Day at the Capitol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                        

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stripes

We’ve been thinking more about our Missouri Bicentennial license plate, particularly about the wavy lines at the top and the bottom of the plate.  As the designers have noted, they represent the rivers that have been and remain important to our state.

The Mississippi River that became the eastern boundary of Missouri was for many years the western boundary of the United States, the line that separated the nation from Spanish territory.  Failure by the British to gain control of the river during the American Revolution (thanks in no small part to the 1780 Battle of St. Louis) was key to the nation’s survival and development.

The Mississippi and its tributaries—the Wisconsin, the Illinois, and the Ohio, for example—brought the first explorers and settlers to Missouri.  Father Jacques Marquette and his voyageur partner Louis Joliet followed the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers in 1673 to the Mississippi and followed the it until they encountered a “dreadful” river flowing into the Mississippi, “an accumulation of large and entire trees, branches and floating islands issuing from the mouth of the river Pekitanoui with such impetuosity that we could not without great danger risk passing through it.”  It was the Missouri, of course.

LaSalle and Tonty came down the Mississippi in 1682. It was LaSalle who envisioned a string of French settlements that would control trade with the Indians and exploit the land with mining.  He took control of the area and named it for his monarch, Louis the Great, Louis XIV.  In 1720, Phillippe Renault set up lead mines and brought the first slaves to Missouri to work them.  Etienne de Bourgmont (sometimes spelled “Bourgmond”) built the first fort in western part of the state when he put up Fort Orleans on the north bank of the Missouri a few years later in response to French concerns that Spain was coveting the territory and might mount an expedition from Santa Fe.

The Ohio brought George Morgan and his settlers to New Madrid to establish the first American settlement in this area—on the Mississippi.

Another Mississippi River tributary, which defines our northeast corner, caused thirty years of disputes about where the line should be separating us from Iowa.  The northeast corner was defined as a line that reached the rapids of the Des Moines River.  But nobody knew where those rapids were. Or are.   The dispute triggered by that search almost led to Missouri going to war with Iowa, the famous “Honey War.”   The U.S. Supreme Court finally decided the issue.

The St. Francis River, which flows from Iron County into the Mississippi about 425 miles south, was instrumental in shaping Missouri’s southern border.  When John Hardeman Walker wanted his farm in Missouri, not in Arkansas Territory. the St. Francis River became the eastern border of the Bootheel created to include Walker’s land.

Missouri’s original western border was the western side of Worth, Gentry, DeKalb, Clinton, and Clay Counties until 1836 when the federal government convinced the Indians living in the area between there at the Missouri River to move west.  The Platte Purchase added six counties in an area abut the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined and extended our northwestern border to the Missouri River.  That’s how the Missouri became part of the border of—Missouri.

Most of the founding settlements of Missouri were on the rivers: Ste. Genevieve, where some accounts say people were living as early as 1722 although other accounts date the founding at 1735 and permanent settlement at 1752; St. Louis, 1764; St. Charles, 1769; Portage des Sioux, 1779, New Madrid, the first American settlement, 1789; Cape Girardeau, 1793.  When lead mining developed in eastern Missouri, one of the biggest challenges for the miners was hacking a road through the forests to get to the river to ship their lead out.

Up to the start of the Civil War, the ten most populous cities in Missouri were all along the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers.  St. Louis, located near the junction of the two greatest rivers, was the largest city in 1860 with 160,773 people. The population of the other nine combined equaled only one-fourth of the St. Louis number.

The importance of rivers is emphasized by the location of the state capital city.  The first state legislature determined the capital should be centrally located.  And how did those lawmakers define central location?  On the Missouri River within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage.  On a principle river not far from an important secondary river that linked central Missouri with the southwest, a capital city that was accessible by a network of rivers that in those days linked all areas of the state, including the northwest corner added a decade after government moved to the City of Jefferson.

The Missouri River gave us, in addition to St. Charles and Jefferson City, the now-vanished communities of Cote Sans Dessein and Franklin, as well as Hermann, and Boonville (which tried in 1831 to take the seat of government away from Jefferson City), Lexington, and eventually Westport and Kansas City, then St. Joseph—and Omaha, and Council Bluffs.

