When the legislature rioted

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then all Hell broke loose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The expendable right

It is hard to listen to the assurances that come at this time during campaigns that the right to vote is our most precious right as citizens.

It is hard to listen because Missourians apparently do not as a general practice believe that statement. And our legislature gives indications that it—although those who serve in it are there because of that right— cares little about strengthening that right.

Missourians have twice voted to reduce their right to vote.  And a recent survey published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows more than two-thirds of Missourians seem to think it’s a good idea to reduce their right even more.

The first time Missourians forfeited their right to vote was in 1992 when they adopted term limits for legislators, thus forbidding themselves from voting for their representatives and senators as often as they want to keep them representing them in Jefferson City.

A few years ago, voters threw away their right to vote when they voted to require voters in St. Louis and Kansas City to approve their city’s earning tax every five years.  In approving the second half of that issue, they forever took away their right to decide whether their city should ever have such a tax. By approving the proposal they forfeited their right to decide what is best for their own communities.

So now we have the voter photo-ID issue on the ballot.  And it appears that many voters have swallowed the bilge-water distributed by conspiracy theorists who claim that, “There is voter fraud but it’s just not prosecuted,” or that since people have to show ID cards to cash checks or rent motel rooms, or rent cars, they should have to do the same thing to vote.

Perhaps voters who do not distinguish between the PRIVILEGE of cashing a check or renting a motel room and the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to vote deserve to lose the freedom they presently have. And for those who say there’s fraud but it’s not prosecuted—we have not heard a single one of them offer any specifics of unprosecuted voter fraud in their own districts. If fraud at the voting places is so pervasive and such a great danger to our democratic form of government, don’t you think these watchdogs we have elected would blow the whistle on prosecutors who are not doing their jobs? They won’t because they can’t.

But there is cheap political advantage to be gained by encouraging doubt in the very system that put them in power. And power, not broad public service, is the goal.  If the poll is right, voters are playing into their hands.

Talk is cheap.  Constitutional rights have been expensively won.  Sad to say, Missourians appear to be on the verge of wasting a right that has been paid for at great price.


Whaddya wanna bet—

—that when the legislature returns to the Capitol this week to consider extending Governor Nixon’s world record as the most veto-overridden governor in Missouri history that those who want to make it harder for Missourians to vote will trot out the absentee voting mess in St. Louis as an example of the voter fraud that the bill will stop?

It will be a bogus argument for a bogus bill.

If you haven’t been pay attention to this issue (and who can think of anything else when we have Hillary and Donnie going about the land?) here’s a quick tutorial.

It seems that in St. Louis, some people played games with the absentee ballots in the August primary and now a judge has ordered a do-over election to decide who will be the Democratic nominee in the 78th House district, and thus the winner of that seat because there’s no Republican opposition.  Incumbent Penny Hubbard had more votes than challenger Bruce Franks, Jr.  But a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation found two people who said people claiming to be Hubbard campaign workers filled out ballots for them. There were at least sixty times when a single voter submitted two applications for an absentee ballot although they said they had not applied twice. The newspaper says more than a dozen people whose absentee applications claimed they were incapacitated sold reporters they never made such a claim and don’t know who did.  And two former election board employees said Hubbard’s husband “routinely delivered stacks of election ballots” to the board.

People who went to the polls on August 2 elected Franks 1997-1787.   But when the absentee votes were counted, Hubbard had 416 and he had 114, enough for her to defeat Franks by ninety votes in the overall total.

House Bill 1631, the voter photo ID bill, would require people to have a photo-identification card when they go to the polling place to cast a ballot.  If they don’t they have to get in another line and somebody will take their picture.  Under present law, all any of us have to do is show the poll clerks the card issued by our county clerk, or in the case of the big cities by the election board, and we can cast our ballot.

This law would not go into effect unless voters in November decide they want to make it harder to cast their own ballots in future elections. Missouri voters have twice in our experience given away their own right to vote so it would not be surprising if they decided in November to weaken their right again.

Part of the fallout from all of this St. Louis stuff has become part of the Blunt-Kander race for the U. S. Senate.  Blunt is a former Secretary of State and Kander is the incumbent Secretary of State.  Partisans on both sides are sniping at the other about this issue when they should be arguing about the national issues that Senators deal with or are not dealing with.  But that’s part of the political circus.  If you focus enough attention on the sideshow, you might be able to distract public attention away from the donkey and elephant show that has left the center ring a shambles.

