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Favorite “surprise” stories of 2008

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Well … it's time to look back at 2008. And, unlike many of the lists which zero in on the top news stories of the year … this one looks at what some of the folks at the Missourinet believe to be the big surprises of the year here in Missouri. So, we don't include such things as Jay Nixon winning the Governor's race … as that outcome had been predicted since shortly after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.

Let's start at the bottom and work our way to the top. Remember, this is a subjective list … which means you might have a list of your own that you think is better. You're wrong, of course … but I just thought it appropriate to let you know this is a subjective list.

Okay … we'll start with a pleasant surprise … one involving the Missouri Tigers. Who would have guessed – five years ago – that as 2008 came to an end fans of Mizzou football would be celebrating back-to-back seasons with at least ten wins? Had you suggested that, five years ago, the most knowledgeable sports fan would have insisted you put down the crack pipe … but you would have been right.

Let's move to a court case centering around a story that captivated so many members of the media … well … at least it captivated the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Kansas City Star – the Blunt Administration e-mail saga. As Christmas encroached on the Metropolis of Jefferson the case was settled. Now that was a surprise! And I'm still hoping to learn why Matt Blunt … aka … "Our Matt" opted not to run for a second term. Clearly, the answer was not hidden in the e-mails. More on the Blunt decision later in the list when we get into politics. (Take note … this was a legal – NOT a political story.)

One more court case, if I may … The State Supreme Court ruled in favor of midwives in their fight against the established medical community over the midwives' desire to legally provide their services to women who wanted those services. Conventional wisdom … as well as the ruling of a Cole County Judge … was that the midwifery component to a much larger health insurance bill was 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 midwives claimed the doctors opposed the law because midwifery would cut into the doctors' earnings. The doctors insisted that was not the case … that they were only opposing the law in support of God and country. (Perhaps I'm taking some creative license … but you get the picture.) In the end, the Supremes ruled the doctors had no standing to bring a legal challenge and the law legalizing midwifery went into effect. That was a surprise!

We find a surprise in the business world in that one of Missouri's and St. Louis' most venerable institutions – Anheuser-Busch – was sold to Belgium-based InBev. There were a lot of surprised Missourians who couldn't believe American shareholders would sell to this Belgian brewer. Ah … the big profit! Never let it be said that capitalism is on the wane in this country.

Okay … you've been good … so let's go to politics. For Republicans, 2008 was supposed to be an annus horibillis. (Get your mind out of the gutter … That does NOT mean what you think it means! It's Latin for horrible year.) Anyway, the big surprise was that Missouri – a swing state – resisted the desire to send Republicans packing. Yes … Democrats did snatch elections for Governor, Attorney General, and State Treasurer … but these were open seats and Republicans were not tossed out of office in these contests. In fact, in a terrible year for the GOP the party lost only three seats in the Missouri House … and actually gained three seats in the State Senate. Wow! The biggest surprise? Kurt Schaefer defeating Chuck Graham in Columbia. That's right … a Republican winning a Senate contest in Columbia … defeating an incumbent Democrat. In COLUMBIA!!! Quick … Get out your thermometer and check the temperature of Hell!

Next … "Our Claire." Who could have imagined when then-Auditor Claire McCaskill challenged incumbent Republican Senator Jim Talent in 2006 that "Our Claire" would not only win the race … but would become a big star on the national political stage? As McCaskill's star rose with each appearance on "Meet the Press," or "Face the Nation," or "Fox News Sunday" the demand grew. Networks just had to have her to comment on the goings-on on Capitol Hill. Journalists I worked with during my days back in the Nation's Capital were calling me to ask about this freshman Claire McCaskill. They were overcome by her straight talk, her sense of humor, and those wonderfully nasty doses of sarcasm. I would inform them – as they listened in awe – of how this is the way things are done in my adopted state of Missouri.

