disagree.  But as long as we have media that is free to record events that become history, we will know.  And in knowing we will remain free.

Speaking of—

Speeches

Speechifying is an important element in starting a new legislative session and getting a new governor in place.  Making speeches at the start of things is always the easiest part of the job.  Hope is always its highest in the early hours or days of service in the pressure cooker we call the public arena.  High hopes often are worn down by the grit of real life and the grinder of competing ideas.  Noble words printed at the start often become nostalgic yearnings at the end.   But let’s talk about the optimism of talk when things are new in Missouri government, beginning with the opening day remarks from legislative leaders and then doing a reprise of an outsider’s warnings and pledges on his inauguration day.

Senate President pro Tem Ron Richard has started his second, and final, term as leader of the state senate.  He’s the only man in state history to lead both chambers of the legislature. Nobody will ever accuse him of being a political windbag.  There sometimes would be pauses during our news conferences while reporters waited for a second sentence. It was kind of fun.

His opening was pure Richard: “I know it’s a tradition that the new President Pro-Tem gives a big speech on the first day and sets the agenda. But I’m not big on long, windy speeches.”

Richard believes the words “Senator,” and “Senate” have values that deserve more respect than they sometimes get from his fellow senators.  “What we do here matters and how we do it matters,” he told his colleagues. “Why is it that Missourians—who are not unnecessarily extravagant people—decided more than one hundred years ago to build such a wonderful capitol?…I think Missourians then—and Missourians now—want us to feel the weight of what we do here.”

He urged his colleagues to pledge to teach other to “conduct the business of the Senate in a way that rises to the grandeur of the great state of Missouri.”  He spoke at length of history and the hope that “we are remembered for respecting the institution of the Senate and each other; for restoring civility to the chamber; and that we were able to be passionate about our convictions without being combative with one another.”

In the House, Speaker Todd Richardson—starting his second term in that job—spoke at greater length and did lay out the majority party’s agenda.  But he cautioned members of his own supermajority party not to overplay their power.  “With this greater power comes even greater responsibility—a responsibility to make this legislative process deliberative.  That means we must respect the voices and viewpoints of every Missourian…Inevitably we are going to disagree, both in our caucuses and across the aisle.  This is the people’s House and we are a body that is supposed to have spirited discussion, but those discussions and that disagreement should stay professional and mindful of our fellow legislators, and the constituents we serve.”

He pointed to several economic and societal changes in which he felt Missouri was lagging behind as he discussed the Republican agenda for the session. “Government does not create jobs,” he said. “Real people do. Government’s role is to lay a stable foundation upon which entrepreneurs and hard-working Missourians can do the job-creating.”  Minority Democrats already have served notice that they’ll noisily oppose Right to Work, don’t much like Republican tort reform ideas, charter school and private school voucher programs, right to life and LGBT positions, and the like. There’s general agreement on strengthening lobbyist controls including a ban on gifts to elected officials.   Richardson says the gift ban will be the first bill out of the House this year. He called for an end to “half measures” and a commitment to “bold action.”

Governor Greitens’ inaugural speech fit into those themes. He cited history and the character that it has built for our state and that binds all of us together.  But, he noted, that does not mean we have to agree with one another.  “Sometimes the purpose of our opponents is to be our teachers,” he said. Further, “Even as we fight for our convictions, we resolve that the greatest conviction is to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

But, he said, “I come as an outsider, to do the people’s work.”  He promised to be tough on crime and to be resistant to special influence.  He mentioned, as others before him have mentioned, that government cannot fix every problem, that people carry a heavy responsibility as citizens to care for one another and to take advantage of opportunities government provides.  “Let’s get to work,” he said at the end.

Three speeches.  Three venues.  Common themes in the beginning days of the legislature and of an administration.

Another thing Senator Richard said in his brief remarks added realism to the next few months. “We’re human, and we make mistakes, especially in the passion of the moment…How will history remember us?”

The way history remembers the participants in this annual drama will be determined in the next four months or four years.  One thing is sure:  They will make history.

The senator, the judge, the Boss, and the Quail

Time is running short this year for people who like to kill one of our state symbols.  The 2016-17 quail season ends soon—January 15, Sunday.  The legislature declared the Bobwhite Quail our official state game bird in 2007.  We watched the debates that resulted from a project to teach elementary school students how the legislature works by getting the legislature to establish a new state symbol.  But none of the debaters mentioned the greatest tribute ever paid on the Senate floor to the quail.

