Archive for June 2008
It’s so easy to criticize an elected official and members of his or her staff when things don’t go as they should … and there’s nothing wrong with criticism of that kind. But it’s also important to praise the elected official and the staff when you run into a roadblock and the elected official’s office makes that roadblock go away. In that spirit … I must thank Senator Claire McCaskill’s office for helping me get some information that bureaucrats seemed unwilling to provide.
Our junior U.S. Senator hosts a field hearing of the Senate Aging Committee at a senior citizens’ center in St. Louis on Monday. The topic of the hearing is Medicare Advantage insurance plans – which get both positive and negative reviews. I know a few things about Medicare Advantage plans. But having been told I would be covering this event, I did as any reporter should do, I took it upon myself to become more informed on the subject.
I went to a number of websites in an effort to learn more. The insurance company websites had plenty of information on these plans. Not surprisingly – all of the information is positive! It’s like going to a left leaning blog looking for objective information on politics. Not surprisingly – everything Democrats do is good and everything Republicans do is bad. Visit a right leaning blog and you’ll get the exact opposite. The point is … the insurance companies make money by selling these policies … so they are going to accentuate the positives – nothing more.
The obvious path to obtaining objective information is through Medicare, itself. Calling this U.S. government operation was, however, both frustrating and baffling. Frustrating because the person with whom I spoke was not able to give me the information I needed … and would not give me a phone number of someone in Medicare who could provide that information. It was baffling because I was dealing with a government office which is supported by our tax dollars … and the office was clearly not able to provide the service most of us would expect out of the offices we support.
To be fair, the person who answered my call was very polite … but the best she could do was offer to have someone from the public information office get back to me within two business days. Two business days??? Is this a joke??? Let’s see … I’m a member of the media, calling on Friday morning, to get some information in advance of a U.S. Senate hearing on Monday … and the best they can do is tell me somebody will get back to me within two business days??? That might be Tuesday – the day after the hearing.
Faced with this situation, I again did as any reporter might do … I called Senator McCaskill’s office and whined … er … complained to Claire’s Press Secretary Maria Speiser about my dilemma. It wasn’t long before Maria had e-mailed me the name and phone number of a Medicare contact person who could answer my questions.
So … once again the press people on the Senate side of Capitol Hill have made the job a little easier. Maria came through (as I knew she would) just as Shana Marchio in Senator Kit Bond’s office has always come through in the past. These are good people doing good work. But while I’m pleased that I get to work with such good professionals … I’m frustrated that I have to bother them to get information that should be easily accessible – and in a timely manner – from any government office I contact. As I said to the individual who answered by call when I first contacted the Medicare office: "Two business days to get a simple answer to a simple question … this is unacceptable … and it’s certainly no way to run a Navy!"
Most Missourians who need to deal with their federal government don’t have the benefit of knowing people like Maria and Shana – who can get things done. Unfortunately, this "wait two business days" bureaucratic stupidity only contributes to a negative view of government at all levels. And it undermines the good work that is done by so many people at the federal, state, and local levels of government.
– Steve Walsh
Fear the furball!
Sandbagging has been going on along the Mississippi River in northeast Missouri and down into the St. Louis area for some time now … and the flooding of the Mississippi and many of its tributaries remains the big story affecting the lives of so many Missourians. And, while federal, state, and local emergency officials have done tremendous work to stop protect people and their homes, we learned Friday of a breach of the Pin Oak levee at Winfield, north of St. Louis.
The fact a breach occurred is not a surprise. After all, it’s no easy task to hold back the waters of one of the world’s great rivers. What makes you want to scratch your head … or perhaps even utter a cuss word … is the information regarding the reason for the breach.
We learned that while a lot of human effort went into fighting the rising floodwaters, human effort was not enough to defeat the effort of … muskrats. That’s right … muskrats. You know … the little (or not so little) furry critters.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it was muskrat burrows that had contributed to the breach of the levee where a sand boil had formed earlier this week. Travis Tutka, an Army Corps of Engineers dam expert, expressed disappointment that the hard work of so many volunteers can be undermined by a muskrat.
