The legislative session in the thriving Metropolis of Jefferson stretches from early January through mid-May … plenty of time to get a lot of legislation passed. Some might even suggest it’s a little too much time.
State Senator Luann Ridgeway of Smithville is among them.
She’s put forward SJR 38 – a proposal that would set the wheels in motion to change the Missouri Constitution to reduce the annual legislative session to 90 days, running from January through the end of March.
Ridgeway believes shortening the legislative session would restore the concept of the citizen legislator … a concept that would see our lawmakers spending more time at home and less time bickering at the State Capitol. She thinks some of the differences that are encountered during the session could first be brought up and ironed out in hearings that would be held prior to the whole General Assembly convening in Jefferson City.
Legislative pay could remain the same … and so would the per diem … but with fewer lawmakers at the Capitol four days a week during the session the amount of state money set aside for such expenses would be reduced.
One question from yours truly … what would the lobbyists do with all the extra time and with the money they now spend on food?
Missouri Democrats are launching an effort to take back the Missouri House of Representatives. It’s a two day swing through southeast Missouri next Friday and Saturday.
The "Road to the Majority" Tour begins Friday evening in Festus and Sainte Genevieve … and continues Saturday with stops in Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, New Madrid, Caruthersville, and Poplar Bluff.
State Treasurer Clint Zweifel headlines the fundraising tour … spreading the party message that Democrats can deliver jobs to working class Missourians.
Republicans have run the Missouri House since 2003. Democrats had controlled the House for about a half century prior to the 2002 elections.
Welcome to the game of "Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t"
Here are the rules.
You have to follow the law.
You have to play the political game.
You have a job. It pays you about $105,000 a year until at least January 23, 2012.
You want to keep your job.
You have to play the political game if you want to keep your job.
If you play the political game you have to turn a blind eye to the law.
If you turn a blind eye to the law, you will please certain political interests and individuals and they might not object to you keeping your job.
If you turn a blind eye to the law, you will violate the law which might disqualify you from continuing in the job.
The game is being played in the Missouri Senate where, on one wall, is carved the quotation attributed to Irish politician Daniel O’Connell (1776-1847) and to British politician William E. Gladstone (1809-1898): "Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong."
Another Gladstone quote, which is not carved on any walls in Capitol, is "It is the duty of government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right."
What will you do when rhetoric and reality collide?
Background: Several years ago the Missouri legislature decided farmland should not be evaluated for tax purposes for its market value but should, instead, be valued for its productivity. Farm groups liked that approach because it protected farmers who found suburbs have grown out to the edges of their property, driving up the market value of their land and causing taxes to unrealistically exceed the value of the crops or livestock raised on that land. Seems pretty fair, doesn’t it? The Tax Commission says productivity value is about 20% of market value.
Every couple of years, property is reassessed in Missouri. Residential, commercial, agricultural. The state tax commission determines the value of eight categories of farmland. Some land is so good that you could plant an eight penny nail and night and harvest a crowbar the next morning. Some land raises 150 pounds of rocks per acre. The tax commission has to decide the productive value of those two kinds of land and everything in between.
Land values go up and down. One year, the Missouri legislature sets up programs to subsidize development of an industry that will give some farmers lucrative new markets for their crops, particularly corn. Farm groups liked that idea. It would create new markets and give farmers higher prices for their corn.
You are one of the three members of the state tax commission. You must, by law, pay attention to studied done by the University of Missouri Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute. FAPRI comes to you and says the productivity value on 35% of Missouri farmland has gone up. Productivity value on 65% has gone down. Those figures are rounded off. A few decimal points of percent are the all-rock land that stays the same.
The Tax Commission proposal is to approve findings that the productivity value of about one-third of the farmland is up 29%. The productivity value of about TWO-thirds of the farmland is DOWN 25%.
You know that the state senate is controlled by a political party that has made the phrase "no tax increases" a very popular political mantra. You know that the state’s most politically-influential farm organization does not want any tax increases on farm land. You know that your own job is at stake because you have been appointed by a Governor who also has vowed not to seek any increases in taxes–and your appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate.
If you vote to follow the law, which requires a reevaluation of farmland (and which means a tax CUT for owners of two-thirds of the farmland, you will be voting for a tax INCREASE for owners of one-third of the land), you are placing your $105,000 job in jeopardy because you’ll anger the farm organization and you’ll anger the "no tax increase" majority in the chamber than will decide whether to confirm your appointment.. And the majority listens closely to the farm organization.
Never mind that by voting to sustain the new values for the eight categories of farmland you are also voting for a tax cut. By voting "yes," you are voting to increase taxes on some people and increased taxes of any kind on any body is about as popular in the state Capitol as a heart attack—regardless of the law?
So do you vote "yes" because you feel you have to follow the law and because your vote means a tax cut for the owners of the majority of Missouri farmland. Or do you vote yes, deny a tax cut to the owners of the majority of Missouri farmland but protect the owners of the better quality land from paying taxes based on the improved value of their property—and make it highly likely you’ll keep your $105,000 job?
The legislature has the power to reject the commission’s findings. It must take or reject everything. It cannot cherry-pick. The farm organization says it should. Resolutions have been introduced to throw out the commission’s tax cut for owners of 65 percent of Missouri farmland (the figures, by the way, come from the tax commission) and increases for owners of 35 percent. So far we haven’t heard anyone speak on behalf of the 65-percenters. Before you read any more, answer this question:
How would you have voted on the FAPRI recommendations?
Now you can read again.
This is no game for Bill Ransdall, who was appointed to the Tax Commission last November 3. Ransdall is a former Presiding Commissioner of Pulaski County and before that, served eight years in the Missouri House of Representatives. His resume includes experience in small business and farming.
His nomination came up for senate confirmation today. Senator Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau is blocking Ransdall’s confirmation. He says he’s just trying to hold Governor Nixon to his promise of "no tax increases," and Ransdall, who could have voted "no" voted "yes" to a plan increasing taxes owners of the state’s best farmland. Ransdall’s Senate sponsor has withdrawn his motion for confirmation of Ransdall’s nomination. Senate leader Charlie Shields says Ransdall’s job is not entirely down the drain, but it’s in the curved part of the pipe under the sink.
Our high school political science textbooks didn’t tell us about this part of things, did they?
And maybe Gladstone didn’t quite have it right when he said, "It is the duty of government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right."
If you were Bill Ransdall, how would you have voted?
If you were Senator Crowell, what would you do?
If you were a 65-percenter how would you feel about your organization landing on the side of the 35 percenters?
If you were a 35-percenter, how magnanimous would you be?
If you were a researcher with FAPRI, how would you feel after doing this research?
If you were a residential or commercial property owner whose evaluation in the marketplace is about five times the productivity valuation standard, what would you think?
And finally: What’s the solution to all of this?
Bob Priddy, News Director
There is good news for Missouri Republicans in a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race.
The poll gives Republican Roy Blunt a 49 percent to 43 percent lead over Democrat Robin Carnahan. Three percent of those surveyed prefer some other candidate, with five percent undecided. This represents a big shift since last month’s Rasmussen Reports survey on this race. It had Blunt and Carnahan in a statistical tie with Carnahan ahead slightly at 46-44 percent. September’s Rasmussen Reports survey had the two tied at 46 percent.
Rasmussen points to opposition to the federal health care overhaul legislation as a key reason for the shift:
“As it has for other Democrats throughout the nation, the health care issue appears to be creating challenges for Carnahan. Just 37% of Missouri voters favor the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, but 62% oppose it.”
While Carnahan has all but been assured the Democratic nomination, Blunt faces a GOP Primary challenge from State Senator Chuck Purgason of Caulfield.
Governor Jay Nixon is encouraging Missourians to contribute to the relief efforts following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The State of Missouri website calls on Missourians to pray and to donate money to relief organizations and agencies. The site has a link to the USAID website.
Former Missourinet reporter James Morris has been working for six years on a ground-breaking biography of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is preparing to hit the road for HarperCollins to promote the new book, PULITZER, A LIFE IN POLITICS, PRINT, AND POWER.
James returned toJefferson City to mine the Missouri State Archives for previusly-unharvested material about Pulitzer’s legislative career as a reformer from St. Louis who, in one infamous episode, almost killed a lobbyist in a barroom fight. He also uncovered in Paris previously-unknown material from Pulitzer’s brother and wife that offer new context to Pulitzer’s life.
Most of today’s generation knows Joseph Pulitzer because of the prizes carrying his name. But Pulitzer’s career as a crusading state lawmaker and owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before he went to New York to revive the New York World and, as HarperCollins says, "ushered in the modern mass media."
Some of us used to call him the author "James." Others called him "Jamie." The book says "James McGrath Morris." His middle name wasn’t always "McGrath." He changed it when he married Patty McGrath.
We hired James from KRQE in Albuquerque. He arrived in steamy Jefferson City in August and rented an apartment just a couple of blocks from our then-downtown office. Until he adapted to the considerably less arid climate of Jefferson City, he’d show up in the mornings drenched in sweat.
He was an excellent reporter who was (as all good reporters should be) terminally curious about things. On his days off, he’d jump in his car and head off to who knows where and stop along the way in small town stores just to chat and enjoy the company of rural Missourians. James, you see, had grown up as the son of a diplomat, had spent much of his time in Washington or other cosmopolitan places both foreign and domestic. In fact, he was fluent in Serbo-Coratian, a talent he seldom had to use in talking to Missouri legislators or country store patrons.
He loved coming out to the softball fields in the summer to watch softball games although he knew little about sports (he once did a sportscast on a football Saturday during which he thought RG, HB, and DT were player’s initials, not their positions). It was the joy of the fellowship at the events that gave him so much pleasure.
When then-Governor Bond made his first overseas trade trip, we sent James with him so he could phone back reports in those pre-internet days when delivering stories from all points of the globe was more complicated and difficult than it is today. We kept some of his reports in our sound archives and a few years ago when James passed through Jefferson City we dug one of them out and told his son that there was a theory that all broadcasts ever done were still traveling through space but we had found the technology to reach out there and bring one back. Then we played one of the reports from Tokyo. The boy was amazed.
James was our Washington correspondent for a few years before he and Patty moved to upper New York, where he published a book about the wine country. Later he owned Seven Locks Press back in Washington before he became a teacher in Virginia and got into more serious writing.
Now he and Patty live in a lovely hacienda in the mountains above Santa Fe, NM where they are gracious hosts to guests and visiting authors.
It’s always a great relief to finally hold a book in your hands that you have labored over for years. Some might think it would be an exciting thing. But those of us who know what it is like to invest months and years in writing a book and seeing it published know the main feeling once the first copy is in your hands is relief.
James got his first copy of the bookstore version of PULITZER yesterday and is obviously relieved, as you can tell in the picture taken in the dining room of Hacienda Morris. Rest up, James. The road trip starts soon. We’ll see you at Downtown Book and Toy in Jefferson City in March.
Bob Priddy, News Director
Three of us went to the Truman Library and Museum in Independence to view the “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs,” a collection of 139 Pulitzer Prize winning photos on display, over the weekend.
A photographer myself, I was excited to the point of giddiness to view the gripping images. Knowing most of them were captured in the rawest of moments, people enduring life’s slings and arrows, I had braced myself, ready to reflect on personal tragedies that show the brutality of our history.
I was also looking forward to the technical aspect — shadows, lighting, F stop, shutter speed and the blurs of motion in photos that move, the crisp lines of those that don’t. A history of cameras is present too: clunky Graphlex cameras and one-shot flash bulbs. Speed Graphics were the “portable” camera of the time when the Pulitzer prizes were first awarded to photographers. Joe Rosenthal shot the flag raising on Iwo Jima with one. Nat Fein used a Speed Graphic to shoot Babe Ruth’s last at-bat in Yankee Stadium. A dozen other Pulitzer Prize winning images were taken with these dinosaurs. Impressive at the least, not to mention many were taken by photographers looking through their lenses rather than the bullets whizzing by.
The exhibition begins with the first prize-winning photo from 1942, “Battle on the Picket Lines,” by Pete Brooks with the Detroit News. The photo captures the brutality of breaking a picket line, an instant before the downswing of a billy club. These are times I cannot remember. It’s not the history we were shown in classroom history books.
Moving through the display, there are iconic photos that have become so ingrained in American culture we’ve seen them a million times: Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, the Fireman holding the broken corpse of an infant after the bombing in Oklahoma City, the Twin Towers, Columbine … Cambodia … Kent.
There are rare moments of joy, celebration. A family running to greet a prisoner of war who has finally come home. Children playing in front of Cabrini Green in Chicago, their smiles shining brighter than the sun above them casting long shadows on the grounds of Chicago’s notorious housing project.
However, many of the photos rock viewers to the core with raw emotion, pain and suffering we cannot fathom.
“The whole exhibit was riveting,” said one viewer. “The photo of the starving child crawling to a food station will never leave me.”
It never left the keeper of that photo either.
Kevin Carter went to cover the Sudan famine in 1994. Journalists were told to touch no one because of disease. His photo shows a famine stricken child crawling towards an United Nations food camp about a mile away. A vulture stands behind the tiny collapsed body, waiting for the child to die.
Carter said he regretted not picking the child up, against all advice. He didn’t know what happened to the child since he left as soon as the photo was taken. Three months later, his red pickup truck was found parked near a small river where he used to play as a child, a garden hose attached to the exhaust funneled the lethal fumes inside.
“I’m really, really sorry,” said a note left on the passenger seat beneath a knapsack. “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.”
The exhibition quotes many of the photographers who were deeply affected by their work. They said they had to keep their focus, both literally and figuratively. There is emotional safety behind the lens. In news, personal feelings have to be kept in check, at least until the assignment is over. One must focus on the craft, the technical aspect, to get the story for the rest of the world.
Perhaps Carter described it best before taking his own life.
“I had to think visually. I am zooming in on a tight shot of the dead guy and a splash of red. Going into his khaki uniform in a pool of blood in the sand. The dead man’s face is slightly gray. You are making a visual here. But inside something is screaming, ‘My God.’ But it is time to work. Deal with the rest later. If you can’t do it, get out of the game.”