But the St. Louis mess is just too easy for the ID advocates to jump on as they try to justify in the veto session overriding Nixon’s veto of the photo ID bill—even though the St. Louis mess has nothing whatsoever to do with casting ballots at the polls.

Rounding up absentee voters, especially in nursing homes and in neighborhoods where many elderly people live, is a time-honored part of elections everywhere. And some of the practices that the newspaper has highlighted might be worth exploring by the legislative elections committees. Perhaps requiring election authority-issued photo IDs of those who solicit absentee ballots is worth considering as a start.

But trying to tie the voter photo-ID bill to the 78th House district problems would be nothing more than, well, bogus.

But that’s not the first time that word has been applied to voter photo-ID legislation in Missouri.

Missouri Monocracy

Monocratic rule refers to complete political power or control resting with one party.  We have it in Missouri now and with the opening of candidate filing getting closer—February 23—it’s worth examining.  We hope to avoid indications the discussion will take a partisan tone although current conditions make partisan references unavoidable. 

It could be argued that the normal system of checks and balances does not check and does not balance under monocratic rule.  We have been here before although it has been many decades since the partisan breakdown in our legislature has been as lopsided as it is now, or worse. 

We are going to base most of our comments on the state senate, not because that’s where we lived for about 25 of the forty years we spent reporting from the Capitol but because it’s a small enough sample for the time we wanted to spend on this superficial study of a complex issue. 

Let’s start here:  Missouri’s legislature is controlled by one party that holds at least two-thirds of the seats in each chamber.  Missouri is the only state that has no controls on how money flows into the political campaign system.  It is easy to connect those two statements but it might not be entirely fair to do so. Life and politics are too complicated to be summarized that way.

One-half of the senate seats will be up for election this year.  Five seats will be open because three senators have reached the end of their limited terms and two have quit early.  Four of the five open seats are held by Republicans, one by a Democrat.  

All 163 seats in the House will be in play. 

Eight of the seventeen races for the state senate four years ago were not contested.  Two years ago, ten of the seventeen races for a seat in the senate were not contested (one had a write-in candidate who got six percent of the vote so we have considered that race “uncontested.”).  That makes eighteen of the thirty-four senators who are serving right now had no general election challengers or effective challengers in their last election.  

A quick survey of the House showed seventy-four members were elected two years ago without opposition in November.  That means 92 of the 197 seats in the General Assembly are from places where voters did not have a choice whom to elect and where candidates’ positions went unchallenged.  Forty-four percent of the people who are supposed to represent one-hundred percent of people in the state of Missouri in its government were elected without serious question about what they think, who’s behind them, or how they will balance the needs and competing interests of all of the people in their districts. From the perspective on this quiet street, that is an indication that Missouri politics is sick. 

Of the eight senate contested races in 2012, five winners received 51-56% of the votes.  Two were in the mid-60s and the victor in the other one got 82% in a district acknowledged as being overwhelmingly one way.  

Of the seven contested races in 2014 (not counting the write-in race), three had winning percentages of 50.088-56%.  Three percentages were in the seventies and one just barely missed that number. 

In the end, one party gained enough strength in both chambers of the legislature to make the other party mostly inconsequential unless something like last year’s right-to-work debate shutdown starts a minority forest fire the majority can’t put out.  That can and did happen in the Senate.  It’s pretty difficult in the House. 

Vetoes by a minority-party governor can likewise be largely inconsequential because of the two-thirds majority by the other side.  The check and balance system breaks down.  And has broken down.

The argument can be made that the voters decided they want a system where checks and balances are minimized and by looking at the raw membership numbers that seems apparent unless the thought arises that in more than half of those senate elections, voters were not offered a choice and candidates faced no scrutiny from an opponent. But as the folks at the state lottery tell us, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”  The failure of both parties to even try to contest races for a majority of the seats in the Senate and many seats in the House points to flaws in the Missouri political system that those who most benefit from the flaws seem in no hurry to fix. 

Controlling party justification of monocratic rule by noting two-thirds of the legislators are members of that party is, in effect, a dismissal of the needs or wishes of thousands of citizens who voted on the losing side or who had no choice through which to express themselves. The justification seems to follow the sentiments of UCLA football coach Red Sanders who said, “Men, I’ll be honest.  Winning isn’t everything.  It’s the only thing.”  (The quote is often attributed to Vince Lombardi, who did say it, but he was quoting Sanders.)   

Sanders seems to be the inspiration for today’s political climate.  Our experience indicates some people care only about winning.  Others care only about fighting.  Those who care only about serving are easily lost in the dust and smoke of the battle.  