If this weren’t such a tragic situation with so many Missourians risking the loss of their homes and belongings it might be worthy of laughter. But it is a tragic situation. And, as the floodwaters move south, emergency crews are finding out they have much more to fear than snakes, sharp objects, and disease from the filthy waters of the Mississippi. They now have to keep an eye out for what was once thought to be just a cute little harmless critter. Clearly, we now know those little furballs aren’t so harmless, after all.
– Steve Walsh
I spent a good part of Thursday morning at the State Board of Education meeting in Jefferson City … and didn’t learn about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gun rights until I got into my car and headed back to Learfield world headquarters in the metropolis of Jefferson.
I first heard the news on the radio … but had I opted to pop in a CD … I would have found out very quickly, anyway. When I got to the Missourinet newsroom I found I had more than 80 new e-mails. I found that rather strange since I had cleared out the inbox just a few hours earlier. But when I started to read the e-mails I realized I would find more than my share of reactions to the High Court’s ruling.
Many individuals who hold or who are running for public office thought it would be appropriate to weigh in. That’s not a bad thing … that’s good! This is one of those landmark rulings which is clearly important to a lot of Missourians (on both sides of the issue) and it’s good for voters to know where the candidates stand.
As of this writing (3:00pmCT) on Thursday, I have received e-mails from numerous politicians … several of whom are running for something. I have included some samples for your reading pleasure.
Republican candidates who have expressed their opinions include:
– Presidential candidate John McCain: "Today’s decision is a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom in the United States."
– Governor Matt Blunt, who is not seeking another term, applauds the decision saying it is an affirmation of "the freedom and right of law-abiding Americans to own firearms."
– Attorney General candidate Mike Gibbons: "A victory for Missourians."
– Gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman: "I commend the United States Supreme Court for affirming one of the most important freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution."
– Gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof: "This is a great day for all Americans, as the highest court in the land has once and for all come down on the side of personal liberty."
– Congressman Sam Graves: "The Supreme Court has made the right decision in standing up for the Constitution."
– Congressional candidate Blaine Luetkemeyer: "The Supreme Court’s decision is a major victory for our rights as Americans."
– Congressional candidate Bob Onder: "This decision stops the anti-gun zealots cold in their tracks."
– Add to the mix Senator Kit Bond – who is up for re-election in 2010: "This decision sends a clear message – Americans have a constitutionally protected individual right to bear arms."
– Gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon – who, in his role as Attorney General, joined 30 other attorneys general filing a brief with the Supreme Court urging it to adopt the position that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms: "The United States Supreme Court affirmed what we in Missouri have long held as a mainstream value: that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms."
– Congressman Ike Skelton: "Today’s Supreme Court ruling affirms what most rural Missourians have known for years – the Second Amendment to our Constitution guarantees an individual right to bear arms."
– Lieutenant Governor candidate Sam Page: "I completely support today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms."
There you have it … all those folks weighing in on the Supreme Court ruling (I’m sure I’ll receive more e-mails in the coming hours) … and, so far, not a negative reaction in the bunch. Surely, there must be some politicians on the November ballot in Missouri who think this was a bad ruling. I’d love to hear from these folks – especially those running for statewide office. It’s good for democracy when Missourians know which of the candidates support this Second Amendment ruling … and which ones oppose it.
– Steve Walsh
The State Supreme Court ruling that, in effect, legalizes the practice of midwifery in Missouri brings to an end a long trek for a legislative effort that has had its share of ups and downs.
The effort was championed by Senator John Loudon (R-Chesterfield) who had been trying to put forward legislation allowing certified midwives to practice their craft in Missouri. But the effort was stymied by Senator Chuck Graham (D-Columbia) who filibustered Loudon’s effort back in 2007.
After a good deal of filibustering, a stand alone midwifery bill was perfected in the Senate … that means it was passed once and required one more vote to clear the chamber. But it was done in a rather interesting way. On that occasion Loudon took advantage of Graham’s absence from the chamber to bring up the bill and have it voted on. With none of the other Senators really opposed to the idea of legalizing a practice that is considered quite run of the mill in more than 40 other states, the bill easily passed. But the effort could not get approved a final time … which is known as third reading.
Then came the maneuver that became the topic of conversation throughout the halls of the Capitol as the 2007 session wound down. Loudon pulled off what is known as a legislative tuck … slipping his midwifery provision into a huge bill dealing with health insurance. Nobody noticed it had been added … they voted on this huge bill (HB 818), and midwifery was on its way to Governor Matt Blunt for his signature. That did not sit well with Loudon’s fellow Senators. In fact, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons (R-Kirkwood) removed Loudon as chair of the Senate Small Business Committee as punishment for the tuck. Loudon’s chairmanship was later restored.