By 1820, some settlers had moved up the Osage and formed what became Warsaw and by 1831, Lewis Bledsoe was running a ferry operation on the river, near the present Truman Dam.

The great rivers brought us legends, mechanical and human—Mike Fink, the fur traders and trappers like Hugh Glass and Jim Bridger, Jed Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick and the men of Ashley’s Hundred; of the Natchez  and the Robert E. Lee and their epic race to St. Louis,  and great pilots such as Joseph LaBarge, who never lost a boat in fifty years, or Joseph Kinney, whose magnificent home called “Rivercene” is now a B&B across the Missouri from Boonville, or Grant Marsh and his steamer Far West, best remembered for setting a downstream record on the Missouri when he carried survivors of Custer’s fight on the Little Big Horn 710 miles down the treacherous river in 54 hours, and with them brought the first news to the outside world of Custer’s fate.  It’s the river of Stephen H. Long and his Western Engineer that started an epic trip west that led to the Great Plains being called “The Great American Desert” for decades.

And what would Samuel Clemens had been if the Mississippi River was not so much of his character?

And all along the courses of these great rivers, now greatly changed, there are remains of the boats that didn’t make it all the way up or down stream and took dreams and people with them, sometimes, to the bottom.   Sometimes the ribs of those boats are exposed when the dry times drop the river levels low enough.  A couple of times—with the Arabia  in Missouri and the Bertrand in Iowa—the remains are found incredibly preserved under layers of mud that used to be the river channel and amaze visitors who have never known when these rivers were the highways that developed our state and led to development of the entire western part of our nation beyond the Mississippi.

And there’s more to the heritage of our rivers—in the form of other avenues that sprang from them.  Former Missouri River ferryman William Becknell, in 1821, left Franklin for a cross-country trading expedition that opened the Santa Fe Trail that created Missouri’s first foreign trading partner and created that path that led to American acquisition a quarter-century later of the Southwest.

And from the village of Westport, the great wagon trains set out on the Oregon and California trails that extended the reach of those first river-borne Missourians to California and to the Northwest.

It was to the river town of St. Joseph, then the westernmost point on the nation’s rail network, there came one day in August, 1859 a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad who caught a steamboat at the city wharf and went further upstream to the river town of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  There he met young surveyor Grenville Dodge who was finding a cross-Iowa route for a railroad.  Dodge, just back from a Colorado trip, and Abraham Lincoln looked west and discussed the best route for a line to the Pacific Ocean.  Dodge became a Union Army officer, was wounded at Rolla, Missouri, and in the Battle of Pea Ridge that pretty much settled any hopes the Confederacy had of retaining an organized presence in Missouri. When Congress passed an act that led to the creation of a transcontinental railroad, then-President Lincoln summoned Dodge from the field to counsel him on where the line should begin.  Lincoln’s executive order in 1863 setting construction in motion established the legal headquarters of the Union Pacific in Council Bluffs and the operating headquarters across the Missouri River in Omaha.

Rivers brought the pioneers and the pioneering spirit to Missouri, and from the towns on the great rivers, new roads of dirt and steel opened the West.

It’s a small gesture to their significance that all of this is represented by some wavy lines on the Missouri Bicentennial license plate.  But it’s a significant gesture and maybe those wavy lines will encourage us to think more about those rivers that continue to shape us as Missourians and as Americans.

The press gang

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

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

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

+++++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++++

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

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

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

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

The spirits of Eric Sloane

We’ve been thinking a lot in these days of division, anger, and anxiety of Eric Sloane, dead now for more than thirty years, and something he wrote for our nation’s bicentennial.

He was born Everard Jean Hinrichs but he changed his name when one of his art instructors, John F. Sloan, suggested artists should use assumed names early in their careers so their developmental art would not be recognized as theirs in more successful times. So he became “Sloane” as a tribute to his instructor.  And “Eric?”   That came from the middle letters of “America,” an appropriate choice given what he became.

