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Republican measures meet Democratic opposition

March 15, 2001
By: Ben Paynter and Nick White
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Plans to fire the assistant to Missouri's only blind legislator prompted impassioned opposition Thursday from Senate Democrats faced with a comprehensive Republican plan to overhaul the upper house.

Backed by the first Senate GOP majority in 53 years, President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, proposed to achieve "economy in government" by moving from a "power-based" to a "principle-based" legislature.

Kinder said his plans included firing about a dozen Senate employees.

Kim Green, the assistant to Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, one of a handful of blind state legislators in the U.S., was told Thursday that his position will soon be eliminated.

"I'm too mad to comment right now -- that they would take this action without consulting with me," Caskey said, his voice cracking with emotion after the most contentious debate of the session. "I've done many things in my life, and I've had visual impairment since I was six years old."

Green, who has worked for Caskey for nine years, said he was "shocked" to learn of the GOP plan.

"I don't think they've thought it through," Green said. "They don't understand the nature of my job."

Green was paid $53,550 in 1999 to read and prepare legislation, drive Caskey to and from work and serve as spokesman for the Democrat, according to his resume and state records.

"What kind of people are these?" Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, emphatically asked reporters. "This is efficiency -- taking a reader away from a blind man?"

The Republican-dominated Senate Administration Committee will meet Friday to decide on potential firings. A majority vote is necessary.

Kinder was quick to defend his plan, which would eliminate some administrative positions and Green.

"He's one of several employees who is not an officer of the Senate, but is on the Senate payroll ... yet he works for one senator," Kinder told reporters.

In addition to firings and a Senate budget cut of $1.2 million, Kinder proposed that all Senate bills be reviewed by a committee looking for compliance with six GOP tenets: less government, lower taxes, personal responsibility, individual freedom, family empowerment and justice.

Other proposals Kinder mentioned during a press conference would provide improved access to Senate meetings and eliminate many "frivolous" ceremonial resolutions.

"This will fundamentally change and improve the Missouri Senate," Kinder said.

Democrats disagreed, however.

"I feel like this is a crucifixion of the Missouri Senate," Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis, said during debate, which ended with postponement of adoption of the Kinder proposals.

"Today was a total waste of time from the beginning," said Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, who served as president pro tem until January. "I would hope this is not a preview for the rest of the session."

Most contested among Democrats was the resolution's provision dealing with prior review of all legislation.

"Why would we want to handcuff ourselves?" asked Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles. "The potential for anyone who wants to torpedo a bill is enormous."

With the Senate split 18-16, every Republican must support the plan for it to pass.

"Of all the bad things we've done, nothing comes close to this...it's just mindboggling," Jacob said.

Jacob said GOP actions caused a "great deal of offense to every member of the minority party."

Terry Jones, an UMSL political expert called GOP actions, "Newt Gringrich revisited".

"They are firing their guns to make the announcement" that they are the new majority, Jones said, pointing to similar actions when Republicans took over the U.S. House.

"This is for the best intentions of their party, and they are going to make no small changes," he added, saying tensions in the upper chamber were likely to increase when tobacco settlement and redistricting issues come up later in the session.