JEFFERSON CITY - At the beginning of this year's legislative session, Gov. Bob Holden had a blue neon sign hoisted in the Capitol Rotunda for his January inauguration speech.
The sign read "One Bright Future, One Missouri." Several weeks later, it was taken down, an action that would prove symbolic for the rest of the session.
"One Missouri" was Holden's idea for the state. He has said it repeatedly during his three-and-a-half-month tenure as governor.
But the motto has become a faded memory of Missouri politics. Instead, lawmakers have resorted to pointed, partisan name-calling and finger-pointing.
This year, political infighting has reached a higher level than other years, many lawmakers have said.
"It's a little more contentious, yes," Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, said.
Top Democrats have said some Republican actions have been "completely disgraceful" and have stalled the process of lawmaking. Leading Republicans have called the Democrats tyrants and implied unethical trading of votes.
Holden said Tuesday he still embraces the idea of "One Missouri." But judging from the words of lawmakers, "One Missouri" is approaching "The Jerry Springer Show" as the 2001 legislative session's last day, May 18, approaches.
"Republicans," said House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, "have put partisan politics ahead of the interests of the people and are trying to shut down state government."
Republicans haven't taken the attacks lying down.
"Instead of bipartisanship," said Assistant House Leader, Rep. Patrick Naeger, R-Perryville, "we have one-party rule now in the House. It is clear what the Democratic priorities are - pass the bills they want and keep Republicans out of the process."
Partisanship came to an ugly head March 15, the last day before the legislature adjourned for spring break. The new Senate president pro tem, Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, proposed a package of changes that included cutting Senate staff and subjecting all bills to a GOP-standards approval committee.
Democrats immediately blasted what Kinder called the "principle-based" reforms.
"This is the crucifixion of the Missouri Senate," Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis County, said.
One of Kinder's proposals was to fire the chief aide of a legally blind Democratic senator, Sen. Harold Caskey, from Butler. Among other duties, the aide, Kim Green, said he drives Caskey to and from work. Democrats were furious.
"This is compassionate conservatism?" said Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia. "God!"
Another issue, ironically, that is one of the most divided this year has been what Holden said was a bipartisan issue, transportation funding -- an area the governor initially avoided, citing lack of a consensus.
About one-half billion dollars in tax increases now separates the two parties on the issue.
Republicans have called the governor's $747 million plan the "jumbo jet" of tax hikes. The plan and a companion bill have already passed the Democratic-controlled House, prompting the House Minority Floor Leader, Rep. Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, to call the Democrats' actions "utterly lame."
"This is tyranny of the majority," Hanaway said.
Although Democrats control the House, Republicans now have a majority in the Senate.
There, the GOP Senate Transportation Committee Chairman, Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, has proposed a much smaller tax increase and even questioned whether there should be an increase at all.
The transportation issue got particularly nasty April 12, when Kinder charged Holden with offering a behind-closed-doors vote trade. Kinder said the governor would exchange a Republican appointment on a redistricting commission for Kinder's vote approving the governor's transportation plan.
Kinder attacked the governor.
"My vote is not for sale, nor is it for trade," Kinder said. "The governor shall appoint vacancies on these panels, not trade them for support for his tax increase."
Holden's charged Kinder with "mispresentations" and threw out his own charge against the GOP Senate leader.
"From the very beginning, I have tried to straighten out the mess Sen. Kinder and his conspirators perpetrated on the redistricting process," Holden said in a prepared statement.
"One Missouri" would seem to have become one Missouri boxing ring.