Once the legislation became law, opponents of midwifery – the Missouri State Medical Association – challenged the law in court. In so doing, attorneys for the doctors claimed there had been a violation of Missouri’s Hammerschmidt rule – a constitutional requirement that any provision of any bill relate to the original purpose and title of that bill. The Association’s challenge was successful in Cole County Circuit Court, but that ruling was appealed to the State Supreme Court.
As the issue worked its way through the legal process … the 2008 legislative session – Loudon’s last – got underway and he launched another effort to legalize midwifery. He began making headway with his nemesis from the year before – Chuck Graham – when Graham proposed naming part of a Boone County road in honor of Columbia NASCAR driver Carl Edwards. Loudon reached out to Graham, stating both Senators wanted pieces of legislation passed … and Loudon suggested it would be a shame if one Senator were to filibuster the other Senator’s legislation … and vice versa.
It seemed to work. Graham abandoned his anti-midwifery crusade and it appeared as though the stand-alone midwifery bill might clear the Legislature. But it died as the session ended. It was a disappointment for Loudon as he had supported this cause and, being term limited, he realized he would not get another opportunity to give midwives the right to practice in the state.
I vividly remember those final days and hours of the session. I chatted quite frequently with midwives and their supporters who lost out on a lot of sleep as they hoped, beyond hope, that the midwifery bill would pass both chambers and be sent to the Governor. On the final afternoon of the session, Gina Loudon, who is running for her husband’s seat, came up to me in the hallway outside the Senate chamber, and we started talking. I asked her if she had any inside information as to whether the midwifery bill might get through by the 6 pm deadline and she did not appear to have a lot of hope. What was heart-warming was Gina’s admission, to me, that she hoped it would pass because it was such an important issue for John and this would be his last chance to get it done.
The session ended without the midwifery bill passing … and all hopes were pinned on the State Supreme Court and how it would rule on the 2007 midwifery legislation. Whenever I raised the issue with Loudon or the midwives, they told me they would just wait and see what the Supreme Court had in mind … but it was clear to me that optimism was in short supply.
Finally, more than a year after midwifery legislation cleared the General Assembly and began its journey through the legal system, the Supreme Court has spoken … and both John Loudon and the midwives celebrate a victory. What is interesting is that the Supreme Court did not rule on the question of whether Hammerschmidt had been violated … it ruled the Medical Association lacked standing to be part of the challenge to the legislation. That decision, in effect, made midwifery legal in Missouri.
I spoke with Mary Ueland of Friends of Missouri Midwives and the Senator after the ruling came down. Both are very pleased … and it doesn’t seem to matter to either of them that victory came on what could be considered a technicality. They won … and a legal technicality victory is just as satisfying as a victory on the merits. And, truth be told, twenty years from now when midwifery is a common practice and a new generation of Missourians assumes midwifery has always been legal … it’s a safe bet nobody will look back and say they only won on a technicality. After all … they had a little help from a tuck.
– Steve Walsh
It’s not uncommon for reporters to take advantage of slow mornings in the newsroom to surf the Web to look for great sites. We all know about the many political sites Missouri has to offer … some on the left … others on the right … some of them look great and are updated regularly … others are … well, they’re just … there.
Then there’s the "one-stop-shopping" political site that links to newspaper, radio, television, and blogs throughout the state – johncombest.com – which bills itself as "Missouri’s political news website since October 2001." There aren’t too many political reporters … or political junkies … who don’t make John’s website their first stop in the morning. He collects stories from throughout the state and links to them. Certainly, it’s wise for any reporter to visit various websites throughout the day to see what other news organizations are featuring, but Combest’s site is a great way to start that tour.
It’s a good idea, however, to move from some of the better known websites and to enjoy reading what smaller newspapers, television, and radio stations are putting out there. Most of them do a pretty good job … but some do a great job and should be complimented. I figure it’s a good idea, from time to time, to feature some of these outstanding sites in the Missourinet Blog.