The speech also has some historical threads that involve one of the unique gubernatorial elections in state history, a scandal, and creation of an important state agency.  When you’ve finished reading the tribute to the quail we’ll tell you the additional history that goes with it.

State Senator Francis M. Wilson, an avid quail hunter from Platte County, stood in the Senate March 7, 1911 to support his bill preventing the killing of quail until December, 1914 because the bird numbers had dropped so much.  He argued that the prairie chicken and the wild turkey had almost been exterminated in Missouri and quail were on the verge.  He said the state game and fish warden was trying to stock the state with Hungarian Partridges, which look like quail.  He said those birds plus the rapid multiplication of protected quail would be a service to farmers and would become numerous enough to allow quail hunting to resume. Observers said he convinced a previously hostile senate to pass the bill. His colleagues were so impressed that Wilson was asked to reduce his remarks to writing so they could be printed in the Senate Journal.  He spoke off the cuff but wrote down his recollections of what he said. If you’re an avid quail hunter, you might find this century-old tribute to the official state game bird of some interest. If you’re not, we invite you to look at an example of what was then called “spread-eagle oratory.”  Yes, we note the juxtaposition of eagle and quail.

The quail is among the most ancient of game birds. In some form, differing in habits and appearance, either gay with the plumage of sunny climes, or grave with the subdued colors of cheerless landscapes, it has been found throughout the world.

If we search for its origin it is obscured in the mists of antiquity. The Bible tells us of the Almighty furnishing this toothsome bird to nourish and strengthen the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness. In all ages it has given the historian his brightest glimpse of bird life, and the poet inspiration for his sweetest song. The name given this royal bird differs with the locality and folk-lore of the people, but throughout the eastern states, from the pineries of Maine to the flowery fields of Florida and westward to the foothills of the mountains, it is known as “Bob White”—the true name adopted by all ornithologists. And so it is for the protection and preservation of this messenger of civilization, proud aristocrat of farm and field and orchard that I press this measure upon the Senate. Senators from favored sections of the State, where these birds are fairly plentiful, argue that to enact such a law would be unjust to their constituents. In this I find no comfort for them, but on the contrary one of the strongest arguments favoring the passage of the bill. History repeats itself. Within the memory of many of my distinguished colleagues, the princely domain which I represent was indeed a “hunters’ paradise.” Deer broke covert from every brake; wild pigeons clouded the sun as vast flocks passed from feeding to roosting places; wild turkeys in almost countless numbers were everywhere; prairie chickens abode with us in contentment; wild geese—harbingers of coming fall and spring—covered the sandbars of our rivers, or on mighty wing rushed through the air, but,

“There is a Power whose care Teaches thy way along that pathless coast, The desert and illimitable air, Lone wandering, but not lost.”

 

But how sad the change. How sorrowful the retrospect. In secluded places, scattered far and wide over a limited section of our State, the deer are making their last gallant stand; wild pigeons live only in the glorious traditions of our great Commonwealth; the prairie chicken is now rara avis, and the wild goose calls in alarm his scattered few, as high above its would-be murderers, they cleave the blue of kindly skies as they hasten to the few asylums in the far away Southland, or in the frozen regions of the north. It has been given to me to witness the almost incredible destruction of this valuable game—not at the hands of true sportsmen, for they have long waged unequal battle to stay the wholesale and inexcusable slaughter—but to satisfy the inordinate greed of the “game hog,” and his foster brother, the “pot-hunter,” who slew and still slay merely that they may boast of their prowess with the gun, and to furnish a precarious living for the market hunter who stains himself with the butchery of these gentle creatures our Creator gave as a blessing. Senators, what is true of my section of the State will be in a few years the sad story you will have to tell of man’s inhumanity to game life. It will then be everlastingly too late to repine. “The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on; nor all your piety, nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”

What a splendid fight Bob White is making against the combined hosts of his enemies, and what a fine battle the farmers of my district are waging to save him from extinction. None know better than the farmer and the orchardist the incalculable benefit he is to field, garden and orchard. From “early morn ’till dewy eve,” bright of eye and swift of leg, the Bob Whites are busy with the destruction of noxious insects and weed pests. He is not regarded as a trespasser, but is entertained as a royal guest, whose stay we would have indefinitely prolonged. True, it has taken science a long time to discover what our agriculturists have always known about the value of this bird as his chief assistant among the feathered tribe, but it is now proclaiming its manifold virtues.

