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Valerie began covering the state government beat for Missouri Digital News in 2008 as part of a reporting class at University of Missouri-Columbia. Before starting her print journalism major, she worked as a senior staff writer at the student paper, The Maneater, where she reported about student government.
House Speaker Ron Richards said he was giving representatives a special treat during their lunch break today: free cheeseburgers and milkshakes. In his announcement to the House today, he concluded by saying that even though he doesn't always agree with all of them " we're all in this together." Aww.
It's a small world here at the Capitol. Or at least I think so.
While waiting to talk to Sen. Rita Days about a bill she's sponsoring that would open adoption records, I chatted with Senate doorman Bill Wyrick about his job, finding parking at the Capitol, and his time in the Navy. He told me his daughter went to MU before she got married.
"And there's my son in law," he said, pointing to a group of men -- a couple lobbyists in conversation with Sen. Kurt Schaefer.
It's legislative spring break, so the Capitol is empty and I finally have a couple of days to breathe and do some work on my feature stories. I have to say I'm missing the usual hustle of the lobbyists, politicians, visitors, state department workers, and especially, the doormen for the Senate chamber. But why, oh why did I pack Quaker Oatmeal for lunch on a 75 degree day? It was way too hot to be sitting outside in the sun, eating thick, gloopy, hyper-sweet oatmeal.
As I read this story about the pope's response to distributing condoms in Africa in order to prevent the AIDS epidemic from spreading, I found myself wishing our two newsroom priests, Robert and Kenneth, were here today so that I could pick their brains on the issue. The complicated relationship between religion and politics is something I think most news outlets have difficulty reporting on, especially as it pertains to the Catholic church (although maybe I think that simply because I was raised Catholic). The Church is a huge, international entity of its own, in some ways completely detached from the individuals in the many, many dioceses worldwide. How the leaders of the Church reconcile moral doctrine to the cultural and social differences of Catholics, I will never understand.
Posted March 7, 2009:
On Thursday I wrote a story about a bill concerning abortion that I felt was pretty good. When I read it to my editor though, he questioned whether I buried the lede and should have started with Anne Zerr's story about being a victim of sexual assault. Phill told me that he would have written the story with a human lede, but then he also said he wasn't sure if that was the best way the story should be written. He wanted me to give him my reasoning for not leding with her.
I certainly considered it, and I think it could have worked. If I had, I would have wanted to find out more detail: how old was she, was she raped, did she come from a pro-life family, and so on? I would have wanted to frame it as more of a feature.
The biggest reason I decided not to start with her was that her comments centered around Lampe's amendment, which ultimately failed. They were certainly interesting and added to the discussion that happened, but had nothing to do with the bill as it was perfected. I think it would have been difficult for the reader to comprehend if I had started with the amendment (which didn't pass), and then moved on to the actual news: that the bill's first run passed with the majority necessary to override a gubernatorial veto.
Which brings me to the second reason I didn't start with Zerr: it just wasn't the news. I felt the bill was an actual story in itself and one that would continue on in the future, while Zerr's comments, sensational as they were, just wouldn't be as informative to the reader. For a story on abortion, where so many people have strong opinions and feelings toward the matter, I didn't want to spotlight any individual as being the expert or the priority item. As sad as her story may be, there are many,many others like it, some probably of the women in the same room, and they could all think different things. It didn't fit with the other news, and I think if I did/do handle the other news, I'd like to do it separate from the bill. I think it might be a nice feature story: are there any other legislators who are open about sexual abuse in their past? How does it affect what they vote for on the issues of abortion, domestic violence laws, and so on? What other factors may have contributed to their stance on these issues?
Posted February 24, 2009:
This article on Politico is articulating a sentiment I'm hearing a lot of Missouri Republicans are sharing: we don't need your stinkin' stimulus money.
I'm currently writing a story about the Higher Education Department's meeting with the Senate and House appropriations committees. The chairs of both the Senate and House committees, who are fellow GOP members, have expressed anxiety about what stimulus money should be used. They worry that the money is for one-time use only, and that incorporating that funding into ongoing projects could hurt Missouri in the future.
Last week I attended a Q&A with Gov. Nixon that concluded with a legislative panel. It seemed like the debate about the stimulus package was drawn down party lines.
"We will try to take the maximum advantage of the federal dollars when appropriate. I also suspect there may be dollars that we turn down because we don't think we'll be able to sustain when the federal package goes away in two year," said President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, a republican.
"I can't imagine not taking every dollar we can. I can't imagine not reaching out and bringing it into this state," said Rep. J.C. Kuessner, a Democrat.
Posted February 3, 2009:
This New York Times article about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's last day in office was a very intriguing glimpse into his personality. From a journalistic standpoint, I was really pleased at how the writer was able to write something interesting and personal without becoming biased. I don't think this article will change anyone's mind about the corruption charges, but it shows a very interesting behind-the-scenes look at a national scandal.
Posted January 22, 2009:
After about a month of winter break, I'm finally back in the capitol. Hopefully it doesn't take too long to get back into the swing of things.
Today I attended a Senate seminar about higher education in Missouri in the hopes that a story would come out of it. While the Missouri State University President Mike Nietzel and UM System President Gary Forsee's statistic-heavy presentations gave me relevant information about higher education funding in Missouri, it was hardly new information and definitely not a thrilling story. Overall, their message was that higher education should be seen as an economic stimulus that can lead to higher income and less unemployment.
Nietzel spoke about how America's college enrollment has fallen behind countries such as Canada, Japan, and Belgium. He said Missouri's college enrollment is below the national average and losing ground.
"Missouri on average spends $84 less per person than the national average," Nietzel said.
In order to reach more Missourians and raise college enrollment, Forsee said universities should work on voicing their mission to the public and develop a strategy to deliver that mission.
Forsee and Nietzel's presentations come at a critical time. Yesterday, Nixon announced that he would not cut the budgets of Missouri's four year colleges and universities. In exchange, these institutions have promised not to raise student tuition or fees.
Whether this promise goes into effect is yet to be seen as the General Assembly has the power to cut any budget recommendations made by Nixon. The governor has not yet divulged what departments would see budget cuts.
Posted December 10, 2008:
While I was out on a walk with my editor today, he stumbled upon five trash bins of shredded emails were found in some proximity to Gov. Matt Blunt's office.
My colleague Laura and I combed through the trash and took video of the bins and the contents. Some of the documents were not shredded correctly and we could make out the contents, including names and emails addresses.
One woman approached us and told us she didn't think we were allowed to go through the trash. She said she was going to get a press secretary to speak with us. We waited for about 15 minutes and saw the woman walk past us a couple more times, but no one came out to talk to us and the woman never approached us again.
After we called Blunt's spokeswoman, Jessica Robinson, the five trash cans were taken away, and replaced with empty ones. As of 5:00 p.m. today, she hasn't called us back.
The governor's office may have simply been cleaning out its offices in lieu of Gov.-elect Nixon's impending transition. But with all the controversy surrounding how Blunt may or may not have withheld documents and emails, it's surprising to me that cans full of shredded documents were left out in the open.
Posted November 10, 2008:
Elections are finally over, and I couldn't be more relieved! While the politicians transition into their positions, I'm sure we'll be covering it and providing in-depth coverage about Missouri issues.
Right now I'm working on a story about provisional ballots, and about how the Secretary of State's office still hasn't announced which presidential candidate won Missouri's electoral votes. I think everyone considered Missouri to be a real battleground, one of the states that would decide a very close election. I was very surprised that McCain's concession speech came so early and that Missouri's votes have basically amounted to an afterthought. This campaign season, many cities of Missouri had campaign stops from Obama, McCain, Biden, and Palin. If we do lose our reputation as a bellwether, I wonder if campaigns will put in the same amount of effort to win Missouri in the future.
Posted November 4, 2008: Coverage of Jay Nixon's Election Night Party
6:15 p.m.: Just talked to Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis County). She said she's predicting a Nixon win because Nixon is connecting to Missourians on issues such as health care and higher education.
"I'm optimistic. I think we've seen a huge turnout, particularly in the urban areas," she said.
Bray said many minorities and young people turned out for the election.
"Those voters want something different," said Bray.
7:09 p.m.: Just talked to former Governor Roger Wilson. He said he is very optimistic that Nixon will win tonight.
"We are good friends, and when I was younger we used to play basketball together," he said.
Wilson said Nixon "had a great set of hands" and was great at passing and knowing what do do when the ball was passed to him.
"If his government attributes match his basketball skills, we'll have a good person, a team player," he said.
7:58 p.m.: The Associated Press has reported that Nixon will win governor based on exit polling, but both Democratic spokesman Zac Wright and Nixon spokesman Oren Shur said they will not rely on exit polls to make an announcement.
"We know better than to rely on exit polling, we're going to wait for the hard numbers to come in," Shur said.
11:02 p.m.: I didn't get to update my blog as much as I wanted to, but Nixon will be Missouri's next governor and Obama will be the next president. Being able to witness these events with Democrats was such an interesting experience. There was so much excitement in the room!
