The recent story about a Missouri House member complaining that someone was stealing liquor from his legislative office reminded me of the old days when liquor played a much greater role in Missouri's statehouse.
Back decades ago, some legislative offices seemed more like public bars than places for crafting laws. A legislator from that era would not have complained about the loss of a liquor bottle, because it quickly would be replaced by lobbyists.
Fridays, after legislators had gone home, crates of beer, whisky, scotch and gin were wheeled into the Capitol -- all provided free of charge by lobbyists.
It was hard to miss seeing the effects of all that free booze. The antics of inebriated legislators were frequent and obvious.
One senator had to be threatened with having his desk removed from the chamber if he would not stop his drunken outbursts of profanity.
Late one night, a legislator who had worked in construction wanted to show off his skills. So he climbed up scaffolding that had been erected just outside the House chamber for doing some repairs to Capitol walls several stories above the rotunda floor.
In what appeared to be an obvious intoxicated state, he scaled the scaffolding as a few of us watched with alarm. To my suprise, he made it to the top and back down without injury.
Another House member had his secretary function as a virtual cocktail waitress for office visitors. She even was dressed like a coctail waitress with a low-cut blouse. That lasted until the legislator's wife came by one day.
But it was a temporary setback. His secretary simply was moved over to the adjoining office of another legislator from where she easily could come back to continue her hosting services.
One year, a major issue for the legislature died on the session's last night because the sponsor appeared so intoxicated that he could not make what would have been the final, routine motion on a bill to lower the legal age in Missouri from 21 years to 18.
A few years later, that same legislator drove into a store-front window nearly hitting a group of Mental Health Department officials heading to the Capitol for an evening committee hearing. The department's deputy director expressed deep concern because when he looked into the car after the accident, he saw the senator unconscious.
I had a good idea that his passed-out condition was more likely the cause for the accident than the effect. We'll never know for sure. He got checked into a local hospital and stayed long enough that any subsequent police blood-alcohol test would be useless.
The legislator was Clifford Jones, a senior St. Louis County senator. He was candid with reporters about his heavy drinking. He even insisted my reporter question him about it for a story on his political retirement -- saying he was not proud of it, but that it was part of his story.
While Jones may have escaped a drunken driving charge, others have not been so lucky or crafty. Two top leaders of Missouri's House have been charged including a House speaker whose political influence was eroded by the episode.
Some legislators from that era say that the drinking and camaraderie helped move legislation by easing partisan tensions. That definitely seemed the case for Republican Kit Bond's second term as governor.
Weekly, he got together with Democratic senators in a fourth floor senator's office for long-night sessions. The drinking was so intense that one member of the group confessed to me he had to drop out because he was too old to handle the quantities of liquor being consumed.
From those gatherings, Bond developed some close friendships and allies from the opposite political party. And, I think, he learned how the legislative process worked.
This column would not be complete if I did not include the press. Like legislative offices, press facilities were on the lobbyists' distribution list for liquor.
Few, if any of us, consumed the liquor. Some of us made it clear to lobbyists that we wished they would stop. But it kept coming anyway -- week after week like an unstoppable flood, even to our homes.
The magnitude of booze dropped off at press offices became apparent when we converted a storage room of the central statehouse press office into a recording studio.
The room was where reporters had been storing all that unused and unwelcome booze. The room was jammed with it.
Not all reporters, I should note, rejected the lobbyist gifts. One senior reporter, now deceased, eventually became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. His sponsor was one of the liquor industry's lobbyists. One legislator told me how he would write the reporter's stories in the evening when the reporter had passed out from his night of drinking.
Despite being an AA member, that reporter led the fight against a resolution some of us in the press corps had drafted to more formally ask lobbyists to please stop dropping off the free booze.
The lobbyist liquor flow to press facilities eventually stopped. And it has become less prevalent in legislative offices. But it's not completely gone. Just earlier this year, I caught a crew rolling cases of beer for the offices of at least some of your elected legislators.
You may notice that except for Jones who was candid with reporters about his drinking problems, I have not included other names. Most of these characters are now deceased, but I wanted to avoid embarrassing relatives.
Besides, there is no way for a reporter to be sure if someone actually is inebriated. In fact, I'm certain that one southeast Missouri senator deliberately would pretend to be drunk during a few Senate debates just to make his performances more entertaining.
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