Eight of the fifteen senators who had contests in their last elections won with 56% of the vote or less. When it comes to questions of policy and agenda, should they be softer on strictly hewing to the party line if they are to represent ALL of the people in their district?  In a more altruistic climate, the answer would likely be “probably,” which is about as positive as one can get in real world politics.  But what motivation is there under our present system to even go that far when the only thing that counts is winning and the losers seem to count for nothing?  

Only five winners got more than two-third of the votes in their districts (not counting the write-in district), which raises the question of how big a majority one needs to achieve to be able to dismiss the needs or wishes of the other side and make decisions or arguments on a completely partisan basis, or on the basis of the interest that seeks a benefit that is superior to any benefit losing voters might be entitled to as fellow citizens of the state. 

Much of this discussion is, of course, an exercise of political idealism likely to carry no weight in the blacksmith shop where the party with the big sledgehammer shapes the shoes everybody’s horse must wear.  But from time to time, someone must be naïve enough to mention it lest we become a state without hope for those out of power. There are a lot of voters who talk about these things although they have no way to rewrite the rules.

How, then, to bring some balance to a system that seems to lean strongly toward saying “winning is the only thing?”   Deeper thinkers than those of us on this quiet street can have more profound answers but one seems pretty obvious.  As long as Missouri has no limits on the flow of money into campaigns, there is only an incentive to funnel funds directly to candidates, making our political system one that is undeniably influenced heavily by those who seek to buy policies and those who find those funds the lifeblood of their careers. Those who benefit will and do deny that they are bought.   And perhaps they feel in their heart that they are correct and many probably are.  But if they are not bought, they surely must realize that in their contests they were able to afford better armor, stronger weapons, and faster horses and gratitude for those gifts takes many forms, not the least of which involves carrying the patron’s colors.  

While the focus on campaign funding has been the candidate and the individual donors who believe big donations mean big access, the political parties struggle.  We wrote about the situation last August 20 (The Party). 

Some suggest the rules should be changed to favor the contest, not the contestants–in modern terms, to seek a system that rejuvenates political parties that can field more candidates and give them stronger support. Will such policy solve the problems of the political system and neutralize the (dis)advantages of monocratic rule?  We have talked to no one who believes it is a complete solution.  But to some people, such a change stands a better chance of equalizing the floor of the arena and it stands a better chance of furthering conflicts based on a battle for ideas rather than on a fight for advantage.

Some of our associates think that “winning is the only thing” is okay in high-stakes sports but it makes for poor political systems. In politics, they think, the “winning” philosophy is a short-term goal that does not serve the long-term strength of a government and the needs of its people. One has cited the poem “Alumnus Football” by the great 1920s sportswriter Grantland Rice, which concludes:

            For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.

And they suggest the people benefit—all of the people benefit—when the fairness of the game is improved so that more can play it and can afford to play it well.  But they are skeptical about the willingness of today’s “winners” to make the game itself more representative of all of the participants.

Missouri faces a decision this year about whether we will continue a monocracy, where one side makes all of the decisions, versus regaining a democracy, where all of the people are involved in making decisions.  The monocracy will decide if there is such a choice. 

Carding voters

We got our new voter registration cards a few weeks ago. The next time there’s an election, we’ll go to our new polling place, show the clerks our registration cards, get a ballot, and play one of our roles in the system of government.

The annual effort to require us to do more than that to exercise our right to vote is about to begin at the Capitol where the majority party seems to think that it’s not enough to be a registered voter and to show a registration card to the clerks on election day.  They seem to think nobody should be allowed to vote unless they also can show a government-issued identification card that has the voter’s picture on it.

The minority party says the additional requirement would adversely impact on many elderly, poor, and minority voters.  The minority party says those people are more important to it than they are to the majority party Although they don’t come right out and say it, they see the voter photo-ID legislation as another effort to undermine the political base that Democrats see as helpful (the other major effort to do that is right-to-work legislation that could curtail union membership and, therefore, funding for labor which generally supports Democrats).

[As an aside, we should note the contradictory attitude of the majority party. The Republican-led legislature in 2009 passed legislation prohibiting Missouri participation in the Homeland Security Department’s “Real ID” program. 2005. Governor Nixon signed the bill. The state has now been notified that Missourians who want to visit federal facilities can no longer use their Missouri driver’s license to identify themselves.  The policy also could mean Missourians won’t be able to use their driver’s licenses to get on an airliner. They’ll have to have some additional kind of U. S. Government photo identification such as a passport. It’s okay, therefore, for the legislature to tell Missourians they can’t vote unless they have state-issued photo ID, but it’s not okay for the federal government to tell Missourians they can’t visit federal facilities without a federally-issued photo ID.]

Back to the topic:

Republicans use phrase such as “ballot security,” or “voter fraud” to justify their positions on voter photo-ID. Democrats use phrases such as “voter suppression.”

There’s a certain irony in the Republican push to require a driver’s license or some other state-issued picture document if we want to exercise one of our most fundamental rights as United States citizens.

Republicans occupy two-thirds of the seats in the House and in the Senate through a system they have been implying is rife with voter fraud and crippled by ballot insecurity. If, however, you were to go to your state senator or your state representative (chances are that if you live outstate, that person is a member of the GOP) and ask how many fraudulent votes were cast for them in their most recent election, they’ll be unable to tell you if any fraudulent votes were cast in their districts. Or the election before that. Or before that.  Or in the decade before that.  Or the two decades before that. What could validate the majority party’s position would be notarized statements from each county clerk listing the number of fraudulent votes cast in those counties in the last, oh, twenty years, including the number of people charged by the county prosecutor with fraudulent voting.  Of course, such documents would undermine their case, too.

If the legislators won’t ask their county clerks for that information, perhaps the Missouri Association of County Clerks could assemble it for them and present the findings to the public.   Which side is on the side of the angels on this issue?  This is one of those issues where the word “transparency” is something to think about. But the operative word so far is “agenda.”

It’s been a few years (like, maybe, seventy-five or eighty) since the Pendergast political machine had thousands of ghosts voting in Kansas City.  Walter Cronkite, the great CBS newsman, recalls in his early days in broadcasting in Kansas City when the manager of his station sent him out to vote several times under several different names.

We had hoped in the years we sat at the Senate press table that the supporters of voter photo-ID would produce a list of people who had been charged in, say, the last ten years, with pretending to be someone else when they cast a ballot, or tried to cast a ballot, in state or local elections.  Just how big a problem is this?  How dangerous is this issue to the state and national civic health?  How many results at the state and local levels have been affected by voter fraud.  Just how insecure ARE our ballots?

The sponsor of the photo-ID bill told the Associated Press the election for Kinloch mayor last April justifies his bill.  Only 58 votes were cast.  The city attorney says 27 of those voters were illegally registered.  The sponsor of the bill is a smart-enough guy that he flew helicopters while he was in military service (we heard him go on at painful length about helicopters during a filibuster early one morning) and as such, he surely knows the problem with shooting at the wrong target.  In Kinloch, the problem was with people proving their identity at REGISTRATION.  And the responsibility for that issue is with the registering clerk.  If the workers at the polling place cannot trust the clerk’s certification, why even have registration?

Ask yourself as you stand in line to get a ballot whether you would rather have to wait a few minutes in a much shorter line at the clerk’s office while someone proves their identity to get a registration card or whether you would rather stand in a longer line at the polling place while an elderly polling clerk who has been on the job since 5 a.m. waits for a voter to search through pockets or purse for something other than or in addition to their voter registration card.

Under the bill, a voter who cannot produce photo-ID at the polling place can cast a provisional ballot that will only be counted if later checking verifies the person’s identity, a seemingly cumbersome process that becomes unnecessary if the registration clerk, city or county, already has certified the person with the registration card is who they say they are.

Proponents argue that we have to use photo-ID whenever we check into a motel or cash checks or use a credit card to make a large purchase or get stopped for speeding, so why shouldn’t be have to use one to vote?   Opponents will argue that checking into a motel, cashing a check, or using a credit card to make a large purchase are not rights of citizenship but are only privileges.

One side argues that the policy protects citizenship.  The other side argues it’s a barrier to many people to enjoy citizenship.  What, a cynic might ask, is a greater threat to the republic: so-called ballot insecurity, allowing Syrian refugees to come to Missouri, or letting a woman, her doctor and her own understanding of the scriptures make medical decisions?

What it comes down to is simple. The R’s and the D’s at the Capitol are playing for political advantage and the card-carrying citizens, are caught in the middle.  But that’s the penalty we pay for a free country.  About 4.2 million registered Missouri voters are at the mercy each year of 100 of the 197 people we have elected to represent us–82 in the House, 18 in the Senate, the number needed to pass bills.  And sometimes agendas trump the broader public welfare.

You’d think from the photo voter-ID annual battles that the only ones who are not frauds are the 197—who are not fettered by any statutory ethical standards.

Feeling secure?