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Legislature Tense and Hostile in 1995.

By: SARAH KARP
State Capital Bureau

May 12, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Tearful and adamant, one representatives stormed off the chamber floor.

Later, Rep. Scott Lakin would say that he was frustrated _ frustrated that an anti-abortion amendment was tacked onto his bill and frustrated that his party didn't have enough control to keep the bill clean.

The Kansas City Democrat was not the only one aggravated by this session. The governor said it was contentious. The Senate Majority Leader said it was least productive he had experienced and he has been a lawmaker for 23 years.

Legislative staff complained it no longer was fun to work in the Capitol because of the tensions.

Minutes after the Senate adjourned Friday, with his face flushed from the last few moments of intense activity, President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson told his colleagues of his impression of this session.

"This has been very, very, very frustrating at times," he said.

During this session, the House Speaker was almost overthrown by the minority party and the House had a Senate-like filibuster where a representative held up debate by reciting a Patrick Henry speech. The Senate, too, was held hostage by several filibusters this year.

So, what made this year different than all other years?

This year, an increase of Republicans in the House gave the Republicans enough strength to get their bills debated. In light of the increases, the Democratic governor introduced a narrow, conservative agenda.

Still, the Democrats had a big problem, Lakin said.

"We have to look at the reality," he said. "We are going through a time of transition. We lost a lot of experienced legislators this session and younger legislators are stepping up."

Now, Republicans are a power to be reckoned with, said Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis County. In the past, Democrats would take votes on bills without letting Republicans introduce amendments.

Akin noted that this year, Republicans joined by a few Democratic defections were able to defeat Democratic leadership motions to shut off debate. "It allows for fair and open debate," Akin said.

While Akin was encouraged by the increase in discussion, he said the session would have gone easier if the two parties had worked out an agreement.

"Without a working agreement, we would get together and do nothing and everybody would become tired and cranky," Akin said.

Rep. Sheila Lumpe, who has been a representative for more than 10 years, said the session was difficult in terms of procedure.

"Because of the closeness of the House, we had no ability to control the passage. It was even difficult to get consent bills," said Lumpe, D-St. Louis County. "They took more time. The process changed, but not the content. It wouldn't surprise me if fewer bills passed."

Russell Brockfeld, a former Republican leader in the House and who served in the House for 20 years, said from the outside it appears as though a tremendous partisan fight is going on.

"It has affected legislation, which is bad if you are desirous of passing legislation and great if you don't want much legislation passed," he said.

Another factor was the ideological fervency of some of the newer members of the legislature. One senior Democrat complained the new, more conservative members were not able to put their differences aside at the end of the day and socialize in a friendly atmosphere with their colleagues.

Gov. Mel Carnahan blamed it on single-issue politics -- particularly the anti-abortion campaign.

"It is a very polarized session. It is the most polarized I have seen," Carnahan said at his end-of-the-session news conference.

"I think we need to try to get those that are zealous on a particular issue that they will get their time...but they shouldn't try to go out and wreck everything else just to make their points."

But the governor's message seemed lost on some lawmakers who vowed an even stronger fight on their issues next year.



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