Archive for September 2009
Can you stand another piece about E. coli contamination at the Lake of the Ozarks?
Well, this isn't so much about the actual contamination, which has already been covered in great detail. And it's not so much about the claims of a "cover-up," which have been and are still being reported on by the Missouri media.
This piece deals with recent comments from Governor Jay Nixon about the contamination and the alleged cover-up. And it's pretty clear, from his answers to direct questions, that the Governor is behaving more like a lawyer than the top elected official in this state.
Henceforth, from time to time, I shall refer to the Governor's Office as … "The Firm."
Back during the process of choosing department heads and aides, I wrote several pieces on the Governor's Office being open to any Missourian who wanted to serve – provided that Missourians had a law degree. Truth be told … I kind of thought that after a few months in power things would settle down and we would stop playing "It depends what the meaning of 'IS' is," and other silly Clinton-era lawyers' parlor games. A transcript of a Q & A session with reporters in Kansas City on Monday shows the game is still very popular in legal circles.
Want examples? We'll give you some, courtesy of Steve Kraske at the Kansas City Star. We start with that ever-popular Watergate-era question asked by one of the scribes, "What did you know and when did you know it?"
The Governor's answer, according to the KC Star: "The bottom line is obviously I think that there could've probably been more precise communication. But the bottom line is it wasn't a secret that there were challenges down there. That’s why those beaches were closed in May and in June, and the slowness of that report, once it came to decision-making situation we said get it out."
Not being a lawyer … I conclude that is an answer … but not a DIRECT answer to the DIRECT question that was asked.
Next question: "Did any other employees in your office know about the report (besides aide Jeff Mazur)?"
The Governor's answer, according to the KC Star: "It’s important to put the entire thing in context. I’m standing here answering your questions. I’m not running anywhere. There had been already a significant number of (news) releases. Already a significant number of beach closures. Already a significant amount of public information already out there."
Later, another important question was asked: "Are you prepared to dismiss anyone in your office who knew about this prior to the July release?"
The Governor's answer, according to the KC Star: "Once again, there was a series of tests done before that and a series of announcements before that done at the DNR level. These were subsequent tests that were done that apparently were communicated to the communication shop, not to the policy shop. It wasn’t brought for a decision on a policy decision. Once it came to a decision on the policy side, we said get the information out and take the policy decision that needed to be made."
To quote Kraske: "At several points, Nixon avoided direct answers."
Yup. You can say that again!
In writing today's column I asked Missourinet News Director Bob Priddy to weigh in on the lack of direct answers. Bob agreed that if he asked a direct question of any members of his news staff we would be expected to respond in a direct manner. Regarding the Nixon answers, specifically, Bob asks what I am asking today: "Why can't Governor Nixon give a direct answer to a direct question?"
Is it the folks at "the Firm" orchestrating lawyerly answers to simple questions? Or is it that this whole issue could have been settled in June or July and that action was not taken?
Says Bob, "I don't understand why some people have such a hard time just saying, 'We blew it.'"
Bob then asks, somewhat rhetorically, "How deep a hole do you have to dig before you can't just climb out of it by yourself?"
Perhaps the folks at "The Firm" should put away the shovels and answer some questions with direct answers … then we can all move on.
– Steve Walsh
About a month after pleading guilty to charges in the criminal case that will see former State Senator Jeff Smith of St. Louis doing prison time … former State Representative Steve Brown has voluntarily surrendered his license to practice law.
Let's take a look at the facts. Brown, a St. Louis Democrat, entered a guilty plea, on August 25th, to conspiracy to obstruct justice … a felony charge.
Call me madcap … but it seems to me a lawyer who not only commits a felony but admits to doing so would have his law license automatically taken away … whether he voluntarily surrenders it or not.
A statement from the State Supreme Court indicates the Court, having received the Chief Disciplinary Counsel's report and recommendation … now orders the surrender of Brown's license.
It might be one of those things that only legal minds can grasp, but most Missourians would understand that a firefighter who admits to starting a fire would be … wait for it … fired … immediately! Most of us would also understand that a police officer who admits to stealing from citizens would be terminated … immediately! So, what is it with the legal profession that requires going through so many steps to get to the end result?
Before some attorney or attorney-wannabe suggests there is a certain procedure that must be followed … we can stipulate, for the record, that there is no disagreement that a procedure for this kind of thing exists. It just seems odd that if someone admits to wrongdoing and wants to surrender his law license … it isn't done immediately.
Perhaps that old legal cliche: "Justice delayed is justice denied," doesn't really apply to the legal profession.
– Steve Walsh
America’s greatest professional cyclist has given Governor Jay Nixon a call to talk about the Tour of Missouri bicycle race – which faces an uncertain future.
Nixon Communications Director Jack Cardetti confirms Lance Armstrong called the Gov on Friday and chatted with the First Fan for about five minutes.
According to Jack, Armstrong thanked the Gov for funding the 2009 edition of the Tour of Missouri and expressed hope the race would continue. Jack says Armstrong did NOT ask for government funding, but expressed a desire to see more corporate sponsors.
Jack told me Armstrong said he understood these are tough economic times.
– Steve Walsh
State Rep TD El-Amin pleads guilty to bribery – LeVota concerned about “issue with St. Louis Democrats”
On the heels of State Senator Jeff Smith (D-St. Louis) and State Representative Steve Brown (D-St. Louis) committing illegal acts and being forced to resign from the General Assembly, another St. Louis Democrat has pleaded guilty to a criminal offense. Representative T.D. El-Amin has pleaded guilty to a bribery charge in federal court and now faces up to 24 months in prison when he is sentenced on December 8th.
El-Amin's offense involved accepting a bribe from the owner of a gas station – a bribe totaling $2,100.
House Minority Leader Paul LeVota (D- Independence) is disappointed with what has happened, but accepts that lawbreakers must pay a price.
"I'm very disappointed this happened," said LeVota in a phone interview with the Missourinet. "I'm glad to see that when someone broke the rules they're going to be held accountable."
LeVota does not see the recent criminal activity involving Democrats as a widespread problem.
"There seems to be some type of issue with St. Louis Democrats and it seems to be happening way too much," said LeVota. "This particularly is troubling because it looks as though he used his position and that just betrays the public trust and it's very frustrating."
LeVota hopes this doesn't discourage people in the (El-Amin) district from wanting to serve. He says Democrats must move on and make sure the district is well-represented in the future.
– Steve Walsh
We have some interesting political news to digest.
Let's start with the news involving the Congressman from Missouri's Seventh Congressional District. An e-mail donation request to supporters contains word of a new Rasmussen Reports poll showing the potential U.S. Senate race between Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Robin Carnahan is tied at 46-46.
A check of the Rasmussen Reports web page provides additional interesting information:
57 percent of Missouri voters have a favorable or very favorable view of Blunt. 33 percent view him unfavorably or have a very unfavorable view of him. 10 percent have no opinion. Carnahan has 52 percent favorable or very favorable numbers … while 42 percent regard her unfavorably or very unfavorably. 6 percent aren't sure about Carnahan.
Now to Republican State Senator Bill Stouffer who has formally kicked off his campaign for the Fourth Congressional District seat held by longtime Democratic Representative Ike Skelton. The Senator from Napton made stops, Wednesday, in Blue Springs and Marshfield … and will make an appearance in the thriving Metropolis of Jefferson on Thursday.
Missouri Democrats are already taking aim at the State Senator … pointing out he has pushed for a one-cent sales tax to raise $7.2 billion over 10 years to rebuild Interstates 70 and 44 with four lanes in each direction – two of them to be used primarily by big trucks. The Dems claim this is a double-standard from someone who praises smaller government.
Hmmm … Democrats criticizing a proposal for a tax increase? Very interesting.
– Steve Walsh
For a while it looked as though we might have "Dueling Senators" battling it out for attention at or near the State Capitol on Thursday.
State Senator Bill Stouffer of Napton had scheduled a 10 a.m. news conference near the Capitol as the third stop (following Blue Springs and Marshfield) on his "I want to run against Ike Skelton in the Fourth" tour. Word then came that State Senator Chuck Purgason of Caulfield, who has expressed an interest in the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator "Kit" Bond, would hold a press conference with a "major announcement" at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Capitol Rotunda.
A call to Caulfield elicited no information as to what the "major announcement" might be. Chuck informed me that if he told me about the announcement I might not show up. I promised I would be there if he told me … and then informed him if he gave it to somebody else I certainly would not show up. No luck. He wouldn't give in. But he did move his newser to 10:30.
So … that half hour gap should guarantee a smooth transition from one news conference to the next … and the services of Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel will not be needed.
– Steve Walsh
(Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel? They arranged and performed "Dueling Banjos.")
We're between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hoshana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), yet it feels more like "Passover" for the media in Missouri's Fourth Congressional District.
Some residents of Missouri's 4th learned, in mid-August, that Republican State Senator Bill Stouffer of Napton had filed the paperwork to begin the process of running for the seat that has been held by Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton for more than 30 years.
What is interesting is that the word did not come from news outlets in Missouri … especially those in the 4th District … but from the folks at Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C.
Finding out from a media interest in Washington that someone wants to be your Congressman back in Missouri is similar to finding out from your sister-in-law that your wife is filing for divorce (Don't laugh – this happened to someone I know) or learning from friends at a competing radio or TV operation that you and several of your colleagues are being let go at the end of the week (Don't laugh – This happened to someone I know) or sitting in a bar, having a beer with friends, and seeing on the TV news that your house has burned down (Don't laugh – Okay … laugh – It never happened to anyone I know.) But you get the point.
Now, we are apparently just days from the official kick off of the Stouffer for Congress campaign. The word was leaked not to an organization that covers Senator Stouffer at the State Capitol (Missourinet or AP) or to a news organization serving the 4th District (Jefferson City News-Tribune, KWOS Radio in Jefferson City, the Sedalia Democrat, or the Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal to name a few.)
Instead, the news appears in Dave Catanese's KY3-TV Political Notebook in Springfield – which, last time I looked – was in the 7th Congressional District. I know, I know, KY3-TV does reach into parts of the 4th … but it's in the 7th and its primary audience is in southwest Missouri's 7th District.
This is not a knock against Dave. Good for him. He got the word when someone dropped a dime. (For readers under 30 … the expression "dropped a dime" comes from a time when cities and towns had things known as phone booths in which folks made calls. The cost of a call – back in the day – was 10 cents. A call made from a pay phone could not be traced to anyone, in particular, so the caller was guaranteed a certain degree of anonymity. And, while "dropping a dime" is a term usually used when ratting out someone … its use in this instance is acceptable, too. Let us move on.
I put in a phone call to Axiom Strategies Political Consulting, which is handling the Stouffer campaign, and received a return call from Scott Paradise about an hour after a press release had been issued (which Missourinet did not receive). Scott was not certain whether we were on the list, but assured me we would be sent future information regarding the campaign … and we did receive a press release within minutes of our conversation. I asked Scott if the campaign was responsible for leaking information on the 4th District to someone in the 7th and he told me he knew nothing about that. Fair enough.
During my conversation with Scott, I made it clear that while it had been known for some time that Stouffer was going to eventually toss his hat into the ring to run against long-time incumbent Skelton, news of his announcement is one that might have been shared, first, with the folks in the 4th.
By the way, former State Representative Vicky Hartzler, who is also running for the GOP nomination in the 4th, did send out a press release announcing her formal kickoff Monday afternoon … and she sent it to news organizations in the 4th.
– Steve Walsh