Eric Sloane was likely the nation’s foremost illustrator and writer about Americana, folklore, and country wisdom. He published about forty books known for their illustrations, perhaps, as much as for their written content.  For instance:

For the nation’s bicentennial, Sloane wrote and illustrated The Spirits of ’76, a thin volume that focused on “ten early American spirits which I believe have either weakened or vanished.”  What he wrote for the first of the spirits resonates today. The Spirit of Respect:

“I have often quipped that the best way to learn any subject is to write a book about it, and researching early American patriotism was no exception.  When I began compiling my group of vanishing spirits with patriotism at the head of my list, I at once began learning.  With frequent flag burnings, with the stars and stripes being worn on the backsides of blue jeans and the Pledge of Allegiance ruled out as unconstitutional, I presumed that American patriotism must be at an all-time low, and that it was the national spirit most in need of return.  As I researched and analyzed the subject, however, I soon realized that patriotism has become all too closely related with war: the most patriotic people in history (like the Nazis) were always the most warlike and ruthless.  Great thinkers, I learned, very often frown upon patriotism, and the more I thought about this spirit, the more I too wondered about its real values.  ‘This heroism upon command,’ wrote Einstein, ‘this senseless violence, this accursed bombast of patriotism—how intensely do I despise it!’  One philosopher called patriotism ‘the religion of Hell.’

“I had never regarded patriotism in such a light and I began to think.  I remembered my first encounter with pseudopatriotism about half a century ago while I was a student at military academy:  while folding the flag at sundown with a fellow student, I had accidentally let it fall to the ground. ‘You son of a bitch!’ my helper cried, ‘You let the American flag tough the ground!’

“That was long ago when obscenities were treated as obscenities and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to call my mother a dog.  A fist fight followed and I still carry a small scar of the incident. I suppose it was a mini example of how wars start, where there is as much punishment to the punisher as there is to the sufferer, all in the name of patriotism.

“Stephen Decatur’s ‘Our country right or wrong,’ had often worried me.  I found more to my liking, Carl Schurz’s ‘Our Country right or wrong—when right to be kept right and when wrong to be put right.’ And so I wondered if we have not been using the word incorrectly (or even the wrong word). I went to my collection of antique dictionaries. In one old volume such as might have been used by George Washington or Nathan Hale or Patrick Henry and other early patriots, I found the answer: we certainly have been using the word incorrectly.

“Patriotism in the old sense was defined as ‘The Spirit of acting like a Father to one’s country: A Publick Spiritedness.’  This definition is quite different form todays: ‘One who guards his country’s welfare, especially a defender of popular liberty.’  I recalled how Hitler described Nazism as ‘the popular liberty’ and his storm troopers were known as ‘defenders of popular liberty.’  War, I realized, has for a long while been waged in the name of patriotism instead of nationalism.  Nationalism has been one of the most killing diseases of mankind. The American Revolution was actually a patriotic revolution against nationalism.

“The difference between twentieth century patriotism and eighteenth century respect became more evident as I researched. Johnson said, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ and Russell said ‘Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.’ Perry said, ‘Patriotic fervor can obliterate moral distinctions altogether.’ But Washington used Shakespeare’s words: ‘I do love my country’s good with a respect more tender, more holy, and profound than mine own life…After what I owe to God, nothing should be more sacred than the respect I owe to my country.’ I began to realize that the early patriot was more aware of his national position than the present day patriot.

“I suppose the first great American patriots were those fifty-six men who signed their names to their own death warrant on July fourth in 1776.  Yet their names are nearly forgotten to history; the average American can name only three or four of the signers of that profound declaration. One librarian was embarrassed about not being able to recall any others ‘besides George Washington and Patrick Henry’; of course neither had signed.  Soon forgotten, true patriotism is a very personal emotion, asking no reward.

“Looking away from the battlefield for an example of patriotism is difficult at first; but they do happen all around us and every day. I found one such example at a wedding anniversary dinner. I don’t like country club affairs and so I really had not looked forward to Haig Tashjian’s surprise party.  Other than my wife and myself, all were Armenian. A diminutive lady arose during the dinner and made a toast.  She confided that she was nearing one hundred years of age and she told how her family had fled in fear of the Turks, and how she came to America.  Then she told how America had fulfilled its promise of being a good home for Armenians just as it has for so many other European people.  ‘And so my toast,’ she said, ‘is not only for the wedded couple, but to the country that has made everything possible for them and for us.  Before I sit down, I want to lead you all in singing God Bless America.

“As the chorus ended I could hear the faraway strains of a rock-and-roll band playing in some adjoining banquet room; there was a meaningful hush as many wiped away a tear; then the dinner continued.  I felt unusually proud to be a native American, and thankful to Armenia for fathering such a gracious people. I had witnessed the inspiration of true patriotism, heroism in humility. Peace has just as worthy patriots as the battlefield.

In the beginning, the word patriotism came from the word pater (father) and patriotism was ‘a quality of respect of one who is devoted to his family in fatherly fashion’; it had little to do with war or nationalism.  Therefore, I offer that the word patriotism be substituted whenever possible, by the better word respect.  I find respect to be the vanishing American spirit most worthy of return to our beloved nation.

“Respect for family, respect for the nation and the land, respect for the flag and the law, respect for mankind and respect for oneself—these have been outstandingly wanting during the last few years.  Within the family, within the nation and to all other nations, the only hope for the survival of civilization is respect or love for one another. In the end, this is all that matters.

Native (-born) Americans are so frequently disrespectful to their nation that it comes as a pleasing and heartening surprise to witness respect for us from those born elsewhere.  The attendant where the Liberty Bell was shown found it interesting that those who most often removed their hats as they beheld the great bell were foreigners. Once two blind Japanese soldiers in uniform came ‘to see’ the bell, and asked the attendant to read to them the inscription thereon.  He led their hands over the raised letters and he showed them where the crack was.  He watched them leave, talking excitedly in their own language and he wondered exactly what their reaction had been.  But stuffed into the bell’s crack, he found two roses that the veterans had been wearing. ‘I didn’t think Japanese soldiers could have done it to me,’ he said, ‘but at that instant I had even more love for America, and respect for the old bell than ever before.’

“”Adlai Stevenson seldom used the word patriotism. ‘When an American says he loves his country, he doesn’t refer to the purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain.  Instead he means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect.’”

Sloane’s other lost spirits: hard work, frugality, thankfulness, pioneering, Godliness, agronomy, time, independence, awareness, and an eleventh spirit—hope.

The Spirits of ’76 is out of print but it is available through the internet. My copy was published by Ballantine in 1973. It is pretty much forgotten in today’s social warfare.  But it might be good for people on the extreme wings as well as those in the middle to get it and give serious thought to those lost spirits and the challenge of finding them again. There is always that eleventh spirit.  Hope.

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.

The era of looking outward

I was at the press site at Cape Kennedy the night of December 7, 1972 at 12:33 a. m. (EST) when the last Apollo mission to the moon turned midnight into dawn and thundered into the darkness. I felt the hammering against my chest from the controlled explosions of those engines, enveloped by a roar so loud that I could not hear my own voice describing into my recorder what I was seeing. I cherish the memories captured by my still and my movie cameras in those moments.  In my increasingly long life, I have hiked high trails in magnificent mountains, rafted in grand and great canyons, beheld sunrises and sunsets in hundreds of special places, watched two children being born, and other notable events.  But nothing was as awesome as watching that Saturn V slowly, slowly lift off and then quickly become a dot in the dark sky, a rocket assembly so tall that—were it placed on the railroad tracks below the state capitol bluff—its escape tower would be as high as the statue of Ceres on the capitol dome.  And the only thing that would return would be a capsule only one foot in diameter more than the center circle on a basketball court, and only one foot taller than the height of the basket. Inside would be the three men I had seen a day earlier at a press conference.  

In more than forty years of covering politics and dabbling in covering sports I have seen and I have met a lot of famous people but I have seen and I have met only a few great people.  It is in that small number of heroes that I place the men who rode that rocket—and their colleagues who dared greatly to push our spirits as well as our frontiers forward. I respect those who continue to ride rockets although their reach is well short of the men who began their journey so dramatically that early morning and the men who first risked everything to reach beyond our known world..   