Posted October 29, 2008:
1:30 p.m.: Someone dressed as GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin has been going throughout the various offices at the Capitol today, attended by another woman dressed up as her PR secretary. Life in Jeff City can be pretty interesting sometimes. It is almost Election Day so maybe it was a publicity stunt. More likely that it was a Halloween costume, though.
Posted October 29, 2008:
After a long, long week of work and a week of editing, my profiles of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof and Libertarian Andy Finkenstadt have finally made their way into the Columbia Missourian. I'm especially happy with my profile of Hulshof; I only had 15 minutes before a news conference to talk with him.
When you have a long interview, you can start asking more general questions and ask a lot of follow-ups, but I didn't really have the luxury of time, so I tried to get as pointed as I could with my questions beforehand. Surprisingly, Wikipedia gave me an interesting tidbit that really helped me focus: Hulshof played drums in an all Congressional band that had played for soldiers in the Middle East. We were told to write about these candidates as people, and what's more normal than popular music?
A quick youtube search provided me with this video of the band which was really interesting to watch. If you've ever wanted to see Hulshof singing backup to The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" here's your chance.
This knowledge about Hulshof was also very helpful with helping me relax my nerves. I'm pretty extroverted, but sometimes it's hard for me to make that first phone call in the morning or to talk to someone politically "important." Now, instead of being the candidate for governor, I was able to see him as someone who plays the same brand of drums as my eighteen-year-old brother. If there's one thing this job has taught me, it's that politicians are more normal than you think.
Posted October 18, 2008: Gubernatorial Debate blogging
5:33 Oren Shur , spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Jay Nixon, said Nixon spent the day at the Obama rally, speaking along with Claire McCaskill before to heading to the debate.
5:55 Still waiting for the debate to start. Ken Warren, Fox 2 analyst and professor at St. Louis University, said NixonÔ019s strategy is linking Republican candidate and Congressman Hulshof to Gov. Matt Blunt, President Bush, and the falling economy.
6:00 Introductions of Nixon and Hulshof.
6:01 "Missouri is at a crossroads," Nixon said. "I think the press has dubbed me Mr. New Idea."
Said this is not a time to place blame, but a time for politicians to show courage.
Hulshof also talked about how Nixon has been in Missouri government for too long to know how to change it.
6:04 Nixon said he restored dignity to the attorney general's position.
Said he is running for Governor because Missouri needs change and that he will bring it.
Nixon said he would cut taxes and hold business accountable for sending jobs oversees.
"I'm proud of my record as Missouri's attorney general," he said.
6:07 Hulshof said his plan MORE Jobs would help small businesses. If a rural small business added three jobs to it's payroll or urban small business added six jobs to its payroll, the business would receive a rebate.
Thinks he could have it instated by February.
6:09 Nixon said Missouri needs to find a way to make sure college is affordable to create strong, trained workers.
6:10 Hulshof said the MORE Jobs act will immediately put more money into the state economy.
6:11 The panelists don't seem to know the rules of the debate. Does Nixon get a rebuttal? Apparently not.
Nixon said he wanted to balance the budget and run his office efficiently.
6:12 Hulshof said the MORE jobs act would tap into the rainy day fund, but would invest in Missouri's businesses. "I will not raise taxes."
6:14 Nixon: "We do balance our budget in Missouri. We do it every year." Nixon brings up Hulshof's involvement in pork projects.
6:15 Hulshof said Nixon's record is to raise taxes. Said he voted against the bailout plan twice, even against members of his own party.
6:17 Nixon said Hulshof is firing off lies because he's down in the polls.
Said he met a man who lost his job because of some of the policies Hulshof voted for in Congress.
"We need a governor who will compete everyday, not point the finger at others."
6:18 Hulshof said the second injury fund expenses have gone up more than 400% in Nixon's administration.
6:19 Nixon said groups dealing with weatherization and low energy income assistance should be merged together to become more efficient.
Said if government programs are merged and narrowed there can be more efficient and take more responsibility.
6:20 Hulshof said he would create an inspector general position not appointed by the governor, who would monitor the state government to cut down on cronyism.
"My administration will be open, honest and accountable."
6:22 Nixon said Hulshof was looking at problems as a Washington outsider and criticized the idea of adding another position to make government more efficient.
6:23 Hulshof said he would not raise taxes and has never voted for a tax increase in Congress.
"My record on taxes is not rhetoric."
6:24 Nixon: "I'd hold the line on taxes."
Said Missourians need to make sure they are getting what they pay for.
"I'll invest in Missourians," said Nixon.
6:30 Nixon said his health care plan will restore Medicaid cuts, obtain health care coverage for all children, and get transparency in health care providers.
6:31 Hulshof said his HEALTH Max plan would create health savings accounts for low income Missourians. Hulshof his plan would cover more uninsured people than Nixon's plan.
Medicaid "doesn't provide good health care," he said.
6:33 Nixon said Hulshof's policy costs more than his own and doesn't cover children.
Hulshof said those with an income over $25,000, you are not eligible for health care under Nixon's plan.
Hulshof said he helped pass a bill for SCHIP, which would help insure children.
6:35 "We're at a crossroads here," Nixon said. Hulshof said this in his opening statement. I think this statement was also used at the University of Missouri-Columbia debate.
Nixon said Hulshof's plan didn't deal with children directly.
6:37 Hulshof said the state should not "hit the reset button on Medicaid," because it provides bad health-care only to those who make less than $25,000.
6:38 "Investing in human capital is the backbone of economic development," Nixon said.
Nixon said his education plan would take qualified students who have taken two years at a community college and pay for their tuition at a state college or university.
6:39 Hulshof said he was a product of the "Missouri Dream," that his parents sacrificed so he could go to a public college at University of Missouri-Columbia.
Hulshof said he put forward a higher education funding formula to help provide funding for universities so that it doesn't have to raise tuition.
6:41 Nixon said Hulshof supported the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.
6:42 Hulshof said basic education is a civil right and that there was only one physics teacher who graduated in Missouri last year, and he moved to California.
Hulshof said his plans would bring more science and math teachers to Missouri.
6:43 Nixon: "We need to return respect to the profession of teaching."
Nixon said the teachers should be in charge of the classroom and shouldn't have to worry about meeting quotas on graduation numbers.
Nixon said students need to have Internet access to prepare them for the future.
6:46 Nixon said vouchers for charter schools take away from public school funding.
6:47 Hulshof: "Charter schools are public schools."
Hulshof said he would take up teachers unions if the need be.
6:48 Hulshof said he opposed Proposition A because he disagrees with the removal of the identification requirement because of the problems it might cause for law enforcement.
6:49 Nixon said he does not agree with repealing the loss limits.
Nixon said most Democrats and Republicans agree that vouchers take away money for public schools.
6:51 Hulshof said he commits to his education funding formula, but admits it will make the budget tight next year.
6:52 Nixon said Hulshof resorts to attack ads because he is desperate and behind on the polls.
6:53 Hulshof references the "Mr. New Idea" title again, and David Lieb, writer for the Associated Press, said among the press watching the debate that he actually called Hulshof "New Plan Guy."
Hulshof said Nixon's ratio of attack ads compared to his own is 3-1 and that he has put forward plans on subjects Nixon hasn't touched, such as small business.
Posted October 8, 2008:
Last Monday Laura and I worked on a story about whether falling housing prices would impact reassessment values. It was definitely a learning experience, showing that you can never really predict the news.
First off, we drove from the Capitol to Columbia for an interview with the Boone County assessor. While very helpful, the assessor said that housing prices in Boone County had remained stable. He seemed very optimistic that the government would solve the current economic problems and that Missourians would be under less financial stress than those on the coast. We exited the interview discussing how the focus of the story would have to change, when I noticed I had a voice mail from the assistant editor. During our interview, the bailout bill had been rejected and the DOW had fallen 500 points.
While everyone else scrambled to cover the financial crisis, we continued working on our story. Whether as a response to the falling stock market or just by coincidence, no other assessor was willing to give us an interview.
Posted September 29, 2008: This past couple of weeks I've been working on an issues piece, trying to set up a background of a ballot issue that would amend the Missouri Constitution to make English the official language of government proceedings. For an issue that some call preventative and that others say does nothing, it is so hot-button. Almost everyone I've talked to thinks the amendment will pass and says it probably won't change anything, but there's a lot of unease on each side.
Personally, I'd like to know if this issue matters to the average person, and also how naturalized citizens, immigrants who did not learn English as their first language, and undocumented immigrants feel about this issue. Does it even matter to them?
Posted September 11, 2008:
2:59 p.m. More than a half hour before the debate, Nixon supporters gathered around the entrances of Gannett Hall, holding posters and handing out stickers. I don't really understand the point of trying to hand out political stickers to a bunch of journalists who are ethically obligated to refuse them.
3:17 p.m. MU Chancellor Brady Deaton is giving opening remarks about the importance of debate to political process. David Lieb is the moderator of the debate. Lieb then introduces the panel and the candidates. This blog will be focusing on Republican candidate Kenny Hulshof and Libertarian candidate Andrew Finkenstadt. Sarah D. Wire is covering Constitution candidate Gregory Thompson and Democratic candidate Jay Nixon.
3:21p.m. Hulshof is up first. Hulshof talked briefly about policies in energy, health care, and crime and said he's the only candidate concerned about public schools in Kansas City and St. Louis. "Our state is at a crossroads," he said, continuing to say that he is the only candidate who will bring change.
3:26 p.m. Finkenstadt starts his opening remarks with a moment of silence for 9/11, and Hulshof started his remarks with a personal story about 9/11. I wonder if all candidates will try to work in 9/11 into their opening remarks. Finkenstadt focuses mostly on Libertarian philosophy and how Missouri needs less government interference.
3:40 p.m. Hulshof talks about his health care program in response to a question about an elderly couple who cannot pay for. "We would provide health savings accounts and pay the premium."
3:44 p.m. Finkenstadt said private individuals have a responsibility to pay for the health care of those who cannot pay for it.
3:48 p.m. Finkenstadt said he opposes the death penalty because the chance of executing an innocent person is more horrible than letting a guilty criminal live. "I would most definitely put a moratorium on the death penalty in this state."
3:52 p.m. Hulshof on death penalty: "Moratorium? No." "The right of the innocent to live far outlives the right of the guilty not to die."
3:57 p.m. Hulshof on Nixon's Missouri Promise Plan: "We shouldn't pick community colleges at the expense of four-year institutions."
3:58 p.m. Finkenstadt said if taxes are reduced, more Missourians can spend their money where they want, including education and giving money to scholarships.
4:02 p.m. Hulshof on improving K-12 education: Incentives for math and science teachers to improve K-12 math and science scores.
4:03 p.m. Finkenstadt: Parents should be in charge of funding education and education of children should be managed locally.
4:10 p.m. To a question about what he would do to resolve the lawsuit against Gov. Matt Blunt if it comes up while he is governor, Hulshof said he would resolve it ethically and talked about the importance of having a government people can have confidence in. Finkenstadt said he would post online every document that comes out of the governor's office.
4:13 p.m. Finkenstadt on campaign limits: "I would love to hit the limit."
4:15 p.m. Finkenstadt on nuclear energy and energy alternatives: "Really needs to rely on the free market." Said nuclear power is one of the best options now and that he opposes all government pricing of energy sources.
4:22 p.m. Hulshof: "I'm for any of them...yes to nuclear; yes to solar; yes to hydro-electric." Said Missouri should explore all options to lessen dependence of foreign oil.
4:23 p.m. Hulshof on transportation: Look to improve major highways.
4:25 p.m. Finkenstadt: "In order to provide for the bridges and the roads...there has to be increased spending." Said he would cut funding elsewhere to make roads and bridges more safe.
4:30 p.m. Finkenstadt closing statements: "It's time to reboot our government." Said a vote to a third party is not a waste of a vote but a vote in the right direction.
Posted September 8, 2008:
A week has passed and the excitement and controversy surrounding Palin hasn't died down. At the very least, she's brought publicity to McCain's campaign.
Wait, who's McCain again?
The spotlight has narrowed such on the vice presidential appointments--Biden and Palin--that it's taken away from the debate between McCain and Obama. While the vice president is an incredibly lofty position, it's ultimately the presidential candidates responsibility to lay out positions on issues and to set the tone for a campaign.
Posted August 29, 2008:
From reporting on the gubernatorial race during the day to watching the Democratic National Convention at night, my days and nights have been overflowing with election speeches, campaign ads, and political party events.
With Barack Obama officially named the first black presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appointed as John McCain's running mate, stltoday.com has stated, " history will be made in this election. We will either elect the first black president in U.S. history or the first female vice president."
Although I think this point is a diversion from the issues the public should be looking at, it is obviously one campaign strategists want us to look at. With McCain's appointment of Palin, he is linking his age and experience with her youth and maverick spirit. The opposite could be said of the Obama campaign, where Biden's appointment might give his campaign the experience to win over voters.
So now that both youth and experience have been combined, campaigns have been stressing the barriers they will break. Both the speeches of Hillary and Bill Clinton and Barack and Michelle Obama contained references to how their life stories were an example of the American Dream. Hillary Clinton's battle for the Democratic nomination was portrayed as a big crack in the glass ceiling.
In a campaign centered on change, talking about broken barriers comes with the territory. It will be really interesting to see if this sentiment is echoed by the McCain campaign now that they are making history as well. And will it even win over the votes of the undecided public?
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