Archive for January 2009
While it's been tough getting straight talk out of some politicians and staff members … such cannot be said of Missouri's junior U.S. Senator. Senator Claire McCaskill … aka … Our Claire has some strong opinions on the federal stimulus package that is working its way through Capitol Hill.
The Senator has introduced a bill that would cap salaries of CEOs and other top honchos in companies that benefit from the federal stimulus package. She wants to limit salaries to the pay of the President of the United States – which amounts to about $400,000 a year. In Our Claire's view … if a company can afford to pay people more than $400,000 a year … they could probably get by without taxpayer handouts.
Here's part of the unofficial transcript from the McCaskill U.S. Senate floor speech on Friday:
"So here's what this bill's going to do. This is called the Chief Executive Officer Pay Act of 2009, and it's very simple. Going forward if you want taxpayers to help you survive, if you want the people at your financial institution to have a job tomorrow, then you're going to have to limit everyone's pay at your company to the same salary that the President of the United States makes. Now once they're off the public dole, once the taxpayers aren't footing the bill, then it's not as much our business what they get paid. But right now they're on the hook to us. And they owe us something other than a fancy waste basket and $50 million jet. They owe us some common sense. And if any of them think it's a hardship to take the salary of the President of the United States, I dare them to say so out loud right now. Because that's not going to instill confidence.
What is going to instill confidence for the men and women in these companies to realize that everyone in this country needs to tighten their belts. It's time for everyone to realize that we must have our financial institutions survive, but not with a culture that thinks it's ok to kick the taxpayer in the shins while they drink champagne and fly in fancy jets. It doesn't work. Not in the United States of America."
So straightforward … So refreshing … And from a lawyer! (But I digress.)
And the straight talk didn't end with Our Claire taking on the fat cats. She took on her fellow Democrats in the House over their version of the federal pork … er … stimulus package. In an interview with The Huffington Post, the Senator slammed House Dems for being "over-anxious" in putting together their bill:
"Whether it is the National Endowment of the Arts or some of the STD funding or contraceptive funding, all we did was just tee up ammunition for the other side to tear this thing down," she said. "And I would like to think we are smarter than that. I'm hopeful on the Senate side we will be smarter than that."
"There has been such a starvation diet for some of these programs that the appropriators got a little over-anxious in the House. They probably did some things they shouldn't have."
There's something mighty special about straight talk.
– Steve Walsh
Back when I was a youngster I remember hearing our old friend Woodsy Owl reminding us to "Give a hoot! Don't pollute." Well … there's a chance the next time you see that scruffy old bird you had better check his backpack – He could be packin' heat!
It's not uncommon to hear trash talk on the football field or on the basketball court … but it's not common to hear such talk on the floor of the State Senate. It's even less likely that the trash talk leads to death threats. But that's exactly what happened Thursday morning at the State Capitol.
Senator Kevin Engler of Farmington – the Senate Majority Floor Leader – is clearly tired of people who drive through his community and toss their garbage out the window … so … he decided to take a rather bold step and offer up a bill that would make littering a death penalty eligible offense.
"I am sick of littering in my district," says Engler as he referred to the polluters as "white trash."
That was just the beginning. "I think that if we kill just a couple of the people we catch," says the Senator, "The rest will catch on."
Okay … Engler explained this is a tongue in cheek approach to dealing with the trash tossers. But he's also trying to get across a point – He doesn't like people coming into his community and tossing their garbage out the window.
Engler wasn't done. "These dumb rednecks I've got in my district that throw it in the back of their truck, expecting it not to blow out and then they just drive down the road … I think killing one or two of them would be a fine first start and then the rest would fall into line because they tend to understand that."
He then asked that his bill be sent back to make it "a little tougher."
Give a listen to the audio from the floor of the Senate:
Download Trashdeath (:38 MP3)
I chatted with him in his office after the Senate had adjourned and he was still in a joking mood. He told me he recently found four tires that someone had dumped along the side of his road … adding he was angry because he could only use three of them and had to take the fourth to a dump!
All in all … it was a great way to end the week in the Legislature. And for all those litterbugs who are now concerned that an effort is underway to execute you … don't worry … it was all in jest to make a point. But just the same … you might avoid tossing cans, bottles, and paper bags out your window if you're driving through St. Francois County. "Woodsy" Engler is watching!
– Steve Walsh
I've only lived in Missouri for eight and a half years … but I've learned, during that time, that Show-Me Staters appreciate straight answers to straight questions … and straight talk, in general. Having covered politics in Washington during the Clinton impeachment proceedings … I well remember the snickering over the President's famous comment in response to what most Americans thought was a simple question. He said, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
Fast forward to 2009 in Missouri. We have had it drilled into our heads that our new Governor Jay Nixon would not cut funding to higher education in his budget for the 2010 fiscal year. Shame on all of us reporters for not asking whether he would make cuts in the remainder of the 2009 fiscal year that runs through June 30th.
In my previous post I wrote about how, following the State of the State speech, I went back and forth between the Governor's Office and the Lieutenant Governor's Office to dig further into Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder's claim that the Governor was cutting $33-million to higher ed in FY 2009. The Kinder folks explained to me that money targeted for higher education would be withheld or cut. The folks in the Nixon office informed me the only cuts for FY 2009 would amount to $100,000 – a far cry from the $33-million claimed by Kinder.
Well … guess what? Letters were sent to officials at five universities – MU, MSU, SEMO, Central Missouri, and Truman State – informing them that expected money from the sale of assets of MOHELA – the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority – would not be arriving. Wednesday afternoon, I caught up with Paul Wilson, the Governor's senior counsel for budget and finance, and was told there is no MOHELA money to send to the schools … that's why the schools won't get the dollars.
This was the second time in less than 24 hours that I had spoken with Paul about cuts to higher education. The night before, in the Governor's Office, I spoke with Paul, Communications Director Jack Cardetti, and Press Secretary Scott Holste and was assured there would be no withholdings or cuts other than the aforementioned $100,000. I said to the three of them at the time … I am not a lawyer (which they knew) … and asked that they please not parse words so as to avoid straight talk … and I was assured I was being given straight answers to my questions.
Several hours later, while reading Chad Livengood's piece in the Springfield News-Leader … we all learned that there are, indeed, cuts to higher ed. I saw both Paul and Scott … and asked them – point blank – "No disrespect intended … but did you lie to me last night when I asked you about cuts to higher ed?" Both assured me they did not lie … and, as I respect both guys, I take them at their word. But I suggested to Paul that because he is a lawyer, he didn't answer the question directly because I did not ask the question in the manner in which attorneys play with words. He informed me I never asked about MOHELA when we had chatted the night before. And he is right … I did not ask specifically about MOHELA. Silly me … I didn't think that was necessary. It took me back to 1998 and, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
Scott tells me he knew nothing about the letters being sent to officials at those five universities. I believe him … and that means the administration is not informing the people whose duty it is to deal with the media. You know … I can understand how, in a situation like this, any administration would want to inform the officials about cuts before they learn about them while listening to the radio or television or read it in the newspapers. Still … a number of these individuals who were sent the letters learned of the MOHELA cuts from the media and other sources! Wow!
Let's be frank (I'm allowed to do that … I'm not a lawyer who parses words). The letter that was sent to the university officials, signed by Kelvin Simmons, Commissioner of the Office of Administration, appears to have been written in the finest legalese. Missourinet colleague Brent Martin quipped, "This isn't something Kelvin Simmons scratched out on a napkin at a restaurant." Legal involvement would indicate that somebody in the administration knew about the cuts prior to the Governor delivering his Tuesday night speech. Yet … not a word about cuts was uttered.
If it is the case that there is no MOHELA money available to send to the schools … fine! But why not come out … be frank with the people of Missouri … and say it? We're just a couple of weeks into the new administration in the thriving Metropolis of Jefferson … and it appears as though reporters, lawmakers, and all Missourians might have to play a silly game of "What is the meaning of the word 'is'?" when we hear from the top political office in the state. Too bad … Straight talk is a good thing
– Steve Walsh
There is a great line attributed to Mark Twain: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Actually, it was a line uttered by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli … but we are in Missouri … and Mark Twain is the state's greatest gift to the world (Okay … maybe Harry Truman or Walt Disney might fit into the mix, somewhere … but I digress.) Besides … we must never let the truth stand in the way of something in which we so strongly believe.
Anyway … at the Capitol Tuesday night I got into a back and forth between the Governor's Office and the Lieutenant Governor's Office over comments made following Governor Jay Nixon's State of the State Address. In his Republican response, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder claimed the Governor is making all kinds of serious cuts to various programs … including a $33-million slice to higher education for the current fiscal year that ends June 30th.
I went to the Lieutenant Governor's Office to get an explanation of the $33-million and was told about how 3 percent of an appropriation during any fiscal year is often kept in what is called the Governor's Reserve. This is like holding onto a little bit of the appropriation just in case something big comes along and money is needed. I was then told about the Governor "reverting" a chunk of this appropriation so that it could not be used for its intended purpose. In essence, this is an appropriation for a department or agency and the Governor – any Governor – can say … "Even though it was appropriated … you're not going to spend it."
Intrigued … I walked down the second floor hallway at the Capitol to check with Nixon Communications Director Jack Cardetti who provided me with a document showing that higher education (which is the budget item I was particularly interested in) would be subjected to a withholding during the current fiscal year – but one only amounting to $100,000. Folks … I majored in history and political science and was never really good at math … but I know there's a Grand Canyon size gap between $100,000 and $33-million.
Big problem … I have been hit with statistics and figures … Who am I to believe? I thought of consulting a Quija board … but, having grown up in a quasi-Catholic home I remember being told that I would burn in Hell if I turned to the Ouija board … so I consulted the I Ching instead. It didn't help. I'm still baffled.
So … I have decided I will do what all of us should do over the next few months. We have a claim from the Governor's Office that higher education will suffer only $100,000 in withholdings during the current fiscal year. And, we have the Lieutenant Governor's Office saying cuts will be much, much, much, much higher. I said to Jack … and the folks in the Lieutenant Governor's Office … I would report both claims and watch to see what happens in the near future. And, I intend to do just that. In the words of Ronald Reagan … who would never be confused with either Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli … "Trust, but verify."
– Steve Walsh
Tuesday is the big night … State of the State night … and the excitement resembles crowds standing and gawking at Hollywood stars as they walk the red carpet prior to the Academy Awards!
Alright … it's not quite the Academy Awards … After all … we'll only have one guy making a political speech instead of a bunch of actors making speeches … actors who should probably stick to entertaining because most folks probably don't really care about their political views.
There … now that I got that out of my system, there's a lot of talk around the Capitol about how much Governor Jay Nixon will have to say about federal stimulus dollars and whether they will be counted on to help Missouri in its time of economic need. Talks have been going on between His Jayness and Missouri's Congressional delegation in Washington – at least the Democrat members of the delegation – and we might soon find out whether those talks will send some much needed dollars our way. And, once we get them we'll learn how our Governor would like to use them.
The State Senate is already gearing up. It has set up a new committee to oversee bringing federal taxpayer dollars to Missouri. It's called the Senate Select Committee on Oversight of Federal Stimulus Plan. The panel holds its first meeting on Wednesday, with both Governor Nixon and Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder scheduled to attend. Remember … it's a one-trillion dollar federal pork … er … stimulus plan … and Missouri must get out in front of this by making sure that we're ready to tie on the feed bag when Uncle Sam is providing oats. It really is the American thing to do!
And, as we sit back and hope to grab for all the gusto we can from the federal government … let us keep in mind that U.S. House Speaker Nanci Pelosi has suggested investing in birth control … saying it will help the economy. You know … I'm thinking contraceptives might stimulate something … but it's not the economy I have in mind!
On another topic … despite the fact he failed to pay his income taxes until he was audited … and then only paid a portion of what he owed until he was chosen for the Obama Cabinet (then paid the rest) Tim Geithner has been sworn in as U.S. Treasury Secretary. That's right … the guy in charge of the IRS tried to get away without paying his taxes. Based on the previously expressed views of Vice President Joe Biden … wouldn't that make Geithner … "unpatriotic?" You know … if it weren't for hypocrisy among politicians … people who cover politics wouldn't have as much fun.
Maybe we can sum this up with a comment from our senior U.S. Senator … one Christopher "Kit Bond: "Mr. Geithner is a talented man, but when our system depends on voluntary compliance, it sends the wrong message to have him heading tax enforcement, like having a chain smoker for Surgeon General."
– Steve Walsh
The Nixon Administration borrows a page from the Obama Administration in Washington. Just as "change" in Washington means bringing back some of the familiar names from the Clinton Administration … we're getting a "return engagement" in the thriving Metropolis of Jefferson.
Remember Linda Luebbering … the Budger Director during Governor Bob Holden's administration? Well … she's back … doing the same job for Governor Jay Nixon. Luebbering had been working in Pennsylvania for that state's Department of Public Welfare. At last check … Linda Luebbering is not an attorney.
Speaking of attorneys … I have joked unfairly about how one must have a law degree to be an important part of the Nixon Administration. I even went so far as to suggest – in jest, of course – that the guy who cleans the second floor public rest rooms has a j.d. I must state now – for the record – that is NOT true!
However … that guy's boss is Jeff Schaeperkoetter – a former state lawmaker – who is the Facilities Manager in the Office of Administration. Yup … he's a lawyer.
Have a great weekend!
– Steve Walsh
Admit it … the part of the headline regarding Melanie's former chief of staff getting a hotel job caught your eye, didn't it? Okay … Mary Craven isn't actually performing housekeeping services at a Motel 6 … but, seeing as though you've read this far … you're waiting to find out, aren't you? So, I'll tell you.
Mary has a position with Doubletree Hotels in Springfield. She's taking over as Director of the hotel's Sales and Marketing Division. A release from Doubletree says Mary, "Will be responsible for maintaining and enhancing relationships with Doubletree's many clients as well as bringing in new clients, groups and associations to experience the full-service accommodations, advantages and rewards for choosing Doubletree."
In addition to serving as the former First Lady's Chief of Staff, Mary was the Director of the Missouri Governor's Mansion from 2005-2007 … and a very friendly and cooperative person with whom to work.
Now … onto the confirmations.
The State Senate has confirmed three of the attorneys … er … nominees chosen by Governor Jay Nixon to serve in cabinet level positions in the new administration. Karen King Mitchell (an attorney) is the Director of the Department of Revenue … Former State Senator and State Representative Steve Danner (an attorney) is Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard … Former Department of Economic Development Director and former Public Service Commission Chairman Kelvin Simmons (not an attorney, but did attend MU law school for a while) is the Commissioner of Administration.
– Steve Walsh