I worry sometimes about those who are considered heroes today in a time when we are less interested in testing our potentials as societies and as mankind and more focused on protecting the little that we are. 

When Gene Cernan died last week, we lost more than the last man to walk on the Moon.  We lost another of the dwindling few human reminders that greatness derives from reaching outward while mediocrity, narrowness, and failure result from looking inward.

 In the stairwell leading to the library at my house is a poster created by Shelbi Burkhart commemorating the Apollo XVII mission.  It is signed by Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt, the geologist who landed on the moon with him. It is framed with my Cape Kennedy and my Johnson Space Center press credentials from that mission.

 Although my work gave me—and still gives me, I guess—a lot of opportunities to collect autographs, I collect only a few and those few are from those who have seen the whole earth as I will never see it (only six of them are left), or from fellow authors. One series is kind of a vicarious participation in the great adventure of exploring space.  The other is kind of a compliment, a shared experience, with those who have gone through the discipline (and sometimes the agony) of writing a book. 

But the signatures I cherish most are those who were, and are, heroes not just to me but to my generation.  They are tangible reminders that greatness is not achieved by limiting what we can be by focusing within.  I have met some of them and it is comforting to realize that people who look just like me or look just like you are capable of greater things than we often let ourselves think.  And I wonder when the time will come when we will look outward again. 

                                               

Notes from a quiet street  2017-I

(Miscellaneous musings of more than 140 characters, usually, but not enough words to be fully blogicious.)

We found ourselves wandering through an otherwise unoccupied mind one recent day when ice or the threat of ice was limiting more fruitful occupations or ambitions.

An observation after two years of retirement:  If you put on slippers instead of shoes when you get dressed in the morning, the chances are above average that you will not step outside your house more than three times during the day and you will stay outside no more than two minutes each time.  One of the trips will be to get the morning paper. Another will be to get the mail.

We are reminded of the closing lines of the movie “Patton,” a quote from the general read by George C. Scott:  “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

NASCAR sent us a note the other day that now is the time to load up on 2017 driver merchandise—everything from baby clothes to pull-along coolers with your favorite driver’s colors and numbers.  We thought it would be interesting to look at Carl Edwards’ stuff, which went from merchandise to memorabilia pretty fast.  Hats and t-shirts are about ten to twenty dollars off.  Jackets are forty dollars off.  And so it went with other items that became examples of the truth of Patton’s remark that “all glory is fleeting.”  Superstar today, clearance table tomorrow.  Such is life.

We were headed to Nevada, in southwest Missouri, a few weeks ago to deliver a couple of copies of our Capitol art book to Cavender’s Book Store when we came upon a large crowd of black birds somewhere near Preston clearing the road of remnants of an unfortunate creature, bite by bite.  As we neared them, the birds all took frantic flight—except for one, a much bigger bird that seemed to just spread its wings and gracefully elevate. As he lifted off, I spotted the large fan of white tail feathers and then a white head.  I swear he looked back over his shoulder, perhaps to see if my car did any damage to his snack. It’s kind of a gruesome story, I suppose.  But I’ll remember the Eagle I saw a few days before Christmas long after I’ve forgotten the rest of the long trip on a chilly, rainy, December day or even Christmas itself.

Our state has a new chemistry set in an old box.  About one-fourth of the members of the Missouri House are brand new.  The governor, as we have noted several times, is fresh to the world of political office-holding.  Five of our six top state officeholders are new to those offices.  The chemistry in our Capitol is entirely different.  It’s going to be interesting to see how the elements mix.

More than a dozen years ago, someone suggested the Missourinet start using Twitter.  The example of Twitter that was given to us was a series of twits, tweets, toots—whatever they are (perhaps depending on the sender)—from a former colleague who was telling the world he was at an airport, then that he was waiting to board his plane, then that he was in his seat, then that he was waiting to take off.  We all thought Twitter was silly and superficial, an attitude borne out a few weeks later when another friend send a message that she was on her way home from work but had to stop at a store to get a sump pump.  Your observer started calling Twitter, “The Theatre of the Inane.”

Well——?

—-

We are reminded by all the discussion about punitive tariffs on American-company vehicles made in and imported from other countries of a talk we had a long time ago with Kenneth Rothman, a two-term Speaker of the House who was Missouri’s first Jewish statewide elected official, Lieutenant Governor, 1981-1985.  He bought a little farm near Jefferson City during those years and wanted to get a little American-made pickup truck to use out there.  But he learned Ford’s compact pickup was made by Mazda; Chevrolet’s little truck was made by Isuzu, and Dodge’s compact truck was made by Mitsubishi.  He finally found an American-made small pickup truck that was manufactured in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania.  A Volkswagen.

We have friends who flee to Arizona and Florida during these months. We pity them for the loss of their sense of adventure.

121 characters.  Including spaces.

 

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.

Wrapping up the 2017 inauguration

Governor Greitens has been in office for a week.  We’ve had time to absorb and assess the events of his big day last Monday and assemble a postscript of sorts to our long series about inauguration history to bring that series up to date and for reference by those who want to add to it for inauguration 2021:

Eric Greitens, the first governor of Missouri without previous elective office experience since Lloyd C. Stark eighty years previously, was inaugurated on an overcast blustery day with the temperature in the upper thirties and gusty winds that sometimes drove the wind chill index into single digits.  The sun fought its way through the clouds early in the afternoon and warmed the then-empty Capitol south lawn into the forties.  

Some different things were done by a governor who had promised in his campaign, and in his inaugural remarks that he would be a different kind of governor.  There was no parade.  None had been scheduled.  It had been twenty years since there had been no parade. Governor Carnahan called off the 1997 parade and was inaugurated for his second term in the rotunda because of the severe cold. Governor Teasdale had cancelled his inaugural parade because of even more severe weather in 1977 although he held his ceremonies outside. Greitens said in 2017 the parade focused on politicians and he wanted his event to focus on people. Ceremony organizers said there wasn’t time to hold one because the incoming governor had as busy morning schedule that began with an interfaith prayer service across the street from the capitol at St. Peter Catholic Church.  A reception in the rotunda, called Honoring Our Heroes, recognized about 150 teachers, law enforcement officers, veterans, farmers, and families of the fallen. They also had a special spot on the inaugural platform.  After the swearing-in ceremonies, the new governor, as Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard, reviewed the troops—something not done in previous memory of these events.  

The swearing-in ceremony had an emcee for the first time in memory who was not a legislative leader—Rodney Bullard, the Executive Director of the Chick-fil-A foundation, a personal friend of Greitens.  Although Senate President pro tem Ron Richard convened the joint session of the House and the Senate, and concluded the event with the adjournment of the session, Bullard handled all of the introductions. 

The other constitutional office-holders elected in November were sworn in ahead of the new governor (long ago, they were sworn in afterwards), including Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson, who had had bypass heart surgery just before Christmas. The National Guard Band from Springfield played a couple of numbers to fill the time between the inauguration of the Lieutenant Governor and the high noon inauguration of the Governor.  Everything seemed to be on time for a change. 

As Greitens completed his oath, a B-2 Bomber flew over the crowd, flying from east to west. 

Christopher Bond, Missouri’s oldest living former governor, was among those in attendance.

Security was tight.  This reporter went through three separate wandings before the ceremony.  The day after the event, metal detectors were in operation inside the building at two location. 

Greitens’ inaugural address grew out of his military background, his interest in history, and his previous lack of involvement in politics.  He promised to be a governor of the people, not of the political system, urged his fellow Republicans in overwhelming control of the legislature to listen to the other side (“Sometimes the purpose of our opponents is to be our teachers”) and concluded, “Let’s get to work.”  

—which he did when he went into the governor’s office as the person in charge of it for the first time.  He signed an executive order banning gifts from lobbyists to anyone in the executive branch of government. 

About that same time, private citizen Jay Nixon and the state’s former first lady drove to their home in St. Louis County.

(Photo credits:  Your faithful observer)