Into the presidential election campaign. Democrat Barack Obama – now the President-elect – broke records as he spoke to huge audiences that filled up every available space at rallies in such places as St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, and Springfield. Obamamania was clearly a reality in Missouri and throughout the country and it was fun to spend time with his campaign workers who were first class. On the Republican side there was the phenomenon that was Sarah Palin. She attracted huge crowds in places that included Springfield, Cape Girardeau, and at the Capitol in Jefferson City. I'll always remember that beautiful autumn afternoon at the Capitol the day before the election. What a huge surprise! Who could have imagined, back in 2006, that a freshman Senator from Illinois and the Governor of Alaska would become idols for so many Missourians? Oh … by the way … John McCain and Joe Biden campaigned in Missouri, as well … but nobody seemed to care … so let's move on.

We're going to wrap things up now with what was arguably the biggest news story surprise of 2008 – Governor Matt Blunt's decision not to run for reelection. There was no shortage of rumors as to his reason for the decision … but nothing could be nailed down for sure. So, we still wonder. What the Blunt decision did was create a situation in which the GOP was left in a bind, having to find someone to represent the party in November. That set the dominoes in motion with Kenny Hulshof hastily deciding to run for Governor and not to run for reelection to Congress … and Sarah Steelman choosing to run for Governor instead of for reelection as State Treasurer. The Republicans held onto the Congressional seat but lost the State Treasurer's Office.

Governor Blunt insists he decided not to run again when he determined he had accomplished all he had set out to accomplish when he ran in 2004. We must take the man at his word … but at the same time we have to ask why he reached this determination shortly AFTER delivering his State of the State Address in which he outlined his wishes and desires for the legislative session. I'm baffled … how about you?

Speaking of the legislative session … a new one begins next week. No surprise there!

Happy New Year!

– Steve Walsh

Written by learfield

December 31, 2008 at 11:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Another day, another cabinet appointment for the incoming Governor

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Governor-elect Jay Nixon is moving forward with the all important task of filling positions in his cabinet. He's announced he plans to appoint Ronald Levy of St. Louis as Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services. This is the office that oversees such state programs as adoption and foster care, food stamps, child support, and MO HealthNet – Missouri's Medicaid program.

Levy, who is 58, spent 35 years as a health care executive before retiring in 2007 as president of SSM Health Care in St. Louis.

In a press release, our incoming Governor speaks highly of his choice: "With his decades of experience in management, leadership and public policy, Ron Levy is exactly the right person to lead the state’s health care policy and our fight to make sure Missouri kids have access to medical care. Ron will be a key member of my team as we look for opportunities to cover more kids while making government as efficient, effective and responsive as possible."

For his part, Levy is looking forward to the new challenge: ":After a long career in the private sector, I’m excited to enter public service at this critical time in our state. Over the years, I’ve worked closely with state government on issues relating to families, children and health care policy, and I understand how important it is for the public, private and non-profit sectors must work together to ensure that all Missourians have access to quality, affordable medical care. That starts with making sure that every child in Missouri has access to the vital health care they need and deserve."

The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

– Steve Walsh

Written by learfield

December 30, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trial judge to join Team Koster

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A trial judge who sits on Missouri's Western District Court of Appeals is leaving the bench to join incoming Attorney General Chris Koster. Judge Joe Dandurand, who has spent 21 years as a judge, will serve as Deputy Attorney General.

A press release announcing the appointment quotes Dandurand as saying: "As a trial judge in Cass County, I have had a front row seat to Chris Koster’s work as a Prosecutor. Naturally, in our roles as judge and prosecutor, we have not always agreed on all issues. Through the years, however, we have developed a strong mutual professional and personal respect. It has been a joy to watch Chris develop into a top prosecutor in the state and I look forward to continuing to work with him to promote the administration of justice in Missouri."

And the admiration is mutual, as Koster states: "I have known Joe Dandurand for over a decade, and in that time, I have developed an enormous respect for his intellect and abilities as a jurist. Joe’s two decades on the bench make him uniquely qualified to lead and mentor the attorneys in our office."

Former Western Court of Appeals Judge Ron Holliger was previously named as Koster's General Counsel.

On another issue:

My thanks to colleague Terry Ganey of the Columbia Daily Tribune in response to my "What if?" parlor game story. He reminds me that on October 24th, 2000, then-Governor Roger Wilson held a news conference to announce he would appoint Jean Carnahan to the U.S. Senate should the late Mel Carnahan win the election posthumously. So, Missourians had a clear idea what the future would hold should Mel Carnahan win. Thanks, again, Terry.

