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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL233.PRB - Rebooting Government
While political pundits have focused on the reasons for the crushing defeat of Missouri Democrats, I've been wondering about something else -- the opportunity to "Reboot Government."
With Republicans maintaining an overwhelming majority in the state legislature and the sweep of statewide offices, Republicans have an opportunity to fundamentally change the very nature of Missouri government.
That thought came to me just a week after the elections when I ran into the state leader who coined the term "Rebooting Government" -- Charlie Shields.
As the Senate's president pro tem in 2010, Shields took an approach I'd never seen in the legislature before.
He established special Senate groups -- not traditional legislative committees -- to take a longer approach to identifying the major problems facing Missouri and the solutions.
The next year, the new president Pro Tem -- Rob Mayer -- took Shields' approach a step further.
Mayer resisted the temptation to take quick advantage of the 2010 GOP legislative victories. Instead, he slowed down the legislature's January rush for action for the Senate "work groups" to spend more time studying the issues facing our state.
It was only a short delay, but that more deliberative approach was in stark contrast to the near insanity of the January start of a legislative session.
Even before lawmakers convene, lobbyists are pushing legislators to sponsor bills for their special interests.
Legislators themselves sponsor those bills or frantically draft their own bills to give them a head start in the session. That puts pressure on committee chairs to push out bills as early as possible.
I've found this frantic process leaves too little time to craft effective solutions to some of the state's most complicated problems -- such as our crumbling highway system.
"Rebooting Government" took another direction.
Mayer had Senate committees delay committee action at the start of the 2011 session to continue the strategic planning process of Shields' approach.
The House had tried that years earlier in delaying when committees could vote on bills. But what happened in the Senate in 2011 was different.
Separate independent Senate groups brain stormed issues before formal committees took up bills. The task of each group essentially was to "roll back their chairs" and think outside the box.
This practical problem-solving approach made sense for Shields who is medical facility executive in a field where hasty decisions can have catastrophic medical consequences.
While I admired the effort, at the time I considered it a "fool's errand."
The pressures from lobbyists and the public for swift legislative action precludes the longer, thoughtful process Shields had sought.
Besides, in the era of term limits, legislators cannot afford to delay building a legislative record to seek higher office.
Before term limits, legislators enjoyed being in this statehouse so much that they would spend their falls and summers working on interim committee sessions to prepare for the next year's legislative session.
No more. Quick success is today's demand.
So, at first, I felt that history had proved me correct in my skepticism. "Rebooting Government" became a footnote in Missouri history.
But encountering Charlie Shields the other day reminded me of his vision and how it was implemented by Rob Mayer.
And it made me think about the unique opportunity for our governor-elect, Eric Greitens, along with his Republican legislators to make this a different era.
Because Republicans control two branches of government, there should be no partisan grid lock that Shields faced with a Democratic governor.
The sweeping magnitude of the Missouri GOP November victory should remove pressure for swift governmental action. After all, Republicans likely will control state government for at least the next four years.
That gives them time to develop effective solutions.
In addition, there's a bridge for bi-partisan collaboration with Democrats.
Missourians elected to statewide office two Republican state senators with a legislative history of cooperation with Democrats -- Missouri's future lieutenant governor, Mike Parson, and future treasurer, Eric Schmitt.
So, what do Republicans do with this assurance of continued power and with players who have a history of working across party lines?
Shields' "Rebooting Government" ultimately failed to produce transcending solutions for the state's biggest challenges. There was just too little time at the start of the legislative session.
But I'll be wondering what Missouri's new political leadership will do with the opportunity of more time to "Reboot Government."
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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