It is officially recorded that examination of many hundreds of the stomachs and crops of these birds disclose them crowded with the seeds of noxious and troublesome weeds, his diet for almost half the year. Upon this a Government report, says: “It is reasonable to suppose that in the states of Virginia and North Carolina from September 1 to April 30, there are four Bob Whites to each square mile of land, or 354,820 in the two states. The crop of each bird is filled twice a day and holds half an ounce of seed. Since at each of the two daily meals, weed seeds constitute at least half the contents of the crop, or one-fourth of an ounce, a half ounce daily is consumed by each bird. On this basis, the total amount of weed seeds consumed by Bob Whites from September 1 to April 30, in Virginia and North Carolina alone amounts to 1,341 tons.” May I inquire what the harvest of weeds would have been had each of these seeds produced? Does not this plead trumpet-tongued in his defense? But this is not all science teaches of the aid this bird is giving- those who toil that we may live. Where insects abound, Bob White plays no favorites in his labors of extermination. Alike he wars upon the chinch bug, the grasshopper, the potato bug, the cotton-boll-weevil, the codling moth and other devastating bugs of forest, field and orchard. In a letter to the Department of Agriculture, touching the voracious appetite of this bird for such pests, a gentleman from Kansas writes: “On opening the crop, we found about two tablespoonfuls of chinch bugs,” and when a further consultation of authorities disclose that this bug has cost the farmers at least 100 millions of dollars per year, you may well stand aghast at the formidable array of facts and figures—which admit of no dispute—that Bob White, above all his feather brothers, is entitled to the proud name of the Farmer’s Friend.

It is not alone as an assistant that this bird is so firmly fixed in the affections of the farmer. Incense to its many other virtues rise from countless happy homes all over the land. Rich in sentiment, with ear atune to nature’s symphonies, the farmer revels in the music Bob White contributes to the melody of the Almighty’s musicians. No bright tinted troubadour of the air, flashing here and there like a thing of light, his gorgeous breast almost bursting with rich excess of song, charms him from the seductive call of his best-loved bird friend. Spring has Come. Here and there the brown patches of earth again become the nursery of tender grasses and modest flowers, and all nature is yielding to the annual miracle which heals the scars on winter’s grave with the sweet assurance that we too shall live again. From afar, soft as the mellow tones of a flute, its sharp, staccato whistle, changed by the witchery of the season into the coy notes of love’s first story, comes Bob White! Ah! Bob White. Again the music of his soul changes. The shy wooer of the demure little lady nearby, becomes bold as a knight errant, and as his ardor and jealousy keep pace, from stump, or rail or broken thicket branch or wherever her eyes, kindling with the fires of coming allegiance will fall upon his knightly bearing, or ears hear his ardent protestations, again the call, but now the ringing challenge of the mail-clad warrior ready to do battle in the lists for his lady love. The theater of his song changes again with the coming of June, life’s time of thrift. The earth riots in the blazonry of bloom. The covenants of spring have been redeemed and summer sings of the fatness of field and vine in the coming autumn. While the dew is yet wet on the green of the leaves and gold of the flowers, Bob White banishes sleep with his insistent call, Wheat’s ripe! Wheat’s ripe! His faithful mate is not far. In some neglected spot, where security is found, she is busy with the duties of maternity and again his chuckling notes, All’s well! All’s well! as from “The orchard, the meadow, the deep tangled wild-wood” he gives full throated utterance of his ecstatic joy. What is more charming to the ear than the music of the quail, wafted from wheat shocks as the rays of the rising sun turn from orange to gold the “beauty of the valleys and the glory of the hills?” It surpasses the ripple of the brook, which poets say is nature’s grandest melody. The tenderest memories of my boyhood days are linked with hazy summer, when the air was freighted with the perfume of flowers, fruits and berries and the cheery whistle of Bob White rang through the old orchard. Through the years come hymns of happy reapers, singing in seas of shimmering grain, the sound of bells, tinkling the way of homeward plodding herds, the voices of harvest toilers chanting the dirge of dying day and mingling with it all Bob White’s musical farewell as failing light slips down the cloud-isles of the sunset.

“Dies the day, and from afar away, Under the evening stars, Dies the echo as dies the day, Droops with the dew in the new-mown hay, Sinks and sleeps in the scent of the May, Dreamily, faint and far.”

Mr. President! I am a devotee of the rod and gun, and from the standpoint of a true sportsman—which I claim to be—my pulse always beats quick when I behold that seed time has passed, and the fruitage of the earth has come to its own. “Magnificent Autumn! He comes not like a pilgrim clad in russet weed; he comes not like a hermit clad in gray; but he come like a warrior with the stain of blood upon his brazen mail. His crimson scarf is rent His scarlet banner drips with gore.” The call “Bob White” is silent, but from stubble, pasture, tangled copse and corn fields, standing rank on rank like Huzzars in their uniforms of gold and silver, we hear his peculiar covey call. It falls upon the impatient ear of the sportsman with unmeasured delight. Tired of the grind of the busy mill of business, the weary sentinels of his brain give warning that it is only the wine of nature which quickens the sluggish blood, brings new light to careworn eyes, and paints the pallid cheek with the ruddy glow of health. As he fills his pockets with shells, his faithful dog leaps about him, eager to match his gift of nose with the cunning of this winsome bird. The east is crimsoning with the coming of a perfect day. The Frost King has scattered his jewels with lavish hand, and from bough and twig and stiffened blade of grass, like diamonds in the corona of Queens, they glow and flash with many colored fires as they herald the growing glory of the sun. Bob White is ready for gun and dog in the perfection of limb and wing, feeling assured that if these fail his mimicry of plumage with his surroundings may defeat the “tainted gale” as pointer or setter ranges far and wide o’er the scented heather in its search. But not so. There is a stiffening of the muscles; like an exquisitely carved statue, the dog “stands.” There is a whirr of wings and the air is full of smoke. Again the quest is taken up, and so through the hours of the too short day, over hill and plain—with few birds perhaps—but with renewed health and strength, the weary hunter turns homeward. The day is done. Lights appear as he draws near home. Loved ones run to meet him at the gate, their faces shining with expectant hope as they inquire, How are you! What luck! As he turns to enter man’s only asylum of perfect rest, there comes faintly the covey call again, as

“Shrill and shy from the dusk they cry, Faintly from over the hill; Out of the gray where shadows lie, Out of the gold where sheaves are high, Covey to covey, call and reply, Plaintively, shy and shrill.”

After this speech, which some felt equal to George Graham Vest’s “Eulogy on a Dog,” the Senate passed the bill but the House defeated it, assuring an uncertain future for the quail.

Now, here’s more of the story.

Francis M. Wilson, the son of a congressman, and known in his time as the Red-Headed Peckerwood from Platte County, was elected to the state senate in 1899 to fill a vacancy.  He lost a race for Congress in 1904 but was elected back to the state senate in 1908 and was re-elected twice.  He resigned from the senate to become the federal prosecuting attorney for the western district of Missouri, a position he held until 1920.  He lost the Democratic nomination for governor in 1928 but with the strong support of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast, won his primary in 1932 and seemed to be a lock to become governor. Truman biographer David McCullough calls him “a freckled, old-fashioned Missouri stump speaker who excelled at charming country crowds with his poetic tributes to the natural splendors of their beloved state.” He had suffered from bleeding ulcers for some time and one morning about three weeks before the election, he complained of feeling poorly and died a short time later. McCullough says that when someone suggested an undertaker be called, Mrs. Wilson refused to allow it until Pendergast was notified. When Pendergast arrived, he immediately asked the family if they favored someone to replace Wilson on the ticket.  Guy B. Park, they said.  “Who the hell is Guy Park?” asked Pendergast—in McCullough’s telling of the story.  Four hours later, Pendergast called back and said it was okay to call a mortician.  Guy B. Park had agreed to run. He was elected by a large margin and remained such a Pendergast ally that the Executive Mansion sometimes was called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Park appointed a new state Game and Fish Commissioner, Wilbur Buford, who noted at the end of his first year that there had been a complete turnover of employees, all patronage hires, a situation that was of increasing concern for Missouri outdoorsmen.  Their concerns led to the formation of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, which promptly began circulating petitions to establish a state conservation department isolated from political patronage. Voters approved the plan in Park’s last year in office, a quarter-century after Wilson’s tribute, the same year they elected Lloyd C. Stark as the new governor.

Stark also had Pendergast support but turned on the Boss and started helping the federal prosecutors build a case against him and the state insurance superintendent who had conspired in a massive fraud case. Stark had another motive—to weaken Pendergast support for Senator Harry Truman because Stark wanted to run against Truman in 1940. In the summer of 1937, Stark appointed the first four conservation commissioners: Buford, Columbia businessman E. Sidney Stephens, State Planning Commission member Albert Greensfelder of St. Louis, and Missouri Ruralist editor John F. Case.  Stephens, who father had headed the commission that supervised construction of the Capitol, became the first chairman of the new commission.

And with that, the quail that Francis M. Wilson so loved gained the guardian they needed and an agency that makes sure there can be quail seasons in Missouri.

Rookie camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes From a Quiet Street    VIII/2016 

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

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

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

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

—–

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

—–

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

—–

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or in-season Tiger football.

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

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

—-

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

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

Corrupt career politicians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fat chance.

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

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

The cowboy code

In the gentler time in which your observer of the passing scene grew up, when most matinee movie heroes were clean-shaven, wore white hats and rode Palomino horses while villains were facially grubby, wore black hats and rode dark horses, when people were killed without huge doses of blood, guts, and brain matter being sprayed about, when nude scenes were those showing the hero’s horse without a saddle, three good guys set a tone for their young admirers to live by.

Oh, there were others on the screen and on the radio—and later on television (although this young viewer was always disappointed that Clayton Moore’s television Lone Ranger lacked the authoritative deep voice of  Brace Beemer’s radio Lone Ranger), but Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger were the ones who not only exemplified by their actions what good people were supposed to be but who also had written codes of conduct that might seem quaint today but were—it seems through the tinted glasses of nostalgia—part of the upbringing of a few generations that seemed more—-well, courteous.

loneroygene

We know society in those days had its dark sides—-we don’t recall any black cowboy heroes on the movie screens of our childhood movie houses, for example, and the Lone Ranger was the only movie hero that had a minority sidekick—unless you count the Cisco Kid and Pancho.  But in our insulated world, our radio and movie heroes told us how we should behave.

In these days when language is loose and clothes are sometimes even looser, when too many movies and TV shows are a series of explosions around which is stitched a weak plot, when our politics have become crude and our policies have tended toward narrowness, perhaps a reminder of what our cowboy heroes expected of us is in order.

Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code said:

The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.  He must never go back on his word, or trust confided in him. He must always tell the truth.  He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas. He must help people in distress.  He must be a good worker.  He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.  He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.  The Cowboy is a patriot. 

Your correspondent was a proud member of the Roy Rogers Riders Club and as I recall, my membership card had ten rules:

Be neat and clean.  Be courteous and polite.  Always obey your parents. Protect the weak and help them. Be brave but never take chances.  Study hard and learn all you can.  Be kind to animals and take care of them. Eat all your food and never waste any.  Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.  Always respect our flag and our country.

Fran Striker, who created the Lone Ranger for Detroit Radio Station WXYZ in 1933, composed the Lone Ranger’s creed:

I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one; that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world; that God put the firewood there, but every man must gather and light it himself; in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right; that a man should make the most of what equipment he has; that “this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people,” shall live always; that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number; that sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken; that all things change but the truth, and the truth alone lives on forever. I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man. 

Sometimes, as we watch campaigns and legislatures, it seems that our cowboy heroes aren’t the only things that have ridden off into the sunset.

Sigh.

(About the picture:  It was taken November 29, 1981 at the Hollywood Christmas Parade.  Left to Right:  Iron Eyes Cody, Clayton Moore, Roy, Gene, and Pat Buttram.  The picture was taken at a time when Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to The Lone Ranger, got a court order barring Moore from appearing as the Masked Man.  Moore wore the wrap-around sun glasses until Wrather relented in 1984. http://www.westernclippings.com/treasures/westerntreasures_gallery_10.shtml)

Save the cursives   

Our computer has just helped make the case for what appears below.  This entry originally was written in a cursive type face.  But when the words were transferred to Word Press for posting, the computer threw a bucket of 21st-Century cold water on the Twentieth Century author and issued a Borg-like warning that all resistance is futile (Star Trek fans will understand).  Feel free to transcribe it in longhand to appreciate the original intent.

How sad that we have reached a point where a machine keeps you from reading what you have written as it was written.  However—-

Some school districts no longer teach cursive handwriting, what some call longhand. The means of creating the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, letters home from the battlefront, and thousands of our greatest and/or most popular books has been dismissed by the Common Core Standards. Missouri is one of 42 states to adopt Common Core although it was done only with a certain amount of legislative thrashing around that led to formation of a committee to recommend our own standards which turned out to be pretty much Common Core.

Killing cursive was the idea of the National Governors Association (have you tried to read the signatures of our governors or other high officials; they’re hardly good examples of cursive?) and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  States can, if they wish, put the teaching of cursive back into their schools.

But don’t make Common Core any more of a whipping boy than necessary.  Cursive fell out of favor with the enactment of No Child Left Behind, which did not include it on tests that led to rating of schools under NCLB. And if it’s not something that’s being assessed so schools can be rated on their quality of teaching, why teach it?

Life experiences have taught most of us that a lot of life is made up of things that were learned but not assessed in school.  We’ve talked to some teachers who worry that their schools are so obsessed with assessments that teaching and learning are diminished.

Why is this system of writing that most of us practice with varying degrees of legibility so suddenly so, so—Twentieth Century?  Well, say critics, cursive just takes too darn much time.  And as students move through their education and into the workplace, cursive handwriting isn’t as useful a skill as using a keyboard.

Why, heck, it’s not going to be very long at this rate before a replacement for Common Core rates schools on how well their students use their thumbs.  The rest of the hand is reserved for Olympic sports or musical instruments.

Some people believe cursive writing hones motor skills in children.  Some think it encourages gracefulness in an otherwise decreasingly graceful world.  We saw a story that ran on ABC News quoting an associate professor at the University of Staganger Reading Centre (it’s in Norway) who doesn’t dismiss typewriting but who says, “Handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.”  Translated, said ABC, “Those who learn to write by hand learn better.”

Some researchers suggest that the fastest handwriting involves the use of a mix of cursive and printed letters.  One researcher thinks people writing by hand can gain speed that way without losing legibility.

Cursive writing has all but disappeared in the legislative chambers of the Missouri Capitol.  It is so rare as to invite comment when a lawmaker submits a handwritten amendment to be considered in debate.  Hours of time are wasted each year while the chambers “stand at ease” so someone with a suddenly brilliant idea can consult with a staff member sitting at a computer who knows how to put together a string of words on a keyboard.   Some observers link a perceived decline in the intellectual capacity of our lawmakers to the decline in the use of pen and paper and handwritten amendments.  We are taking an official neutral position for now.

There are plenty of articles on the pros and cons of cursive writing.  But we’ve come up with our own ideas of why teaching cursive writing remains important.  It’s simple.

If you can’t write it, you can’t read it.  And not everything written is on a web page somewhere.  Sometimes you have to be able to read the original document.  Maybe it’s grandfather’s letter from Vietnam to his girl at home.  Maybe it’s the middle pages of the old family Bible where your family records have been kept for generations. Maybe it’s the original survey of your property. It could be anything and it could be highly meaningful.

There is something about seeing the original final version of the Declaration of Independence and the final engrossed copy of the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington.  Something about those handwritten words says something about the human striving that went into the creation of those documents.  Your observer has yet to see a thumb-written message that indicates any striving, and precious little thought, has gone into the expression of something.  Your observer has not yet seen anything noble written by thumbs.

Yes, these meanderings are written on a keyboard.  But at least, all ten fingers are used.

Not all handwritten things are easily read.  Many years ago, a friend sent a prominent Missouri lawyer a letter that told him, “Send me something I can read.”   Your faithful scribe has been working for a couple of weeks transcribing an 1846 lawsuit challenging the ownership of the land on which Jefferson City stands.   Some of the writing displays the elegance of a learned hand of the 18th and 19th century.  But there have been times when it has taken fifteen minutes to figure out one word.  And in typing the transcript of the documents, there are several blanks where the scrawl is so bad that we just ran up a white flag.

We fear the day that a new foreign language will be added to the list of college courses:  Cursive 101.  Advanced Cursive.  Honors Cursive.  Practical Cursive.  Maybe colleges of education will offer a course such as Teaching Cursive 256.  It would be an elective.

Wonder what the final exam would be like.