Michael Bushnell is a senior print journalism and political science major from Silver Spring, Md. This is his second consecutive year covering the Missouri state legislative session, and he'll be on the ethics beat.
Before the House Rules Committee even began to discuss the ethics legislation in front of them, Chairman Mike Parson (R-Bolivar) knew something was about to happen.
"Let's keep this in control," he urged his committee. "Let's stay on point, let's stay with the issues and let's keep out the political speech."
If only they had listened. After the House Ethics Reform Committee had finally (and unanimously) passed an ethics reform bill, the Rules Committee sent it right back to them, per a motion from Rules member Stanley Cox, (R-Sedalia). Democrats claimed the move was designed to kill the bill, while Republicans said it was designed to do the opposite.
"I think there's worthwhile things in this bill and that's why it should be sent back," Cox said. "We're all for ethics, but it's gotta be right."
This incensed democrats, namely Rep. Jeff Roorda of Barnhart and Minority Leader Paul LeVota of Independence. Roorda said the point of the Rules Committee was to examine legislation for legal problems, not to stop it because members don't like it because it contains limits on campaign contributions from individuals.
"I didn't think we'd become a release valve for special interests," Roorda said. "This looks like what it smells like; we're sending this to die a slow death."
LeVota said moving the bill back would doom ethics reform. Rep. Steven Tilley (R-Perryville) disagreed, and they got into a contentious argument. Tilley, as Majority Floor Leader, controls which bills on the House calendar are brought up for debate.
Tilley: "Explain to me how it doesn't have enough time to pass."
LeVota: "It's simple; instead of going forward to the House floor, we're going backward."
Tilley: "Either you don't know the rules or you're just avoiding my question. Admit that it can be done!"
Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, also took the opportunity to criticize Roorda's apparently poor attendance at Rules meetings.
"If you had come down here more often, you wouldn't be so suprised at how we do things here," Pratt said
At least there was Rep. Jake Zimmerman (D-Olivette) to bring some humor into the process.
"I'm not clear what bill we're talking about here," he said during the meeting. "Is this the one honoring Oprah Winfrey?"
After the committee voted along party lines to send the bill back, Roorda and LeVota headed out. Pratt urged them not to.
LeVota: "I think we're outta here."
Pratt (to LeVota): "Stay, guys! Stay! You're missing the best part!"
LeVota: "That was the only bill I cared about."
Outside, Roorda was incensed. He said Republicans were blocking ethics reform, not trying to perfect it.
"They were spouting total bullshit," he said. "Complete bullshit. This is the type of stuff that can make anyone cynical."
Upstairs, Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho), who had chaired the Ethics Reform committee, had not yet heard the news about the bill.
"They voted it down?," he said to a reporter who had requested an interview. "Son of a bitch, I knew this was gonna happen."
Where does ethics legislation go from here? Only the next three weeks will tell.
Tuesday's meeting of the House Ethics Reform Committee briefly turned into a freshman State Civics class. At issue was the House's major ethics reform bill, which the committee attached to the Senate bill up for discussion and passed. One change to the House's original version was requiring campaign committees to report any receipts or donations over $2,000. However, committees have 30 days from their creation to report their existence with the state, so that loophole could equal tons of hush hush money transfers.
Some committee members had no idea this was the case.
"How is it that we let people accept money before we know that there's a committee?," asked Rep. John Burnett (D-Kansas City) "How have we let that go on?"
Even the chairman of the committee didn't know the rule, which could be why the loophole wasn't closed before the bill was printed.
"I actually thought you had to file before you can start accepting money," said Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho).
"You don't have to?" asked Rep. Shalonn Curls (D-St. Louis).
Asked afterwards, Burnett said it wasn't bad that the representatives didn't know this rule. He said they probably weren't the only ones.
"I assume if you brought this up to the full House, you'd get some reaction like, 'they don't have to do that? That's weird."
An administrator from the Parkway School District spoke about the harm of "Punch A Jew Day," in which kids targeted their Hebrew brethren for assault, something which, she said, would have been better prevented by a change in policy. Currently, Missouri statute says that school districts "must treat all kids equally," which, to Democrats such as Bray, is inadequate.