Not that I’m trying to suck up to Missourinet affiliates … but some of the best websites you might want to visit just happen to be those of Missourinet affiliates. One of the best is Eagle 102 – KJFM Radio in Louisiana. Take a look at this site … go ahead … I’ll wait …
Stories and photos … lots of great photos! In fact, Eagle 102’s coverage of the Mississippi River flooding could not have been better. And folks … we’re talking about a small station here … yet, it appears as though Eagle 102 is a much larger operation because of what is clearly a lot of time and effort that has gone into the website.
If you find a great radio, TV, small newspaper website that might not be well known but is really good … let me know about it. After all … those who excel should be applauded!
– Steve Walsh.
I had the opportunity to journey to the Callaway County Nuclear Power Plant on Monday to talk to Senator Kit Bond on the importance of expanding the use of nuclear power as part of the solution to our energy problems. The Senator says expanded use of nukes is an important part of our overall energy picture … just as he says drilling for more oil in the United States is very important.
While waiting for the Senator I caught up with Mike Cleary of AmerenUE – which owns and operates the nuclear facility near Fulton, in mid-Missouri. We chatted about the time, a couple of years or so ago, that Mike took me on a tour of the plant. At that time he informed me that public tours of the plant were scaled back following the first Gulf War … and were halted, completely, after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
It was during our tour that Mike told me what I think is a funny story … which I asked him to repeat on Monday while waiting for the Senator to arrive. Back when public tours were being offered … an intern would occasionally conduct the tour. These young people were told it might be a good idea to lighten up, a bit, to make the visitors more comfortable.
Well, one of the big buildings is open at one end … and a stray animal or two might, from time to time, wander into the building. According to Mike, a rather large … dare I say fat rabbit … wandered into the building during a tour. The visitors took note of this beastly bunny and they smiled and chuckled. It was at this point the tour guide said something along the lines of … "Wow, look at that rabbit … He was just an itsy-bitsy little thing a week ago."
Goodbye smiles and chuckles. You know … there are undoubtedly things more fun than scaring people about nuclear power … but I’m at a loss, right now, to figure out what they are.
– Steve Walsh
Budweiser is bringing Missourians together … It has to be saved!
Hey … it’s the weekend and it is my nature to be somewhat tongue in cheek. But seriously, folks, the proposed takeover of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch by Belgium-based InBev has brought Missourians of various political stripes together. And that has to be seen as a positive development.
The Anheuser-Busch Board of Directors met Friday and made no decision on InBev’s $65 a share offer. And while that offer is still being mulled over … the people who want to keep the Bud-maker in Missouri – be they Democrat or Republican … liberal or conservative … are, to some degree, coming together.
I wrote previously about the rally held last Saturday, prior to the Cardinals-Phillies game, at Al Hrabosky’s Ballpark Saloon. It served as the unofficial kick off of the SaveAB.com effort to stop the take-over. Organizers, including former Matt Blunt Chief of Staff Ed Martin, have been urging people to sign the SaveAB.com online petition, which – as of this posting on Saturday morning – has collected more than 50,000 signatures. As if this weren’t enough there is another SaveAB rally scheduled for July 5th at Al Hrabosky’s.
As for the coming together of the partisans … this week we saw Fired Up! Missouri (on the left) promoting the effort … we saw Missouri Pulse (on the right) getting into the act … and Antonio French at Pub Def publicized the idea. Granted, Antonio (a Democrat) has had a working relationship with Ed Martin … and John Hancock at Missouri Pulse, like Martin, is a Republican … but Fired Up! hitching its wagon to an Ed Martin effort? What’s next … fans of the Red Sox and the Yankees coming together for a picnic? Nah … even Budweiser couldn’t make that happen.
Anyway, when I see people coming together like this … and realize it’s all because of the King of Beers … I can’t help but think back to a comment attributed to General George S. Patton in the movie "Patton," starring George C. Scott. It’s not known whether the real Patton actually made the comment … but it was a great line in the movie.
During World War II’s Battle of the Bulge General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, was given a surrender ultimatum from the Germans. His one word response: "Nuts!" That really happened. In the movie, Patton is told of McAuliffe’s response and George C. Scott says, "A man that eloquent has to be saved."
Fast forward to 2008 when Democrats and Republicans come together to save Anheuser-Busch … "A beer this unifying has to be saved."
– Steve Walsh