House Speaker Steve Tilley may have come up with the best word to sum up the 2012 legislative session. "Incremental" was how he described what the legislature had accomplished on education.
Expansion of charter schools in under-performing districts cleared the legislature, but not the more sweeping changes that some lawmakers had sought, including state support for private schools, eliminating teacher tenure and fixing the broken formula that allocates state funds to public schools.
Education was just one of many major policy issues that legislators and state leaders had cited at the start of the session as priority issues that were unfulfilled. Other major issues that pretty much fell by the wayside included expanding the state's clogged interstate highways, ethics legislation, economic development, tax modernization and criminal sentencing changes to reduce the growth in prison costs.
Although the legislative session might not have soared, there were some notable accomplishments. A budget got passed, despite one of the bitterest Senate debates I've observed.
Lawmakers also sent the governor, with little fanfare, a measure that affects more Missourians than most of the issues they debate -- a bill to include cellphones and text messaging in the legal restrictions on telemarketers.
And, in a few of the major policy areas such as business liability for worker injuries, college credit transfers and criminal sentencing, there were smaller, incremental steps.
A number of factors frustrated legislative efforts. The most pervasive involved the deep divisions within the Republican legislative majority that had emerged during the fall special session when the House and Senate deadlocked over tax breaks to special interests, businesses and developers.
Beyond the House-Senate split was a division among Republicans in the Senate itself that erupted into name-calling during the Senate's debate on the budget -- with a senior Republican accusing his fellow Republican leaders of breaking their word.
The Republican split struck me as a consequence of having a super majority. I saw the same bitter split emerge among Democrats when they dominated the legislature. At times, the internal fights among Democrats then were far uglier than anything I saw among Republicans during the current session.
Tilley recounted conversations with legislative leaders from other states who told him "the larger the majority it is, sometimes on specific issues, the harder it is to accomplish." Tilley said that when a political party's majority is smaller, it tends to be more geographically similar and, thus, ideologically similar.
Complicating the problem for Republicans this year was the absence of an accepted titular leader for the party who could bring the warring factions together.
When Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder dropped his campaign for governor and Tilley dropped his campaign to replace Kinder as lieutenant governor, it left no obvious legislative peacemaker for Republicans. And Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon never really stepped forward to assert a personal and public influence to forge compromises among legislative factions.
Nixon's most public effort was for lawmakers to repass the campaign finance disclosure and enforcement laws that the state Supreme Court had thrown out on a technicality. But then he overreached by including a call for imposing limits on campaign contributions, a topic with stiff opposition among GOP lawmakers.
After just one news conference on the issue, Nixon's effort appeared abandoned for the rest of the session.
That's a quite different role than for other governors I've seen who actively engaged themselves in the legislative process. Even when Democrats controlled the legislature, Republican governors Kit Bond and John Ashcroft personally injected themselves into the legislative process and regularly were seen working with legislators.
A major factor in this year's legislative session has been term limits. That particularly is the case with the Senate. As a couple of former Senate leaders have expressed to me, the Senate has lost the sense that it is a family that works together, above party and faction.
Although term limits have been around for a while, they had a greater debilitating effect this year. Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer suggested it was because only in 2011 did the Senate completely lose its old guard of members who retained that spirit of the Senate being a family.
Finally, this was, after all, an election year. And as some of my press corps colleagues kept reminding me after I wrote a positive column about the possibilities at the start of the session, little usually gets done in an election year. Politics almost always seem to get in the way.
We sure saw that this session with the many hours spent on ideological and partisan issues over which the legislature had little control, such as federal health care.
With adjournment of the legislative session, Capitol Perspectives takes a summer break. I'll be back in the fall to provide a historical perspective to the fall campaigns, issues and personalities.
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