But if you ask a couple of the opponents, this bill would only put those "aggrieved" minority classes in a level above boring old white Protestants. Besides, they had it hard growing up, too. Sen. Norma Champion (R-Springfield), who said she was against creating "protected classes" of students, had a traumatic childhood.
Champion said she was bullied in grade school for polishing her shoes, which was a choice, just like being gay or short or black. But she wasn't in a "protected class."
"I literally got pushed down, my Saddle Oxfords stepped on," Champion, 77, said. "That just made me wanted to polish them more."
She made light of a woman from Kansas City who testified in favor of the bill earlier, and who had said she was bullied for her appearance.
"We had a woman come up and say she was bullied for being red-haired and short," Champion said. "We'll never have enough categories. When are we gonna stop?"
And lets not forgot the different cliques of farmers that apparently run wild in rural school systems. Kerry Meeser, speaking on behalf of the Missouri Family Network, shed some light.
"I grew up in a very diverse agricultural community; the students from the cattle farms, they bullied the grain farmers, who bullied those who raised hogs," Meeser said. "You had the dirt kids and the manure shovelers and they hated each other."
That's why your parents told you to never take candy from strangers, and to watch out for those damn manure shovelers.
At this point, the troubles of former House Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) are well known. Never the most-liked guy in Jefferson City, Jetton left the House at age 41, having served eight years. But instead of gearing up for a future state Senate race (or higher), Jetton instead says he is broke, unemployed, and potentially facing criminal charges on both ends of the state.
He admitted the federal government must have something that makes them believe there was a connection between a $35,000 donation in 2005 from strip club owners to a Jetton-affiliated campaign committee and Jetton helping slow-kill a bill that year which would have gutted their industry. Jetton said he knew nothing of the donation until a year later.
And now, Jetton just seemed confused as to why he was here; although he could have been at his arraignment on a felony assault charge in southeast Missouri. He said he did nothing wrong and just wanted to clear his name.
"I have trust in the system, that's why I'm here today," Jetton said. "The system doesn't just cook some stuff up."
Speaking to reporters, Jetton seemed nervous, affable and, somewhat sad.
"I don't know if I'm getting indicted," Jetton said, chuckling a bit. "I never expected to be here."
But perhaps the most interesting moment was just stepping back and thinking about who the media was really interviewing. Just eighteen months ago, Jetton held one of the highest positions in the state. Less than a year ago, he was running a thriving consulting company in Jefferson City. Now, after the assault charges in December, Jetton closed his firm. Now he has no job, no money, and is living in a different city.
When asked if he is scared about his future, Jetton sighed.
"I'm concerned," he said. "It's hard- there's nothing I can do about it."
Jetton did seem embarrassed when the reporters asked him what he's doing for a living now. Understandable, because, again, he USED TO RUN THE STATE. Not ten years ago, not even five- this was seriously 2008. It's a remarkably quick downfall; to go from having a powerful, influential job and a lucrative future to being unable to afford an attorney to appear with him before perhaps the most important interview of his life.
Steve Kraske, Kansas City Star: "With all due respect, Rod, what are you doing for a living these days?"
Jetton: "I'm hopefully close- maybe, hopefully, to getting a job."
Gaggle of voices: "So you're unemployed at this point."
Jetton: "Well I'm close."
He also got testy with Associated Press reporter David Lieb, when he asked Jetton about his living situation.
Lieb: "You're living in Cape (Girardeau) now right?"
Jetton: "Yep I'm in Cape."
Lieb: "With your daughter?"
Jetton: "I'm living in Cape, why you gotta get into it like that?"
Jetton was then also asked about his other troubles in southeast Missouri, which he said he is confident he can beat. He said he's happier than he was as speaker, without the stress "of having to solve the state's problems."
With that, Jetton walked away from the courthouse, alone, to get in his car and make a six-hour drive home, alone. Plenty of time to think about his very uncertain future.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Jamila Nasheed (D-St. Louis), but she should give committee chairman Ted Hoskins (D-Berkeley) an award for helping shuttle the legislation through. It passed committee by a razor-thin 5 to 3 vote, with Rep. Tim Flook (R-Liberty) abstaining. Hoskins ruled the committee and got the bill through, even though he left a few people scratching their heads.
There was bipartisan skepticism of the bill, beginning with Rep. Jeff Roorda (D-Barnhart). Roorda, a former police chief for a hamlet in Jefferson County, said the bill was weak and lacked protections for collective barganing rights. He attempted, as a non-voting member, to introduce an amendment; Hoskins denied him cold.
Then it was time for Rep. Jason Brown (R-Platte City) to speak. He offered an amendment which would cut St. Louis' city 28 to 6, and Hoskins ruled that out of order after Rep. Tishaura Jones (D-St. Louis) objected.
Jones' spent most of her statement time arguing against the amendment, rather than saying why it was not relevant to the bill as a whole. No matter for Hoskins.
Jones: "Your hon-, Mr. Chairman, this amendment would gut the bill and wouldn't revert control back to the city-"
Brown: "But that's not a point of order, she's just speaking against my b--."
Hoskins: "Anyone else want to speak?"
Brown: "That's not a point of--"
Hoskins: "Please, please."
Finally, Brown was able to stave off a ruling and get a vote on his amendment.
Hoskins: "All in favor say aye."
(Two Republicans, Brown and Flook, say "aye."
Hoskins: "All opposed say no."
(Two Democrats say "no.")
Hoskins: "The motion fails."
Brown was beside himself.
Brown: "Mr. Chairman, there were only two people who said no! If you're just gonna ram this down everyone's throat--"
Hoskins: "Nobody will be ramming anything. Who else has an amendment?"
Well, Brown did. It just happened to be the exact same one that Roorda introduced. Hoskins was having none of it.
Brown: "I'd like to submit an amendment-"
Hoskins: "Is this the same amendment that Representative Roorda tried to introduce?"
Brown: "I don't know; I have a blank one I'm writing my name on and sub-"
Hoskins: "I'm not here to play games, I'm ruling that out of order."
It didn't get much better on the final voice vote. In fact, it got even sketchier; this, in front of a packed committee audience that included St. Louis-area representatives Mike Colona (D), Don Calloway (D) and Chris Carter (D). Calloway is running against Hoskins for the Democratic nod in the 14th District state Senate race.
Hoskins: "All in favor of the committee substitute, say aye."
(Only Hoskins says "aye")
Hoskins: "Opposed say no."
(Two people say "no")
Hoskins: "The motion carries."
Brown was beside himself, to say the least.
Brown: "Mr. Chairman! Are you serious? You were the lone voice of aye there!"
Hoskins: "I heard more than that."
Brown called for a roll call; Hoskins called his bluff and allowed it. Team Hoskins won 5 to 3, and the bill passed. Welcome to the democratic process.
2010 Election Preview
With Tuesday having been filing day, let's take a look at some of the interesting races shaping up in Missouri for 2010....more candidates could file, however. Primary election day is August 3rd:
Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D-St. Louis) vs. U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Strafford) or State Sen. Chuck Purgason (R-Caulfield)
Incumbent State Auditor Susan Montee (D-St. Joseph) vs. State Rep. Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) or former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schweich (R-St. Louis)
U.S. House- District 1 (north St. Louis City and County)
Primary: Incumbent U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) vs. Candice Britton (D-Richmond Heights)
U.S. House- District 3 (south St. Louis City and County, Jefferson County)
Incumbent Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-St. Louis) vs. former St. Louis County Elections Chairman Ed Martin (R-Shrewsbury) or John Wayne Tucker (R-Arnold)
U.S. House- District 4 (west central Missouri, including Jefferson City and Sedalia)
Incumbent Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Lexington) vs. State Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-Napton) or former State Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Harrisonville)
U.S. House- District 7 (southwest Missouri, including Joplin and Springfield)
State Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) or State Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mt. Vernon) or Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore (R-Springfield) vs. Tim Davis (D-Branson)
State Senate- District 2 (Lincoln County, the west half of St. Charles County)
Primary: Incumbent State Sen. Scott Rupp (R-Wentzville) vs. State Rep. Cynthia Davis (R-O'Fallon)
State Senate- District 6 (Jefferson City and points south)
Primary: Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) vs. State Rep. Bill Deeken (R-Jefferson City) vs. State Rep. Kenny Jones (R-California) vs. Harry Otto, C.P.A. (R-Jefferson City)
State Senate- District 8 (eastern Jackson County)
Primary: State Rep. Bryan Pratt (R-Blue Springs) vs. State Rep. Will Kraus (R-Raytown) vs. State Rep. Gary Dusenberg (R-Blue Springs)
State Senate- District 14 (northeastern St. Louis County)
Primary: State Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City) vs. Mayor Joe Adams (D-University City) vs. State Rep. Ted Hoskins (D-Berkeley) vs. State Rep. Don Calloway (D-Bel Nor) vs. former Rep. Esther Haywood (D-Bellerive)
State Senate- District 16 (east central Missouri, including Rolla, Linn and Montgomery City)
Incumbent State Sen. Frank Barnitz (D-Lake Spring) vs. State Rep. Dan Brown (R-Rolla)
State Senate- District 18 (northeast Missouri, including Kirksville and Mexico)
Incumbent State Sen. Wes Shoemyer (D-Clarence) vs. State Rep. Brian Munzlinger (R-Williamstown)
State Senate- District 24 (east central St. Louis County, including Ladue, Clayton, Creve Coeur and parts of University City)
Primary: State Rep. Michael Corcoran (D-St. Ann) vs. former State Rep. Sam Page (D-Creve Coeur) vs. former State Rep. Barbara Fraser (D-Olivette)
State Senate- District 26 (Franklin County, Eureka, Wildwood)
Primary: State Rep. Brian Nieves (R-Washington) vs. Mayor Dick Stratman (R-Washington) vs. former Rep. Jack Jackson (R-Glencoe)
State Senate- District 28 (Missouri Bootheel)
Primary: State Rep. Larry Wilson (R-Flemington) vs. State Rep. Ed Emery (R-Lamar) vs. State Rep. Michael Parson (R-Bolivar)
State Senate- District 34 (Platte and Buchanan counties, including the Kansas City Airport, Parkville and St. Joseph)
State Rep. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) vs. State Rep. Martin Rucker (D-St. Joseph)
State Reps. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield), Jay Wasson (R-Nixa) and Ron Richard (R-Joplin) appear destined to enter the state Senate with no or token opposition in heavily conservative districts. Sen. Joseph Keaveny (D-St. Louis), who was appointed to replace Jeff Smith this past fall, will also serve a full term after nobody filed to run against him. Sens. Brad Lager (R-Savannah), Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) and Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City) are also all headed back for a second term with no opposition. In the U.S. House, Reps. Todd Akin (R-Town and Country), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Cape Girardeau), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-St. Elizabeth) and Sam Graves (R-Tarkio), all appear set to return to Washington for at least two more years.
Notable State House Races
Incumbent Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) vs. Columbia City Councilwoman Laura Nauser (R-Ward 5)
Incumbent Rep. Kenny Biermann (D-St. Charles) vs. former Rep. Vicki Schneider (R-O'Fallon)
Incumbent Rep. Ed Schieffer (D-Troy) vs. Mayor Mike Clinch (R-Moscow Mills)
Monday's session of the House was short, but the always-energetic Rep. Bryan Pratt (R-Blue Springs) was up to the task of holding the speakers' chair. Like the real speaker, Ron Richard, R-Joplin, Pratt is running for the state Senate this year. But Pratt showed he had gavel skill, especially when it was time for the some female athletes from the University of Missouri to be recognized.
Reps. Mary Still, Stephen Webber and Chris Kelly (all D-Columbia) were attempting to honor the athletes, but there was plenty of milling about on the House floor. Pratt, an MU graduate, silenced the masses.
"Order! Order!" Pratt yelled, banging on his gavel, which brought the chamber to a dramatic silence. "We have some very special guests here today! If you aren't paying attention, please remove yourselves from the chamber."
The rest of the session was mostly just introducing guests, which isn't really doing "the people's work," but who's paying attention anyway. Certainly Rep. Steve Hodges (D-East Prairie) wasn't, when Pratt called on him during the time to introduce guests.
Pratt: "Sir, do you have any guests to introduce?"
Pratt did return to Hodges later, though, and he announced the recent engagement of Rep. Rachel Storch (D-St. Louis) which was met with applause. Apparently, Storch's man is doing quite well for himself.
"Have you seen the rock?" Rep. Sara Lampe (D-Springfield) said to Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis), admiring the ring on Storch's finger. "It's this big!"
Fake marijuana, real words
Until the session break in March, Monday nights at 6 p.m. clear out for Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, and his committee. The committee spent the vast majority of its time debating abortion issues and some of its members looked like they'd rather be enjoying some free food from a lobbyist somewhere. Maybe they were hungry because of the first major topic of the night- synthetic marijuana.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, testified on behalf of his bill that would ban the sale of K-2, which is called that because its supposed to get you high like the mountain (clever, right?!), and also because it's real name is hard to pronounce: spice cannabinoids. And that was the easiest one to pronounce!
If only for Bartle and Schaefer's sake, it would have been easy if that had been the only substance included in the bill. Also included were lacosamide, tapentadol, Fospropofol, 5-MeO-DMT and Carisprodol.
Bartle: "You're going after a lot more than" K2. "I see five others on here; lacosam-, lacosamide, ta-pen, ta, tapendatol-"
Schaefer: "I think that's right, yes."
The chairman asked about other medicines listed in the bill, including one that has not yet been listed on the federal list of controlled substances.
"There is one," Schaefer said, although he struggled to find the pronouncement.
Bartle: "That would be car-is, carisoprodol, is that how you say it?"
Schaefer: "Um, let's see...yes, carisprodol, that's the one."
Are state Senators about to give the go-ahead to banning substances they can't really pronounce? Time will tell.
25 degree weather, featuring huge snowflakes: sounds like the perfect weather to protest Scientology. Or at least it did for seven hearty members of the group Anonymous, affiliated with Project Chanology, a group that seeks to protest the faith. They chose Tuesday to protest, not because of the fabulous weather, but because a church-sponsored group had set up in the rotunda.
Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (a great buzzword name for an organization if there ever was one) had set up four large displays on each side of the rotunda pilloring psychiatry. Jeff Griffin, the LA-based executive director of CCHR, was in the rotunda with a table filled with DVDs and pamphlets listing all the awful things psychiatry does and continues to do. In the fifteen minutes he spent speaking with Behind the Beat, nobody came to take any material.
Griffin said he travels the country west of the Mississippi River, traveling to major cities and state houses to discuss what he views as the evils of psychiatry. Griffin said there's no such thing as mental disease or illness, autism, or anything of the like. He said he wasn't familiar with it, but he would be staunchly opposed to the proposal by Gov. Jay Nixon, D, to include autism in public health care funding. He said that psychiatry has a "300 year history of death."
"This isn't all we normally have," Griffin said. "This is only half of a full exhibit we run titled 'Psychiatry: Industry of Death."
Included were exhibits that seemed to equate 9/11 with the psychiatric industry and videos comparing involuntary stays in mental hospitals with the Holocaust. As for what they sought to accomplish in their one day in Jefferson City, Griffin was vague.
"We just want them to know how we stand," Griffin said. "We're here to show the truth about psychiatric medicine."
Whatever the truth is, they also both wished to disparage each other. The protesters were there with no other message than one against Scientology and the CCHR, but Griffin was also critical, and seemed to miss the meaning of irony.
"Who do you think is doing the smearing and the name-calling behind the mask?" Griffin asked. "These idiots don't know our co-founder was a psychiatrist."
Outside in the cold, the back-and-forth continued. The Anonymous members all wished to remain, you guessed it, anonymous; one of them said that if they gave their names, the church would go to their house, smear them and call them paedophiles. They said they all held jobs outside of psychiatry and had not been personally harmed by the church. But they didn't like the church, apparently.
"We just want them to go away and we don't worry about what some big, corporate puppet says; we are an organization of the people," said one woman, who appeared to be the leader of the group. "We do have a permit though."
While the CCHR people were warm inside, enjoying a warm meal, the Anonymous members were still outside. Four hours into their five hour stay, their spirits were still high.
"They may have the warmth, but we have principles," one protester said. "And snack cakes. Would you like a snack cake?"
Bartle's time to Shine
KANSAS CITY-- Tuesday was Sen. Matt Bartle's time to shine. The Republican from Lee's Summit led the 5 p.m. newscasts for the western half of Missouri after he appeared here to testify before a grand jury that is investigating a potential pay-to-play scheme that torpedoed a bill he introduced.
Grand jury hearings are secret, so when your humble blogger showed up at the Charles Evans Whitaker Federal Courthouse on Tuesday morning, it wasn't known for sure who, if anyone, would show up to talk. And even when they did, there was nothing forcing them to say anything to the reporters/stalkers who had been waiting all day. On stakeout duty were this reporter, David Lieb from the Associated Press, and Steve Kraske, a columnist for the Kansas City Star.
Around 1 p.m., Bartle arrived at the courthouse, where the pack of reporters, which had now grown to include two television anchors, swarmed like hunters on prey. Bartle, needless to say, was offguard.
"What a pleasant surprise!" Bartle said, trying to look pleased. "Can I get you on the way out? I'll be back, I promise."
With that, Bartle went through the metal detector and surrendered his cell-phone. About two hours later, after all the television stations had word a person of actual importance was in the building, the TV trucks began to assemble. The senator, walking alone, spoke with the newspaper reporters, before making his way outside to the swarm of television cameras.
The bright lights of local news were all on Bartle. He spoke to news reporters for about five minutes, then, after blowing off a question from Lieb, walked down 9th Street, being stalked by a cameraman from KMBC, the local Fox affiliate. Bartle smiled the whole way.
Later this week, the Senate will hear a bill that basically replicates the one at the center of the payola scam, which the FBI reportedly thinks may have been torpedoed in the House because then-speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) took a big donation with the promise to kill it. Bartle's bill from 2005, and now, would ban full nudity in strip clubs, require patrons and strippers to be at least six feet away from each other at all times, ban tipping, require a cover charge at all adult-related establishments, and would place a 20 percent tax on the industry.
A campaign committee affiliated with Jetton received a $35,000 donation from a major porn mogul around the time Jetton assigned Bartle's bill, which easily passed the Senate, to a committee where it never saw the light of day.
Every major newspaper statewide had a story about Bartle on Wednesday, and his bill may pass after all, albeit five years later. Meanwhile, Jetton says he is broke, and he is also facing a felony battery charge in the Sikeston area, stemming from what he calls an episode of "rough sex" gone wrong. It's not bad being Matt Bartle.
Who controls what?
Debate over a bill before the Senate Rules Committeethat would change some of Missouri's campaign finance rules turned into a discussion over gender and wealth in America.
Sen. Joan Bray (D-University City), who sits on the committee, said that the bill introduced by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph) would unfairly harm women and minority candidates because it would require yearly income statements from all staff members of candidates and legislators. Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) said that women control the majority of the wealth in America, so they aren't disadvantaged.
"Women live longer, so they control most of the wealth," Nodler said, as Bray looked on incredulously. "So when we say they're disadvantaged, we might want to reconsider that a bit."
Bray rebutted by saying that it is a select sliver of generally older women who control that wealth, and it's mostly inherited. Nodler, when asked about his comments after the hearing, didn't argue that point, but said it didn't matter.
"Money is money," Nodler said. "Whether they earn it, or because (their spouses) get old and die and leave it with them, they have more money. There are more women than men, longer life expectancy too."
Nodler, who is running for the U.S. Congress, was correct; according to a Pew study, women control 51.3 percent of America's wealth, as of 2008, and that number has steadily risen over the past decades