– Steve Walsh

Written by learfield

December 29, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Playing the great political parlor game of “What if?”

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Controversy continues to rage, in New York State, over the possibility of Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg being chosen to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate should the former First Lady be confirmed as the next U.S. Secretary of State.

That leads to a favorite parlor game we might play here in Missouri – the game known as … "What if?"

"What if?" our senior U.S. Senator Kit Bond, three or four months from now, decides he's had it with Washington politics and wants to get out … or "What if?" Barack Obama, once he takes the oath of office as President, decides he needs political ally Senator Claire McCaskill … aka … "Our Claire" to fill an important post that would require her to give up her seat on Capitol Hill? A vacancy would be created and it would be up to Jay Nixon, who will shortly become our next Governor, to name someone to fill that vacancy.

I know … I know … We had a Senate vacancy right here in the Show-Me State following the 2000 election, when the late Governor Mel Carnahan was elected, posthumously, to the U.S. Senate just three weeks after he died tragically in a plane crash. The circumstances between Missouri and New York are quite different in that, in New York, no one has died in the midst of an election campaign … and there really is no sense of urgency. Besides, while it was never said officially … the word was out that if Mel Carnahan were to win the election, his widow – Jean – would be named by then-Governor Roger Wilson to that vacant Senate seat. So, Missourians had some say in how things would play out.

Now back to the great parlor game of "What if?"

Missouri has its share of well known individuals who, while famous, have little or no political experience. I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few of them and try to imagine how the people of Missouri would feel about these celebrities representing the state in the United States Senate. This is not a knock on any of these celebrities … who might well be just as qualified as is Princess Caroline … er Caroline Kennedy. For the purposes of this game … the only qualification is that one of these celebs lives in Missouri … is a native of Missouri … or has spent a portion of his or her life in Missouri.

Keep in mind … According to Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, a Senator must be 30 years of age, a citizen of the United States for 9 years, and must reside in the state he or she represents at the time of election (or selection). So … while some of the people on this list are already eligible … others have the link to Missouri and might only have to move back here to take up residency.

Let us begin …

Missouri has its share of music greats … from legendary rocker Chuck Berry of St. Louis … to Sheryl Crow of Kennett … to country's Sara Evans of Boonville and New Franklin … even rapper Cornell Haynes Junior of St. Louis – You probably know him as Nelly.

How about actors and TV stars? Well … there's Brad Pitt, who grew up in Springfield … Don Johnson from Flat Creek in southwest Missouri … Dick Van Dyke from West Plaines … John Goodman of Affton … Linda Blair who was born in St. Louis (Boy, that pick would make your head spin!) … Longtime "Price is Right" host Bob Barker who went to high school in Springfield and then stuck around to attend Drury College as it was then known on a basketball scholarship … Dare we forget Cedric the Entertainer who was born in Jefferson City, attended high school in Berkeley, and then studied communications at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau … and "America's Got Talent" winner Neal E. Boyd of Sikeston. Sorry, folks, "American Idol" winner David Cook of Blue Springs is not old enough.

We have a couple of national pageant winners … University of Missouri graduate Debbye Turner who was Miss America 1990 … and Florissant's Shandi Finnessey – Miss USA 2001.

We'll round out the list of "What if?" possibilities with a couple of broadcasting legends who actually know a thing or two about politics. We have Walter Cronkite, who was born in St. Joseph and lived in Kansas City until he was 10, and who was once considered "the most trusted man in America." Then we have the man who is perhaps the best known radio voice in the country – Rush Limbaugh of Cape Girardeau – the man who is often credited with saving AM radio in America.

Before anyone writes to inform me the Governor of New York has the authority to appoint anyone he sees fit to fill a vacancy … Rest assured I am well aware of that fact. Remember, we're playing the great parlor game of "What if?"

So … "What if?" three months from now Claire McCaskill steps down from her Senate seat to take a high level cabinet post in the Obama Administration or to become a high-ranking ambassador? And … "What if?" Governor Jay Nixon considers appointing singer Sheryl Crow to replace "Our Claire" on Capitol Hill? Is Sheryl as qualified as Caroline Kennedy to be appointed a U.S. Senator?

Let's see … there are some similarities: Both are women … Both have campaigned on behalf of Democrats (Sheryl campaigned for the late Mel Carnahan here in Missouri) … Both are university graduates (Sheryl graduated from Mizzou). But the similarities end there.

Sheryl grew up in the working class community of Kennett, Missouri, while Caroline grew up in a penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City … Sheryl attended Kennett High School while Caroline attended a couple of very private all-girls schools in New York City – the Brearley School and Convent of the Sacred Heart … Sheryl attended the University of Missouri, graduating with a degree in Music Composition and Education while Caroline went Ivy League – earning a Bachelor's Degree from Radcliffe College at Harvard University before enrolling in Columbia Law School to become a lawyer.

Given their respective resumes and America's fascination with royalty … Sheryl just might not make the cut.

– Steve Walsh

Written by learfield

December 28, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Coleman candidacy could be great for St. Louis reporters

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There's not a lot going on during the holidays … and it's important to read the newspapers and the blogs to learn of any new or persistent rumors involving politics. And one of those rumors that won't go away … or at least the St. Louis-Post Dispatch won't let it go away … is the one involving outgoing Senate Minority Leader Maida Coleman, who is rumored to be seriously considering a run for Mayor of St. Louis.

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The story started with the Arch City Chronicle … which reported on December 15th that the State Senator had already stated she planned on going after the top post in the city.

Is it true? Will she run? I don't know.

What I can say is that Maida Coleman – as a State Senator – has always made herself available to the media … saying what was on her mind … and often doing it in a humorous way. That humor, by the way, sometimes bordered on the edgy … meaning the cutting edge stuff went over well with political reporters (like yours truly) who enjoy a good laugh while covering what can sometimes be rather dull and dreary proceedings.

St. Louis reporters could do a lot worse than covering a race involving someone with Maida's straight talk and sense of humor.

At the Democrats' end of legislative session news conference in May, I asked Maida about the future and whether she might consider running for some other political office. She said she would consider her options, and joked, "I was married once … and it cured me."

Maybe Maida's getting married again.

– Steve Walsh

Written by learfield

December 27, 2008 at 3:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Merry Christmas from the Missourinet

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I toyed with the idea of offering the generic "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" … but opted for the traditional Merry Christmas. This is Missouri, after all.

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Besides, has anyone ever wished you the best of the season by saying, "Season's Greetings?"

I couldn't find a picture I had taken of Santa Claus … but I did find a shot I took of the St. Louis Rams Cheerleaders last Sunday when they were decked out in their Christmas gear. Even though they're wearing blue … the spirit of the season still comes through.

Merry Christmas!

– Steve Walsh

Written by learfield

December 24, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Missouri Democrats tout changes that come with Nixon headed to Governor’s office

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It might seem a bit … well … unseemly for the media to write about the politicos writing about the media. But, what the heck, it's Christmas.

Media outlets throughout the state received an e-mail, Tuesday, from our old friend Jack Cardetti with the Missouri Democratic Party … (Alright … he's not old … but it sounds better than saying "our new friend"). Anyway, Jack sent an e-mail talking up what the Missouri Dems see as a new spirit of bipartisanship being brought to Jefferson City by Governor-elect Jay Nixon.

And, lest we in the media suggest this might not be the case … Jack took it upon himself to include stories from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, the Kansas City Business Journal, the Springfield News Leader, the Associated Press, KWMU Radio, and … of course … the Missourinet. All of these stories pointing to bipartisan backing of Nixon proposals.

To quote Jack from the press release: "Change certainly means new policies, but it also means a new way of doing business. Although Gov.-elect Nixon doesn’t get sworn in for several weeks, he is reaching across the aisle and putting an end to politics as usual. It’s a new day in Jefferson City and for the people of Missouri."

We'll see whether it lasts once our new Governor is sworn in and the legislative battles heat up … but things seem to be getting off to a good start. What hammered that home to me more than anything else, so far, was the Missouri Chamber of Commerce's quick embrace of the Nixon Show Me JOBS proposal. It'll be interesting to see whether the bipartisanship lasts long beyond the Christmas season of good cheer.

– Steve Walsh

Written by learfield

December 24, 2008 at 12:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized