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We’ve moved. Again.

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Seems like every few days someone comes out with a new tool that makes blogging just a little bit easier. Posterous has been a good platform for the men and women in the Missourinet newsroom, but we’ve reached the point where we need a few more features, so we’re blogging now on WordPress. Click here for the new location.

All of the posts at this address will still be available (look for a link in the sidebar on the new site).

For those of you who follow us via RSS, you’ll need to update your reader. The new link is: …you can find it next to the little orange icon in the top right corner of the new blog home page.

We’ll try to stay put for a while at the new address.

Missourinet Web Guy

Written by learfield

February 13, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The educated voter and some education from a state rep

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In the original version of this post the author wrote with a misunderstanding of Rep. Jason Smith’s questions of the Governor’s power to appoint successors in vacant statewide offices. We appreciate Rep. Smith’s courtesy in calling attention to a more accurate description of his position and of his legislation.  In doing so he has cast new light on an issue we discuss and raised a new question. — Bob Priddy

We’re working on making a connection here. It involves the concept of the educated voter, a cherished part of the American tradition and a state representative surprised that he didn’t know something that we would bet a lot of other people don’t know either. Join us as we wander through this process.

First we have Senator Chuck Purgason of Caulfield who thinks educated voters can do a better job of determining the ethics of public office-holders than the office-holders can.  As the Senate began discussing the ethics reforms bill put forth by Senator Charlie Shields, Purgason argued that the effort ultimately would prove futile because scofflaws would find ways around whatever standards are set within three years.  The responsibility for honest government, he argued, rests with the informed voter.

Purgason’s trust in the informed voter, however, goes only so far.  He thinks term limits are still a good idea although the term limits law keeps informed voters from having a chance to send their state legislators back for more terms after eight years in the House or Senate if they want to do so.  (We’re posting an interview with him at the end of this blog.)

Shields argues that his bill is designed to minimize temptations for office-seekers and their backers, and office-holders and those who court them.  He also says his bill will help voters become better educated because it will make the records of campaign financing more open.,

Here’s the problem:  You can lead a voter to information, but you can’t make him think. 

That doesn’t mean people like Senator Purgason shouldn’t have trust in the voters. He thinks more voters are becoming more educated these days.  It doesn’t mean Charlie Shields should drop his efforts to make election and government processes more open to those voters. 
Now we shift to the other legislative chamber where Representative Jason Smith of Salem wants to change the state law to require elections to fill vacancies in all statewide offices.  The Governor appoints people to fill those vacancies until the next general election now.  Smith says he was “surprised” to lean the Governor had appointment power for all statewide offices except one.  Recent history indicates at least one former Governor might be equally “surprised.”  State law requires a special election to pick a new Lieutenant Governor but allows appointments of other statewide office-holders.

This is an opportunity to educate some voters, at least one reporter, and perhaps once, present, and future Governors.  .  . 

Here’s some history on appointments of statewide officers: 

The last time a Governor appointed a successor to fill a vacant statewide office was when Roger Wilson appointed Jean Carnahan to replace her husband, Mel, who had been elected to the United States Senate posthumously in 2000.  She served until Jim Talent beat her in 2002 for the right to serve the rest of Mel Carnahan’s Senate term. He lost to Claire McCaskill in 2006, concluding a wild seven-year stretch in which foura people served as Senator (Ashcroft, Jean Carnahan, Talent, and McCaskill), a fifth person was elected but did not serve (Mel Carnahan), we had three elections for the same seat.   .

A few weeks before Jean Carnahan was appointed by Governor Roger Wilson, Wilson had appointed Senator Joe Maxwell of Mexico to succeed Wilson as Lieutenant Governor after Wilson became Governor on the death of Mel Carnahan. Maxwell was the Lieutenant Governor-elect at the time.  But state law (Rep. Smith refers us to section 105.030.) pretty clearly indicates the position should have been left vacant until Maxwell started his term.

In 1994 Mel Carnahan appointed Richard Hanson to succeed Secretary of State Judi Moriarty who had been impeached and removed.  He also appointed Bekki Cook when Hanson resigned. 

The state auditor’s office was a textbook for appointments for about a decade.  When Auditor Christopher Bond became Governor in 1973, he appointed John Ashcroft to finish his term.  When George Lehr quit as Auditor in 1977, Tom Keyes was appointed to finish Lehr’s term.  And after Jim Antonio became the first Auditor in years to win a second term then resigned, Ashcroft appointed Margaret Kelly to succeed him in 1984.  .
The history of appointed office-holders in Missouri for the last four decades is a pretty good one. All of the appointees served responsibly.  Some were later elected to full terms or were elected to higher office. 

Nonetheless, surprises lie in state statutes and even seasoned lawmakers (and veteran reporters) are surprised to find them.

The unique status of Lieutenant Governor in the chain of succession might be the reason it is the only one of the top state offices singled out in present law for a special election.  Missouri does not elect the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor as a unified ticket entry.  That’s why we have had Governors and Lieutenant Governors of differnet parties from time to time, including today.  If something were to happen to Peter Kinder, a Republican, for example, would it be fair to Missouri voters for Jay Nixon, a Democrat, to appoint a Democrat to the office that voters had chosen a Republican to hold?   The same question could be asked about the other statewide offices.  But the special status of the office of Lieutenant Governor elevates the issue. 

Wonder if Roger Wilson knew he was violating 105.030 that day in 2000, or would seem to a layman reading the law to have violated it?  
We have a call in to him to find out.
AUDIO: Interview with Senator Purgason  (8 min)

Written by learfield

February 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Winston and Rod

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Winston was taking his owner on an exploration of some snow under one of the trees next to the Capitol when I walked out of the building last night. 

He provided a bookend moment when I saw him.  One bookend was an article by fellow Capitol scribe Tony Messenger in the morning’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was about former House Speaker Rod Jetton.  Winston was the other bookend of the day.   

Winston is an English bulldog who keeps Senate Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler company in his Capitol office.  There’s something therapeutic after a long, sometimes heated, day in the political pressure cooker that is the legislature in going for a walk and inspection tour with a friend like Winston.  It’s good to have somebody like him around.   

It’s easy to recall the words of George Graham Vest at times like that.  Vest, a former United States Senator (and before that, a Confederate Senator) from Missouri, delivered his famous “Eulogy on a Dog” speech to a Warrensburg jury more than a century ago. I tell the story each year on ACROSS OUR WIDE MISSOURI.  Vest told the jury that day:

“The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

“The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.”

Our only Missouri-native President, Harry Truman, put it more pithily:

“If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog,” or words close to that.  

I recall a few years ago when Senator Danny Staples of Eminence was about to leave the Senate, a victim of term limits, he related how he had returned to Jefferson City to do some office work after finishing his work in his last regular session of the General Assembly.  He had cast his last vote, presided over his last committee meeting, spoken for or against his last bill.  Staples said he went to a local restaurant for lunch and when he walked in to the place he saw a table full of lobbyists.  Not one of them spoke to him.  None of them invited him to join them for lunch.  So Staples went to a corner table, and said that for the first time in years he had to pay for his own steak and beer for lunch.   

Every couple of years, when a flock of new lawmakers come to town to start their legislative careers, they find themselves with a lot of new friends.  As time goes by, those new friends might pay them a lot of attention in various ways.  But when time runs out, when that lawmaker’s last vote has been cast, when the last vestige of power has been exercised, those friends often drift away quickly.  There’s nothing more that lawmaker can do for them.  It’s time for that person to buy his own steak and beer and sit alone at a corner table while his once-friends lunch and talk among themselves.   

People in public life would do well to remember the parable of Danny Staples, which was brought starkly back into mind when I read the Post-Dispatch article about the rise and fall of Rod Jetton, who now is unemployed, unable to get a job–even as a garbage collector, he says.  His wife has left him.  He’s living with his daughter.  He faces criminal charges of sexually assaulting a woman.  The FBI has been doing some serious sniffing around about his dealings as Speaker.  A federal grand jury is believed to be looking into some of his activities.

“There’s nobody who’s going to step up and defend me,” he told Tony Messenger, “I can’t do anything for anybody anymore.”  

Maybe he should get a dog.   

–Bob Priddy



Written by learfield

February 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized