«RM75»«FC»COL17.MDH - First Ethics Bill Passed Protects Citizens from Politicians' Politics
David Doctorian was a remarkable Missouri senator, and I'm sure still a remarkable man. His grandparents were murdered for refusing to convert to Islam during the Armenian Genocide.
His parents met as children in a orphanage -- his father after being rescued by a Turkish soldier from a forced slavery march across the desert. He recounted -- in a video message I produced for him to his brother -- how they had sold shoes in the streets of Jerusalem to survive after soldiers burned their house.
He hit the shore of America with $65 and worked hard and became a college teacher, minister and author. He had a farm outside Macon and was elected to the Missouri Senate in 1977. In 1990, he was narrowly defeated in a re-election bid by a younger, well-funded candidate from a prominent political family.
On election night in those pre-Internet days, "volunteers" in the Senate worked into the wee hours to share election returns with any senator, campaign, lobbyist or reporter who called.
As a then-junior member of the Senate family, my job consisted mostly of hustling numbers from county clerks and running them to the administrator's office and taking calls from Republicans, since I was from a non-partisan background. Thus, I got the rotten job of telling Doctorian's daughter -- calling from election headquarters in the family home -- that her dad had lost the election.
Moments later, I got a second call, this from Sen. Emory Melton, R-Cassville, who had stepped up to fill the conservative Republican void in the Senate created seven months earlier with the death of Sen. Richard M. Webster, R-Carthage.
I will never forget Melton's words after I had to share with him that his colleague had lost his race.
"I hate to see David lose," Melton said. "It just shows that you can no longer run a Senate campaign out of your hip pocket."
An elder statesman who read every word of every bill, Melton knew a profound reality: the politics of getting elected to the Missouri Senate had grown beyond the candidate alone and now would require professionals to organize campaigns, raise money and place media buys.
Melton recently passed away. I thought about his words this week when the Missouri General Assembly gave final approval to an ethics measure, HB 1983. The bill would prohibit members of the General Assembly, statewide officials and candidates for those positions from working as professional, for-profit campaign consultants for other lawmakers, statewide officials or campaign committees.
In recent years, a speaker of the House hired a state senator as his campaign consultant. This potentially creates all sorts of concerns, since the speaker would have control over bills filed by the senator, who is also his campaign consultant, and for a senator who could -- or not --filibuster a bill filed by a speaker whose campaign he works for. And then, there's that troubling exchange of money. Should one lawmaker have another lawmaker on their political payroll?
How much has changed since Melton's 1990 observation that professional politics had come to Missouri's legislature. Change to the point where the political operatives themselves are holding the seats of the legislature -- and where citizens can rightfully wonder whether lawmakers' commitment is to constituents or to their campaign operations and contributors.
Since term limits, an industry in Missouri's Capitol has developed where professional political operatives recruit candidates, run their campaigns, raise their money and take their cut off the swag they rake in.
That's a long way from a system in which a refugee from a family persecuted for generations for their unwavering Christian faith can come to America, work hard and earn such great respect their neighbors elect them to represent them in the Missouri General Assembly.
The bill passed this week has doesn't restrict political work by lawmakers' staff, but it is a start in the right direction to get power back to citizens and out of the hands of political profiteers.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]